Wednesday morning’s lesson saw us firmly set foot in 1955, having covered fights in both ’54 and ’55 in the previous two lessons. Today we looked at the rise of 20 year-old Floyd Patterson as he took on Willie Troy in something of a non-title catchweight competition and a short clip of Johnny Saxton’s first welterweight title defence against Tony DeMarco.
Floyd Patterson versus Willie Troy 07.01.1955
After experiencing his first loss against Joey Maxim in June 1954, Patterson immediately got back onto his winning streak and won his next five matches, two by stoppage. With a record of 18-1, he was ranked number four in the light heavyweights.
Willie Troy was the number six ranked middleweight. A newspaper article around this time has Troy’s management saying they had little interest in the light heavyweight division and had their sights set on Bobo Olson’s title. There is little on this fighter other than the fact he resided in New York City and appears to have been born in 1933. After a good showing in the amateurs, he turned professional on 25th April 1951. Troy had a record of 30 victories by this stage, 23 coming by knockout. However, his only two losses had been technical knockouts taken by Holly Mims first and then by Joey Giardello.
A contemporary report stated: “Troy professes an aggressive style of boxing, and beats well with both hands. But he has a vulnerability against strikes on the right, which was predicted in advance, and then used in their fight by Joey Giardello.”
Troy stood at 5’11” and weighed in at 162 lbs. The contract stipulated that Patterson should come in no more than 165 lbs, but he tipped the scales at 166 lbs on the day. Nevertheless, the fight went ahead as it had been postponed from 22nd October to 19th November due to injuries and illness. When the bout was first set, Patterson was too young at 19 to be allowed to fight 10 rounds. Since becoming 20 threed days before the date of the fight, this could now be increased but the decision was made to keep it to 8.
Round 1 -Early on Troy took the initiative and clinched Patterson to break his bobbing and weaving pattern. However, besides an early bit of milling from Troy, Patterson took the tempo of the fight. He slipped and ducked, showing his version of the peek-a-boo defence and brought out a variety of punches, including a sharp jab, lead and rear uppercuts and regular hooks. His gazelle punch was delivered both with a hook and even with an uppercut (which missed). After his initial aggressive start, Troy appeared a bit wary of Patterson’s weaving in the pocket and resorted to jabbing which Patterson had little trouble slipping. Just before the bell one of Patterson’s right uppercuts found its mark with good effect. Despite what I saw to be Patterson’s round it would appear that some of Troy’s early work edged it for judge Harold Barnes who gave it to him.
Round 2 – Patterson went to the inside as he began to demonstrate the strengths of the peek-a-boo approach. He leant his head on Troy’s shoulder and then weaved under. After checking for openings whilst moving side to side he began throw his punches on the way up. He pushed forward with Troy ponderously trying to land his own hooks to no avail as Patterson continued to bob and drive up with hooks and uppercuts. Patterson would lean in close as Troy tried to retaliate and then move back to the pocket throw punches from both sides.
Round 3 – Now Troy came back and pushed forward. Patterson was content to move back and then began to circle, again landing telling uppercuts to the body on a regular basis. As per the peek-a-boo strategy, every time Troy threw a jab, Patterson slipped and countered with ferocity. He then landed a very sharp gazelle jab and put Troy on the back foot. On the inside Troy landed a few hooks to Patterson’s face but they either lacked power or the Gentleman rolled with them without breaking his bobbing rhythm. The rounded ended with a continuous exchange that Patterson was easily winning. He was ahead on all the scorecards by this point.
Round 5 – Patterson’s punches had come to closing Troy’s eye in the previous round. The fifth round saw Patterson attack from different angles as Troy continued to miss at mid and close range. Patterson then pulled back to long range and began throwing jabs. He weaved back into mid-range and put Troy on the back foot. Only in the clinch did Troy show any semblance of landing a punch. Patterson landed upward angled hooks off his lead punch and clipped Troy with a slightly downward angled cross. Troy tied up his opponent but Patterson just continued to dominate throughout.
At the request of Troy’s manager, Al Weil (also Marciano’s manager), referee Al Burl stopped the fight in order for Dr. Vincent Nardillo to check out the fighter’s closed left eye. A large bump had now also formed over his right eye. Floyd Patterson won by technical knockout.
The Associated Press had this to say about the fight, feeling a need to address Patterson’s apparent critics: “Everybody faults Floyd Patterson except the Ring Record Book, which shows 19 victories in 20 pro starts after Friday night’s 5th round TKO over Willie Troy. Rocking Troy with those rapid-fire combinations, Patterson had trouble only when Troy moved inside. But, after the first round, the zing was gone from Troy’s punches. The ex-Olympic champ battered Troy with his quick, violent hands so that even Al Weill, the loser’s manager, asked them to stop it.”
Although fighting light heavyweights, a year previously Patterson’s coach, Cus D’Amato had made it clear he intended Patterson to fight for the world heavyweight crown. However, after the fight it would appear that neither had ruled out the light heavyweight crown as the question of Moore was put to them. D’Amato answered the press:
“Not yet. You see, when he fights (Paul) Andrews it means that he will be going after the title. Because who is after Andrews? (Archie) Moore. Let us see after each fight. Moore is very smart, so Floyd has got to get as much experience as possible before Moore.”
D’Amato also confirmed this would be the last time Patterson would fight under 170 lbs.
Johnny Saxton versus Tony DeMarco Undisputed World Welterweight Championship 01.04.1955
Following his controversial winning of the world title from Kid Gavilan, Johnny Saxton fought and won a non-title contest against Ramon Fuentes by unanimous decision. He then lost a non-title bout, again by unanimous decision, against Ronney Delaney. On 1st April he put the title on the line against Tony DeMarco.
Tony “The Boston Bomber” DeMarco (no relation to contemporary lightweight Paddy DeMarco) was born Leonardo Liotta on 14th January 1932 in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. He was born to Sicilian immigrants from Sciacca and brought up in the Italian north end neighbourhood of Boston. He discovered boxing aged 12 and trained out of Burroughs Newsboys Foundation club. Apparently he weighed 95 lbs when he was 15. By this time he had fought in around 40 amateur fights and, according to DeMarco, had only lost one.
He said, “Then I decided to be an amateur fighter. In 1947, in order to be an amateur fighter, you had to be 18 years old, so I wasn’t able to participate. What I did – a lot of people did the same thing – was borrow someone’s name who was 18.” The birth certificate belonged to a one Tony DeMarco and, much like Sugar Ray Robinson, the fighter kept the licence into his professional career. He turned professional very early at 16. According to DeMarco, he had between 30 and 40 amateur fights before turning pro, losing only a couple.
His first pro fight was a first round knockout victory over Meteor Jones. This was followed by a second round knockout in their rematch. All but one of his first seven fights came via stoppage. He then lost a points decision to Jay White. This defeat was also his first bout outside of Massachusetts, in Providence, Rhode Island. He won his next three fights which were a technical knockout over Vic Young followed by a split decision to Frankie Steel who he stopped in their rematch. DeMarco took his second loss in his second fight outside of Massachusetts, this time to Art Suffoletta in New Haven, Connecticut. The loss was his first stoppage via corner retirement after round five of a six-round fight. He won his next 10 fights, half by stoppage, four by unanimous decision and one on points. These included two more fights outside of Massachusetts both in Portland, Oregon. Chick Boucher then stopped him in the fourth round of a four round contest. DeMarco had 10 more victories in a row. Again, half of these were stoppages. He also fought and won his first 8-rounder over Freeman King in Rhode Island. These 10 wins mainly took place outside of Massachusetts, reflecting his career progress. He fought mainly in New York and New Jersey. His 34th and 35th professional fights both took place in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and they were both losses to Brian Kelly and Gene Poirer on unanimous decision and points respectively.
After this point, his career took a decisive upward turn. He won 15 of his next fights, 10 by stoppage. Most of these stoppages occurred in the first, second or mid-way rounds as he progressed from eight round to 10 round bouts. His loss to Chick Boucher was avenged with a sixth round TKO rematch. However, what catapulted him into the world rankings was the quality of opponent he was defeating in this 15 string of victories. It included future world lightweight champion Paddy DeMarco on a 10-round split decision. This was followed by a unanimous decision win over Teddy “Red Top” Davis. Top lightweight contender, George Araujo and Danish middleweight champion both lost on technical knockouts to DeMarco. The victory run was stopped not with a loss but with a draw to none other than the now three times reigning world lightweight champion, Jimmy Carter. “I was not at my best against Carter,” DeMarco said. “I had a cold. The judges scored it a draw. I thought I won the fight, but all fighters think that way.”
DeMarco weighed in at 145 lbs to Saxton’s 146 lbs. DeMarco stood at 5’5″. Not known for his technical skill, DeMarco was a slugger in the brawling category who had a solid left hook and a lot of courage. He was a converted southpaw, making him awkward and something of a crude switch-hitter. Saxton was an out-boxer. Although his win against the more skillful Gavilan was clearly daylight robbery, he was considered to be DeMarco’s technical superior.
The fight took place at Boston Garden, Massachusetts. Despite DeMarco’s local celebrity status and the fighter only living a few blocks away, the fight wasn’t very well attended by local Bostonians due to “Subway Sam” Silverman putting up the prices of the tickets. The Garden, designed by boxing promoter Tex Richard who also designed the third incarnation of Madison Square Garden, was built in 1928 and at the time could seat up to 13,909 spectators. That night just over 8,000 attended. Matters weren’t helped by the fact that the press had predicted a dull fight. Saxton’s team expected an easy first title defence with the bookies making DeMarco the 3-1 underdog. Despite beating three ranked contenders, apparently he hadn’t been very impressive against Carter and was viewed as little more than a puffed up lightweight. This is what had led Blinky Palermo to believe him to not pose much of a challenge against Saxton.
We only watched a very brief highlight reel of the action, but the reports described an action-packed fight. Saxton, for some reason, had decided to abandon his out-boxing approach in favour of fighting in the trenches. We had observed his peculiar over-confidence in the previous fight with Gavilan so this is not too surprising. Nevertheless, the press stated that Saxton was ahead for the first six rounds and confidently outboxed the challenger. By round two, as predicted by many, he had already opened up a cut above DeMarco’s left eye. We saw a clip from round four, where Saxton was supposedly ahead. We saw the two of them trading punches in the ring, DeMarco leaning in and throwing Freddy Mills style two-fisted attacks. DeMarco appeared to be weathering all punches landing on his face with ease.
Saxton endured some painful body shots along the way as DeMarco picked up the pace from round seven onwards. By round 14, where we saw the rest of the highlights, Saxton was still receiving heavy body shots. DeMarco, perhaps due to his size, had become adept at landing the punches here and Saxton stood flat-footed trying to trade. By now DeMarco was ahead on points. Although still landed with both hands, DeMarco used his left mainly to datums for his big right hooks and his punches travelled up to the champion’s head. Saxton took a barrage of punches before falling forwards into the ropes. He valiantly pulled himself up on the ropes and the referee, in an act that would not have happened today, allowed him to continue. DeMarco charged back in and delivered a huge number of unanswered punches to the head before the referee stepped in and the world title had passed to a new champion. “I felt a pain in my right hand,” DeMarco said. “I switched to southpaw, which was natural for me. I started hitting him with left hooks and uppercuts: boom, boom, boom.”
Nat Fleischer compared DeMarco’s victory to the days of Jack Dempsey with his relentless assault. He called him “a fighting little demon…a squat, swarthy, game and courageous hot-fisted Italian from Boston’s North End”.
Comparisons with the slugging swarmer Italian American, Rocky Marciano, were also hard for reporters to resist.
“Watching De Marco [sic] in the ring at Boston Garden Friday night was like looking at Marciano through the wrong end of a telescope… He crouched down and bulled forward relentlessly in that now familiar Marciano manner.” – Oscar Fraley, United Press
Tony DeMarco became Boston’s biggest sports star and the city celebrated for a week. The match was considered one of the greatest events in Boston’s sports history despite my difficulty in finding footage of the entire match. However, DeMarco carried some of the curse from Saxton’s brief reign. He had signed a contract whereby he would have to face the number one contender, the very hungry and talented Carmen Basilio. This was the man Saxton’s team had been trying to dodge.
1955 was a very significant year for boxing. Not only was this the year that the US government ruled an antitrust decision against the International Boxing Club of New York but it also saw IH “Sporty” Harvey win his opportunity to fight a white opponent in Texas.
In the former, the IBC’s owners, James D. Norris and Arthur Wirtz, were investigated for conspiring to monopolise professional championship boxing in the USA and prosecuted under the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act. The IBC had paid the ailing Mike Jacobs $100,000 to relinquish his rights to promote fights at Madison Square Garden and the then retired Joe Louis $160,000 for the contracts of four contenders in 1949. They had also acquired exclusive television rights for twice-weekly boxing matches at the Garden. The IBC had developed a stranglehold on the sport, controlling all divisions save the bantamweight and flyweights. They had promoted 47 of the 51 championship bouts held in the USA from 1949 until 1955. Initially a motion for dismissal was passed by the district court when the defendants citing Major League Baseball’s exemption from antitrust laws first passed in 1922 and then later upheld in 1954. However, this was immediately appealed by the government under Teddy Roosevelt’s old 1903 Expediting Act. The case was remanded to trial where the government won and the IBC was eventually forced to dissolve is companies. By 1960 the IBC’s former members were up in front of the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly chaired by Senator Estes Kefauver held hearings into organised crime and professional boxing. Here the IBC’s connections to Blinky Palermo and two mafia families was revealed.
The latter saw Texas’s first legally sanctioned interracial professional boxing match take place between IH Harvey and Buddy Turman on 24th February. Harvey had successfully challenged boxing segregation in court, making history in the process. He would lose his match to Turman and in their rematch in June.