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World-class heavyweight contender of the 1950's and 60's
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Boxing Illustrated - December 1961 BOXING ILLUSTRATED

— December 1961



By Hal Hennesey

"He's got a good punch. I'll treat him with respect. So far as I'm concerned, any heavyweight good enough to be in the ring with me is dangerous until the last bell rings. I'm training as hard for McNeeley as I did for Ingemar. If I get by him, I'll train just as hard for the next one."

Floyd Patterson is well aware of the storm of controversy caused by his upcoming title fight with Tom McNeeley.   Writer Hal Hennesey visited the champion at his training camp to get his views on the subject and returned with some provocative answers.

The heavyweight champion of the world leaned back in the metal lawn chair that creaked beneath his 195 pounds. His calm, thoughtful gaze leveled on the scene before him, and in his dark eyes there was a peace. Against the quiet background, his words were almost shocking. We were discussing one of the most violent heavyweight fighters in the world, tough, young Tom McNeeley, against whom Floyd Patterson would shortly defend his title in Boston, McNeeley's hometown.

There had been a lot of controversy about the fight. Writers and boxing men around the world had accused Floyd of indulging in a mismatch. He should, they insisted, be fighting Sonny Liston or, at least, one of his top-rated challengers. McNeeley, untried, untested, and unranked, could be little more than a sparring partner for the Champion.

Important though public opinion might be on so controversial a matter, a regardless of the weight of evidence against such a fight — from the standpoint of the press — we decided not to condemn Floyd until we heard his side of the story from his own lips.

One day last September, I arrived at Patterson's rustic hideaway in the foothills of the Catskills mountains and spent a very interesting — and pleasant — hour talking with the champion. He was in hard training now, a time which is particularly trying to fighters, especially before title fights. Patterson, however appeared completely unruffled by all the sound and the fury that raged around him. We sat together on the grassy shore of a slow stream which ran behind the stucco housse where Floyd had his two-room apartment. Not far away, hidden by trees, was the bigger house — a former dance hall and auditorium — where he trained.

Why, it was asked, was Floyd fighting Tom McNeeley instead of a leading contender?

"I've told the reason several times," said Floyd patiently. "If I were to have another big money fight this year — after my March fight with Ingemar — I'd be lucky to put ten dollars in the bank. The Government would get it all. Fighting is my profession, not my hobby. Why should I fight for nothing?"

He paused, his brows knit in the thoughtful way he has. "They tell me, the people who are against the McNeeley fight, that the old-time champions defended their titles two, maybe three times a year — and against leading contenders. Well, maybe they did. But in those days they didn't have tax problems. If a fighter got three purses of ten thousand dollars each, he got to keep nearly all of it. Anyway, in order to live like a champion, he had to fight more often."

This was the kind of logic that, delivered in the sincere manner of Floyd Patterson, is mighty strong. To give it added strength, we had jotted down a few facts and figures on the title defenses of some other heavyweight champions. We showed them to Floyd.

James Corbett, who was the first heavyweight king under Marquis of Queensbury rules, defended his title only twice in three years, before losing it to Bob Fitzsimmons in 1897. Fitz didn't defend the crown until he met and was defeated by Jim Jeffries two years later. Jeff did much better, knocking out a challenger a year for six years until he retired undefeated. Tommy Burns also defended the title often, until he was forced to fight Jack Johnson in Australia. However, between Johnson and Rocky Marciano — over a span of 35 years and a dozen champions — only three heavyweight kings defended their titles more than once a year against top competition.

Floyd smiled, "Does that get me off the hook?"

We said we thought it might put a different slant on the matter in the minds of some people. Then we got back to Tom McNeeley.

What were the Boston strong boy's chances? "He's got a heavy punch and he chased Willi Besmanoff clean out of the ring. Does that spell trouble for you?" We asked the champion.

That's when Floyd gave us his views on McNeeley. He is dangerous, yes, and Patterson will take no chances with him.

"What is the possibility of Tom getting in a lucky punch? It's happened before, remember?"

Floyd grinned wryly, recalling the first Johansson fight — not to mention the Pete Rademacher fight. Then he turned serious again. He said, very slowly and distinctly: "What happened in the Johansson fight will never happen again."

That's the way he put it — and that's the way he left it. There was no need for elaboration.

This means that, so far as Floyd is concerned, only a better fighter will take the title away from him. There will be no lucky punch.

The heavyweight champion had drawn a curtain over young Tom McNeeley. An iron curtain.


FLOYD PATTERSON — Champion TOM McNEELEY — Challenger

1—Psychological advantage of being champion
2—Exceptional speed; capable of throwing punches in combinations of as many as ten
3—Vast edge in experience
4—Excellent left hook has KO power
5—Capable of getting off the floor to win

1—Mediocre defense
2—Susceptible to right hand counter punches
3—Lack of killer instinct; tendency to "ease up" on hurt opponents
1—Hard right hand puncher, has the power to score KO
2—Tremendous strength and durability
3—Exceptionally courageous and self-confident
4—Advantage of fighting in hometown (Boston)

1—Lack of experience
2—Tendency to lose poise when tired or hurt
3—Below average defense

26 AGE 24
6 feet HEIGHT 6 feet 2 inches
195 WEIGHT 202
71¾ inches REACH 73½ inches
17 inches NECK 17¾ inches
41½ inches CHEST (Normal) 42¼ inches
43 inches CHEST (Expanded) 44 inches
32½ inches WAIST 32 inches
14½ inches BICEPS 15½ inches
6 inches WRIST 6½ inches
12¾ inches FIST 13¼ inches
21½ inches THIGH 24 inches
15½ inches CALF 16½ inches
9½ inches ANKLE 9½ inches

When the Patterson-McNeeley match was signed for October 23, 1961, the boxing world at large was shaken to its foundations by a violent sigh of complete boredom. The general reaction was: So Floyd's fighting another bum — so what? We felt the same way.

The world at large, now that the fight is upon us, still feels the same way. But we don't. We've taken a closer look at young Tom McNeeley, Boston's bull-in-a-china-shop and we've further considered the odds. We've changed our minds.

We think it will be a good fight. Rather, we think it will be an exciting fight. Here's why.

Although McNeeley has not been under-rated as a fighter — he has about as much finesse as a Sherman tank — he also has just about as much firepower. And that's what could make this fight one to remember. McNeeley, despite his shortcomings as a boxer; in spite of his lack of defense and inexperience; in spite of the fact that he has fought only one good opponent; in spite of the fact that he does most everything like an amateur — may be the next heavyweight champion. It isn't likely, but he may be.

Because this kid harks back to the old days in sheer ferocity, determination and courage. He goes back even farther — to the primitive lust for battle that marked the Neanderthal man. He fights with his fists, his head and his heart. He has but one desire when he gets into the ring — to hurt, to maim, to kill his opponent — to win in any way he can. He is merciless. And he can hit like a .357 magnum. He has kayoed 18 of his 23 opponents and has yet to lose.

All this spells excitement in our book. It may spell a new champion.

In the opposite corner, McNeeley has, in Floyd Patterson, these factors to overcome: The psychological advantage of being champion; exceptional speed; a vast edge in experience; a knockout punch in either hand, especially the left; courage that has enabled him to get up off the floor to win.

It's a lot to overcome. Certainly the odds must favor the champion, and by a lop-sided margin. Common sense (and smart bookmakers) will see to that. Common sense also dictates that with a hitter like McNeeley in there; big, powerful and cock sure of himself, anything can happen.

In any case, this fight should be viewed with ghosts of a couple of underdogs named Jim Braddock and Jersey Joe Walcott. Both overcame supposedly better fighters overwhelming odds. Could it happen to young Tom McNeeley?

Don't ask the bookmakers. Ask Jim and Jersey Joe.

This article appeared in the December 1961 issue of Boxing Illustrated.