Heapin' helpin' of heavyweight history

MURRAY GREIG, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:11 AM ET

In 1995, while researching a book on Canadian boxing history, I had the pleasure of interviewing former world heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson.

In addition to reminiscing about his 1961 title defence against Tom McNeeley in Toronto (Patterson floored McNeeley 11 times in four rounds), he spoke at length about his titantic battle with George Chuvalo at Madison Square Garden -- which Ring Magazine named Fight of the Year in 1965.

When the interview ended, I asked Patterson how he'd like to be remembered. He paused for a moment, then softly replied: "Just as a gentleman."

Patterson died a couple of years ago, but his legacy lives on in Alan H. Levy's terrific new biography, aptly entitled, Floyd Patterson: A Boxer and a Gentleman (McFarland & Company, 289 pages).

In his introduction, Levy points out that the last Patterson biography was the champ's ghost-written Victory Over Myself, which came out in 1962. But the story of the man who won the title at 21 and later became the first ex-champ to regain the crown is so compelling that you're left wondering why Hollywood hasn't jumped all over it.

Levy's meticulous research paints an intimate portrait of a shy, sensitive loner, a man who wore disguises in public after his two devastating losses to Sonny Liston, yet habitually helped opponents to their feet after beating them senseless.

Patterson also had a well known aversion to the sight of blood, yet he was capable of unleashing some of the most vicious combinations in heavyweight history, as evidenced by his two demolitions of Ingemar Johansson.

Above all, Levy's book is a riveting study in humanity and humility. Patterson's story began in the ring, but long after his fighting days were over, he continued to give back to the sport, both as a member of the New York State Athletic Commission and as a lifelong advocate of better safety standards for fighters at all levels.

Floyd Patterson: A Boxer and a Gentleman is the perfect gift for the fight fan on your Christmas list. And when you go to order it at the closest big-box bookstore, I also recommend picking up Clay Moyle's Sam Langford: Boxing's Greatest Uncrowned Champion (Bennett & Hastings, 429 pages).

Langford, who trained on pork chops, gin and cigars and fought from lightweight all the way up to heavyweight, is also Canada's greatest "unknown" fighter.

Born in Weymouth, N.S., he moved to Boston as a teenager -- hence the nickname "The Boston Tar Baby" -- and had more than 350 pro fights over a 25-year career.

Arguably the most dangerous puncher on the planet at the turn of the century, he lost a decision to the immortal Jack Johnson in 1906, but Johnson refused to face him in a rematch after becoming the first black heavyweight titleholder in 1908.

Much of Moyle's exhaustively researched tome chronicles Langford's efforts to get a shot at the crown (he never did), but the book also offers a fresh, unbiased look at the man behind the fighter.

Moyle covers it all -- from Langford's well-documented aversion to training to his tragic later years when, all but totally blind, he continued to fight, feeling his way along the ropes in order to find his corner between rounds. He wound up penniless on the streets of New York, occassionally struck down by passing cars that he couldn't see.

Langford's story is one you won't soon forget. And Moyle does a masterful job of telling it.


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