Floyd Patterson: Boxing's Invisible Champion - W.K. Stratton
by Jake Speed
Floyd Patterson: The Fighting Life of Boxing's Invisible Champion was written by WK Stratton and published in 2012. Patterson was the world heavyweight boxing champion from 1956 to 1959 and again from 1960 to 1962. He won Gold at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics aged just 17 and when he beat Archie Moore in 1956 aged 21 he became the youngest ... world heavyweight champion in history. Patterson was also the first heavyweight champion to regain the title in the ring - a feat he accomplished by battering the happy-go-lucky Swede Ingemar Johansson in the second bout of their memorable trilogy in 1960. But Patterson was so plagued by self-doubt that writers dubbed him "Freud" Patterson. "I think that within me, within every human being, there is a certain weakness," Patterson told the writer Gay Talese of Esquire magazine in 1964. "It is a weakness that exposes itself more when you're alone. And I have figured out that part of the reason I do the things I do, and cannot seem to conquer that one word 'myself' is because... is because I am a coward." When Patterson lost his heavyweight championship to Sonny Liston he snuck out of his hotel after the fight alone wearing a fake beard and took a random flight to Madrid, wandering around the Spanish capital in disguise, too ashamed to show his face or return to America. The only thing he knew how to order in Spanish was soup so he had soup for dinner every night while he was there. No heavyweight champion's political (Patterson was a black public figure in race torn sixties America and so could not avoid politics even if he'd tried) and historical stock ever shifted around with such rapidity. To this day no one can still quite decide if Patterson was a great fighter or merely a decent one but as a person - and perhaps even as a political symbol - there are few doubts that, in his own very eccentric way, he was a great man.
This is a welcome book about a fascinating figure who unavoidably suffered from living in the shadows cast by Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali. The author tells us that Patterson grew up as one of eleven children in the rough and nightmarish Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood of Brooklyn. He was a petty thief and truant who often had a powerful yearning desire to escape from the world and be alone, riding lonely subway trains for hours. He hated that his parents had to work hard for such small reward and would steal fruit and milk to smuggle home. The big turning point of his life came when he was sent to an upstate facility for troubled boys named Wiltwyck School at ten years old. He loved the fresh air and open spaces and - always shy, even later as an adult - began to come out of his shell in smaller classes. The young Patterson was also given boxing lessons and proved to be something of a natural. When he returned to the city he went to a boxing club with his brothers and ended up at Gramercy Park Gym where he began a long association and friendship with manager/trainer Cus D'Amato. D'Amato was one of those grizzled Runyonesque characters who could only have existed in the world of boxing. He was considered to be a crank and a flake by many but the Nietzsche reading sage was an endlessly quotable eccentric and a man of independent integrity who was loved by his boxers. D'Amato told Patterson that fear and doubt was not only normal for a boxer but essential. "Fear is natural. Fear is your friend. When a deer walks through the forest it has fear. This is nature's way of keeping the deer alert. Without fear we would not survive."
D'Amato believed that the more you enjoyed life the more you feared death and so maintained a modest lifestyle. For D'Amato, money was only fit for "throwing off the back of trains." Decades later, when he was an old man near the end, D'Amato would discover another young teenage heavyweight prodigy in Mike Tyson. D'Amato adopted Tyson and, like Patterson, "Iron" Mike adored his wise mentor and hung on every word he uttered. It is often said that if D'Amato had lived longer then Tyson would not have self-destructed the way he did. Certainly, Patterson never had anything but kind words to say about D'Amato and the influence the trainer had on him. He felt the adult Tyson had missed what he got from D'Amato. When Cus died, Tyson was still a teenager. The author is pretty solid on the boxing side of Patterson's career. I love the details here like the "peek-a-boo" style that D'Amato always trained his fighters to use. Though hardly similar physical types (one was lean and plausible while the other was like a cross between Joe Frazier and a tank) and separated by different decades and eras, both Patterson and Tyson fought with the "peek-a-boo" stance. Gloves up high as if glued around the face for protection and the elbows dug in against the ribs to guard against body blows. D'Amato trained his boxers to use the left-hook as the primary offensive weapon from this style but it did help of course that Patterson and Tyson both had remarkable handspeed for heavyweights.
The spin through Patterson's title reigns are nicely evoked by the author and take us back to an era when boxing was a much bigger deal than it is now. In the sixties and seventies everyone in the world knew who the heavyweight champion was. D'Amato was cagey and shrewd in selecting opponents, looking for the least amount of risk to extend Floyd's time as champion. Patterson was knocked down more than any heavyweight champion in history and regarded to have a "glass jaw" but as Floyd himself pointed out, he nearly always got back up again to win the fight so his heart was never in question. These title fights are fun to read about. The encounters with Johansson, a colorful Swede who spent more time chasing women than training but did have a very powerful right hand punch known as "Ingo's Bingo", and also the very strange match where Olympic champion Pete Rademacher challenged Floyd for the heavyweight championship of the world in his professional debut! This was more of an event (no surprise that the crafty Rademacher went on to become a successful businessman) than a fight but Rademacher did manage to knock Patterson down before his inevitable demise. The problem for matchmaker D'Amato was that a new contender was rising rapidly in the rankings and couldn't be ignored for much longer. Charles "Sonny" Liston was the most chilling heavyweight to emerge for decades, perhaps ever. A hulking ex-convict with ham like fists and a surly demeanor, it was apparent to most that Liston would surely demolish the much smaller Patterson if they fought. D'Amato avoided the fight for as long as he could on the grounds that Liston was a nasty piece of work with criminal convictions but it was Patterson who insisted on taking the fight in the end. He'd been given a second chance himself and reasoned that he couldn't deny Sonny the same opportunity.
All of a sudden, Patterson, who America had been fairly ambivalent about, was now the public's darling, the hope of the "civilised" world. Liston was a scary looking former convict with mob connections. He was always in trouble. Drunk in public, speeding, disputes with the police, being sarcastic with reporters. No one wanted him to be heavyweight champion. Then there was Patterson. Humble, gentle disposition, quiet, intelligent, never in trouble. He even lived in a white neighbourhood. John F Kennedy met with Patterson and wished him luck. Eleanor Roosevelt was counting on him. The whole of liberal white America was counting on him. Most black folks were counting on him. And after two minutes in the ring with Liston the referee was counting on him, all the way to ten. Although he was only 27 after his two (why anyone thought the rematch would be any different or was necessary is something of a mystery to me) first round losses to Liston, it looked to be the end for Floyd. He was written off as a poor champion who had taken advantage of a brief fallow period between the retirement of Rocky Marciano and the arrival of Liston. But Patterson proved the doubters wrong by fighting his way back to a title shot - this time against Liston's conqueror Muhammad Ali. Ali may be one of the most beloved famous people in the world today but he was pretty much loathed by America in the sixties. Ali was seen as an irritating loudmouth and had become public enemy number one when he joined the Nation of Islam. Once again the unassuming Floyd had somehow become the standard bearer for "civilisation" and the establishment again, now confronting a man who belonged to a sinister organisation in the thrall of evil Svengali Malcom X. That was the general simplification.
To say that Patterson and Ali did not get on would be something of an understatement. Ali depicted Patterson as an anachronism, an Uncle Tom. A beneficiary of the sort of faux liberalism which approved the advancement of black people but only a certain kind - not the outspoken and uppity types like Ali. For his part, Floyd was appalled by the separatist policy of the Nation of Islam and said Ali might as well have joined the KKK. Patterson always insisted on non-segregated arenas at his fights and had risked his life standing alongside Martin Luthor King at public meetings and speeches. He believed in civil rights and all people living together. To him, the Black Muslims were dangerous and weird. Patterson infuriated Ali by refusing to acknowledge his Muslim name, always referring to him as "Clay" instead. "That's the name his parents gave to him," he offered by way of explanation. It was one of the few times that Floyd had lacked class and his opponent was determined to punish him. Ali treated Patterson with utter disdain in the ring when they fought in 1965. Patterson had fast hands but the heavyweight division had never seen anyone as fast as Ali. The new champion picked apart Patterson with ease until the fight was stopped in the twelfth round. Patterson might have lost but he came out with a lot of credit for the way he stood up to the much bigger and faster Ali in the ring. In the eyes of many, Patterson even deserved to win back a portion of the heavyweight title a few years later in 1968 but came away the victim of an unpopular majority decision in his fight with Jimmy Ellis for the vacant WBA title. Patterson fought on until 1972 (his last fight was actually a spirited rematch with Ali, Patterson being stopped on cuts in seven rounds) and posted a final record of 55 wins against eight losses. Despite staying in fighting shape for many years after, he never made a comeback out of respect for his second wife. It was time to give his family the attention he'd previously given to boxing.
The Fighting Life of Boxing's Invisible Champion clearly has a great story to tell and Stratton does it well for the most part. This is a fascinating period for both America and boxing and to travel back here is often compelling. The fights, characters, politics etc. Even if Patterson still somehow remains vaguely elusive after all these decades and several years after his death. Stratton is not Norman Mailer or David Remnick but he has produced a solid and likeable book about this interesting and somewhat forgotten heavyweight champion. Quibbles? I felt the book could have been longer and maybe given us more insight into Patterson's private life and it's a shame that it only concentrates on his boxing years in a way. In later years, Patterson became chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission for a time, campaigned tirelessly to advance awareness and equality for HIV/Aids, worked as a counsellor, and also trained boxers. In the 1980s a boy used to constantly turn up at his family house where his gym was based but be too shy to come in. Patterson, who made a point of declaring that his door was always open to anyone in trouble, learned the boy was from a broken home and saw a lot of himself in the youngster. He started training him and later adopted him. The boy grew up and became a two time world champion as Tracy Harris Patterson. So many great stories about his later life so one does unavoidably wish we could have got some of this. What did Floyd make of fellow D'Amato student Mike Tyson's turmoil and self-destructive behaviour? It would have been interesting to get a detailed view.
These grumbles aside, I enjoyed this book a lot and breezed through in a couple of days. Floyd Patterson: The Fighting Life of Boxing's Invisible Champion is about £8 for a hardback copy at the moment and a bit expensive for what you get but I'd certainly recommend this when the price comes down or if you find a much better deal.
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Disgraced - Saira Ahmed
I'm reviewing a book called DISGRACED by Saira Ahmed. Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.6 cm It contains 320 pages. No pictures. Available on Amazon for around £4 new and 1p +£2.80 P&P in used condition. ISBN-0755318188 __________________________________________ This is an odd one for me,but I'll ... explain why later.
First, *** THE STORY***
Saira is a Muslim girl brought up in the UK in a strict Muslim family . She has two older brothers and in accordance with tradition they were overly vigilant regarding their sister. No boys were allowed to so much as look at her. However that rule didn't apply to the brothers and she alleges they attempted to initiate sexual contact with her a lot in her early years.
By the time she was in Secondary education she was confident she was now a little British girl and although still Muslim she would be safe from an arranged early marriage to some random man .
This is the impression she got from the fact that marriage had not been broached in her home to any degree, despite some of her school friends disappearing into the mists of Pakistan and arranged marriages.
WRONG ! After discovering she was sweet on a totally decent local Muslim boy her family took her 'on holiday' to Pakistan and promptly dumped her headlong into a horrendous marriage with a relative there, where she was abused bodily day and night and expected to lie back and think of England.....which is totally apt actually, because England is precisely where she wanted to be . As did her new husband as it happens.
Eventually after a trip home to the UK to give birth to her first child, a miscarriage and being packed off back to Pakistan she opted to run and escaped back to England.
Then begins a new part of her life. She finds work and accommodation and eventually re-unites with her disappointed and disgusted/disgusting parents. Why ? Who knows.
She even meets up with the boy she had fallen for prior to her marriage and rekindles a short affair with him .
Now the story gets another dimension. Mom and pop are in debt because they've been borrowing from money lenders to send back home . So Saira decides to 'go on the game' to help them out.
And that's her story apart from a kind of contented-ever-after in the final pages.
I'm not sure if you can tell from my attitude, but I have massive problems with this book.
Where to begin ?
First the arranged marriage situation. I am most definitely not against arranged marriages. It happens quietly in other religions and was a tradition in some parts of Ireland in the past.
However the men chosen were/are introduced to the girl and allowed to spend time courting her, and the girl was allowed to reject the suitor should she choose to. Now I'm sorry if this is offensive, but chucking a virginal underage girl at an often older previously married man is barbaric and needs to be stopped. This isn't a religious issue, but a cultural one and there is no excuse for maintaining this tradition in Britain other than getting relatives entry to the UK in many cases.
Thus it was with this case. How do I know that ?
Well, when Saira returned to England so that her child could be born here, her husband stayed in Pakistan. Saira and her family had the job of applying to get him permission to come to England. They did the paperwork and Saira's dad called the husband and began to tutor him on the correct answers he should give at his interview at the British Embassy in Pakistan. The dad was brushed off by the arrogant abusive husband who declared he was an intelligent man and didn't need advice.
OK then.........off he went for his interview.
One of the first questions was "Why did you marry your wife?" . Apparently this is a standard (if somewhat offensive) question which usually brings gushing declarations of love at first sight etc etc. Not this time though.
Mr Genius replied " To gain entry to the United Kingdom".
The Embassy Official looked up startled and asked "Did you understand my question ?".
"Oh yes" said Mr Genius, proud to display his comprehension skills.
The Embassy official repeated the question. Got the same answer.
Wife's date of birth ? No clue. Her occupation ? Gave the wrong answer. On and on .
Clearly Mr Genius had never heard of "Put the shovel down and step away from the hole".
Needless to say he failed in his attempt to get into the UK.....thus Saira had to return to Pakistan that second time to resume her marital duties .
Now for Saira herself. Something just doesn't ring true with her for me.
The first parts of the book I'm fine with but she keeps banging on about family honour and shame and yet this girl who shamed them and dis-honoured the family is accepted back into their midst after a few initial grumps....no problem luv, pull up a chair.
I just think that she opted for prostitution for spurious reasons. Maybe there WAS a lot of debt,and while I think she might have chosen to undertake prostitution as a solution initially, frankly I get the vibe that as time went on she just enjoyed the financial rewards and lifestyle it funded. She had a car, her own home, traveled round different cities plying her trade and seems to have feathered her nest comfortably on her earnings. Don't get me wrong, I don't judge that choice. It is a service and will always be needed/wanted. What I dislike is people making out they were coerced into it .....had no choice etc. Just once I'd like someone to say "yes it was difficult at first but once I learned the ropes I'm happy enough doing this job".
I feel Saira was indeed happy enough doing it, but that scenario doesn't fit in with the drama a book such as this requires .
I also noted that once back with her family she happily engaged in a fling with the boy she had fallen for prior to her marriage. This despite the fact that he was just newly married to a relative of hers. The pair of them 'christened' the guys new marriage bed before the wife even had a chance to use it ! No female solidarity in Saira's world apparently. And THAT occurred before she opted to be a prostitute. So this is not a poor ickle wilting flower....she knew what she wanted and took it....simple and seedy as that .
As for her first job as a prostitute with an agency ? Laughable . The man said she was wearing too much perfume, handed her £300 and sent her on her way without so much as a fumble. Oh please ! Yes, I know the perfume thing is an issue for married men, but £300 and off you go ? I think not. Dramatic but entirely unrealistic.
If an old guy gets an itch he wants scratching a whiff of Chanel No 5 won't put him off his stroke. Not in my experience anyway....but I digress.
I've read a few of these books and I usually come away feeling pity and/or admiration for the person. Not this time. Her story is one that is endemic in the UK at present and not in the least outstanding in my opinion.
If I'm being brutally honest I think the Author spotted a passing bandwagon and hopped on board.
Literally....I could write a story like that about a pretendy-life and I'm not even Pakistani. There is none of the minutiae other author's in this genre offer, where you just KNOW they were there and it's all real. This could have been written by a fat Australian bloke living in a bedsit in East London. It is just that generic and "tick boxes".
Maybe I'm being too harsh in my need to be brutally honest, but reviews are about honesty , however unpalatable they might be or how unpopular it makes one.
So, sorry Saira....you only get one star from me because I can't shake off the feeling I just read a fairy story.
Thank you for reading and I hope it was helpful and not offensive~~~myloh
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Confessions of a Conjuror - Derren Brown
===Confessions of a fan boy=== I'm not usually a celebrity obsessed type. In fact, I'm never celebrity obsessed. It really takes a lot for someone to hold my interest. Maybe I'm just too self obsessed to care about what some stranger is wearing this week or what they had for breakfast. I hardly care what I'm wearing this week ... and my breakfast tends to be porridge which I can tell you I don't really get that excited over. There is, however, one celebrity type who does manage to hold my interest. So, ok, I still don't want to know what he's wearing or eating even though he sometimes does update his Facebook page with such interesting facts. Derren Brown manages to fascinate me in a way that most others simply can't. First of all, he's occasionally a bit of alright (if you look past the cravats and occasionally dodgy facial hair). Secondly he's always managed to come across as a completely normal if not slightly excitable and eccentric gentleman while also managing to pull off some absolutely baffling stunts and tricks. Throughout all his trickery, he's always been quite honest about his methods and that honesty has drawn me right in. I'm a huge fan.
Derren Brown rose to fame when Channel 4 picked him up for a show in 2000 called Derren Brown: Mind Control where he basically duped the British public with a bunch of brilliantly executed mind reading tricks and various other wonderful takes on magic. Since then he has had 2 further T.V shows (Tricks of the Mind and Trick or Treat) as well as fourteen special one off shows, some of which are recordings of his live shows that he tours on. On top of those he's also had a couple of mini documentary style series (Derren brown Investigates and The Experiments) which get better and better. The man has made people believe they have committed murder and that zombie apocalypse has come. Usually you can tell the amount of hard work and planning that has went into everything the man does.
If you haven't ever heard of Derren Brown or watched any of his shows, I implore you, do it. A lot of people are put off by the branding of "magician" or "psychic" that tends to float around him, though I would straight away cry that he isn't really a magician at all. Yes, he deals with trickery but he goes much deeper than that. His lighter shows are fantastic to watch for the sheer element of sneakiness and he can perform magic tricks but his deeper darker shows tend to delve into human nature in ways that just haven't been explored by other shows out there. It's intellectual, gripping, shocking and incredibly fun all at the same time. Even when he is doing a simple magic trick he involves the punters ten times more than anyone else I've ever seen do magic. I'm still trying to convince my partner to watch anything of his, but he refuses. I will get my way one day.
===What is this book about?===
Derren's previous book (Tricks of the mind) was a mix of an autobiography and a discussion of how he does his tricks. It was fascinating to read about his admittedly quite dull life and inner workings as it was to read about his methods. In fact I'd say that I enjoyed the personal bits of the book a little more than the methodology. This book is almost pure autobiography. Reading the book is like a very comfortable conversation with a friend after a couple of drinks. Brown uses the story of a trick he performed in a pub in his early days to structure the book and basically rambles from there. Something about one of the punters or his surroundings will remind him of something from his childhood which will remind him of something else and so on and so forth. Occasionally he'll reign himself back to the progress of the trick which adds an element of wanting to see what happens. Mostly, however, the conversational style simply allows you to lose yourself in the wanderings of Browns mind.
Some parts are interesting when he discusses the first tricks he would save up for as a child, others are disgusting like when he talks at length about bogies. Others are downright hilarious and some moments make you want to hit him for being so smug but he always manages to get across that he's being smug with a cheeky grin on his face. He's always self deprecating especially when referring to his sexuality and the debacle around The Sun "outing" him.
===Things I didn't like===
There was only one thing that occasionally got on my nerves about this book. As Derren talks he occasionally feels the need to put in an explanation for something he's said or just the need to go off on a tangent about it. He'll mark these sections with a star (*) or a cross + and you'll see that the page is divided into two sections, one in smaller print to house his explanation/ tangent and the normal story. I don't mind the random tangents and explanations at all but what niggled me is that sometimes the explanation or tangent went on for a few pages which meant you had to keep your finger in the book at the page where you'd left the main story while you read the add-on which sometimes spanned four or five other pages and then flip back to where you were. If you were just dipping into the book it almost forces you to finish the section before you put it down so you don't lose your place. Thankfully I have a magnetic marker with two halves so any time I needed or wanted to stop in these situations I'd effectively section off the pages from where I was in the main story to where I was in the add-on section. It's a bit of a pain, but nothing too terrible.
===See you next Tuesday===
One thing I will say, if you have a weak stomach or can't handle someone swearing then you probably won't want to pick up this book. Brown doesn't swear every second word but he does do it occasionally. Personally I love swearing so I don't mind. Others may find his sense of humour a little odd; that just makes me enjoy it even more. Swearing and a weird sense of humour sounds like most people I know!
Online you can pick this up for £5.59 currently and that's for a brand new paperback version. Amazon also have a few copies used for 61p plus postage with the Kindle edition coming in slightly cheaper than a brand new one at £5.22. I'm not a kindle-ite in the slightest so I was quite happy with the price of this one.
As I mentioned, I'm a huge fan of Brown. I've been waiting for ages to read this book and I whizzed through it when I did. It's a really comfortable read and it doesn't feel like you are perving on him in the slightest like some biographies and autobiographies do. I'd still like to know a bit more about his personal life and it'd certainly be interesting to see his story laid out from start to present as I do feel like this book only scratches the surface of the man. All in, I'll be giving it four stars out of five for a very enjoyable read, only losing one star for the weird layout at parts.
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