Floyd Patterson - He Always Got Up
05.06.06 - by RON LIPTON: On May 11, 2006 I was standing in my kitchen with one foot being pulled out of the front door like I was water skiing on tile while my powerful but gentle black Pit Bull Terrier “Sweetie”was trying to get outside..
Article posted on 05.06.2006
I was struggling with her to slow her down just a bit so the door would not go off it’s hinges. She resembles a beautiful mythical creature that is part panther and part wolf. and has the strength of both. Well, she was comically dragging me in tow out onto the porch with her still remarkable 9 year old exuberance, while I attempted with one hand to close the door behind me.
At that moment I heard my Fiance Gabrielle yell my name loudly with the sound of terrible stress in her voice as the door partially closed in her face.
My heartbeat reacted instantly and rose involuntarily at the sound of her voice which clearly communicated something bad had just happened. Sometimes people close to me react too emotionally about average things and I have asked many times for them to be cool under pressure and break things to me slowly, gently and succinctly.. Be clear, don’t wait, don’t hide bad news and tell me exactly what is wrong at once, is our understanding.
Well, my son and my girl know me well and that is how bad news is served up to me in the Lipton family, at once and in plain English. “Floyd Patterson just died, it is on TV now.” My heart went up a few more beats and my throat choked with shock. I had to breathe deeply and I tried to calm the sickening feeling spreading in my gut by taking some deep breaths.
The CNN report had been on and off as fast as one of Floyd’s combinations and all that remained was the news banner at the bottom of the screen. “Floyd Patterson former Heavyweight Champion died this morning at his home in New Paltz NY at age 71, he had been suffering from prostate cancer and pugilistic dementia.”
My history with him was so rich, varied and personal that my mind swirled with the memories and then stopped spinning on the image of his wife Janet. I hadn’t seen her in years because of reports of Floyd’s family going into virtual seclusion and preventing outside visits, from just about anyone, due to Floyd’s illness.
I sadly called her private phone and got a recording. I left a personal message of condolence and a plea for her to hang on and keep her health and to always remember that she is appreciated and loved by many. I gently hung up, paused and then I made a few calls.
I called Tracy Harris Patterson and Brian Burke his former corner man. They of course confirmed the worst to me, that Floyd had suffered terribly from prostate cancer and did indeed pass on this day. His powerful 200lb frame had been reduced to what Tracy thought to be about 110lbs before his passing.
I was aghast to hear that he had to suffer so badly and my faith was temporarily shaken for the moment that God could allow any good person of faith such as Floyd, to suffer like that and get knocked down so hard.
I kept my thoughts to myself temporarily and made a mental reservation to ask Tracy a few more questions, but certainly not now.
I felt helpless and was left in a state of numbness and felt my mind going back and forth to my own father who had admired Floyd so much. The combination of thinking of my own father’s passing in 2002 and now Floyd’s departure started to make me crumble a bit internally and I bit the bullet hard to center myself and calm down.
I realized that most every adult over 50 is like a mirror that has been broken and glued together in many pieces from all of our losses in life. Dwell too hard on those memories and that mirror will break into smitherines.
Rely on the toughness and understanding one has hopefully accrued in their life to keep that mirror together and you just might make it another 30 years.
I thought how horrible it must be for Floyd’s wife and children who loved him so much. I eased my mind by saying a few prayers with my family for him and I immediately let my other family on Cyberboxingzone know of his passing.
I also had found out that only his immediate family would be at the cemetary service but a memorial service for Floyd would be held on May 27, 2006 on a Saturday at his beloved St.Joseph’s Church in New Paltz, NY. All those who respected and loved him were welcome to attend.
When I heard the name of St.Joseph’s , I was reminded of the times I would attend the Church Bazaar where Floyd would sit in the chair above the water in the cage and you could try to dunk the former heavyweight champ with a baseball throw. I dropped him a few times and when he got out of the water with that sheepish grin I loved so much, I walked by him and said,
“I’m sorry Floyd but now I can always say, I dropped the heavyweight champ.” He laughed good naturedly and replied, “A lot of guys can say that, but I am proud that, I always got up.”
We both laughed as I knew in all his fights, he did indeed always get up, even in both Liston fights, he made it up shortly after 10.
In the days that followed the initial news of his passing, I was contacted by Cablevision to do a tribute to Floyd with his son Tracy and his dear friend Brian Burke who had worked with Floyd.
I agreed and I had but one request. I asked that after the usual stock footage of him was shown, would I be able to add a few moments from some of his fights that are not ordinarily proffered to the public.
Charlie Cornaccio, the producer agreed and I went about compiling some moments that I thought would exemplify his courage, fighting ability and his sportsmanship.
I put together some hi lites of him being fouled by Charlie “The Devil” Green and then unbelievably helping Green to the canvas after he took him out with a paralyzing left hook to the body in the 10th round. I showed his double right hand that took out Ingemar in their 3rd fight in Miami, and the 10th round with George Chuvalo to show his courage. I showed the Ellis fight with Floyd’s combinations blazing away and a few other tidbits.
We did the show and it went well. I talked about some personal things he did to stand by me when he was the NYSAC Boxing Commission Chairman. He assigned me to do the DeLahoya V Leija fight on HBO for the title in December of 1995.
Some jealous factions tried to take it away for themselves. He told them all that if I was not standing in the ring that night as the referee they could take the fight elsewhere. He had to battle a former Commissioner, that guy’s pals, and political hacks behind the scenes. They never stopped trying to usurp his authority or take work away from me or to make him look bad. He always did what was best for the fighters who he loved the most and they all knew it...
The night of the fight, I stood in the ring waiting for DeLahoya and Leija to come down the aisle in the Garden. It was bedlam. I heard a voice above it all, calling my name, “Ron, Ron, “ I looked up and it was Floyd. He beckoned me over with a strong hand.
He looked me dead in the eye with the most serious look on his face, “I told you I would not let anyone take this away from you, now do you believe me, I know you’re the best man for the job.”
I said, I always believe you Floyd no matter what you tell me, he smiled at hearing that and sat down satisfied that he won another righteous fight.
He said something else one day that I always believed too. In 1990 I had ridden up to New Hamshire from New Paltz NY with him. It seemed like a 7 hour drive. I was to work the corner with him in a fight. I rode up with him along with my son Brett and another fighter. I did the driving.
When we checked into the hotel, he was signing the register to pay for our rooms.
Two beautiful women were in the lobby, so I tapped him on the arm whispering to him with my earthy sense of humor. I was friends with his beloved wife Janet and deeply respected her, so I figured he had to know I was kidding.
I said, Hey Champ these two babes are giving you the eye over there. Thinking I was serious, he slowly raised his scarred and powerful left hand, pointing to his wedding ring,
“There’s only one girl for me, that’s my wife Janet.”
I loved him more at that moment than ever before. I said, I know Champ, I was only kidding. He then turned to look at me again, and smiled realizing I had been kidding with him while shooting a playful jab to my gut.
His best girl was at the funeral mass on Saturday. I went over and kissed her and took her hand. She looked grief stricken and worn out beyond endurance. I sat down and soon another man sat down right next to me. It was Brian Kenny who had come from Connecticut. We had done about 15 TV shows together on boxing before he went to ESPN. He loved Floyd very much too and we both knew what a loss this was.
I waited awhile until things quieted down among the 200 people there. I sat quietly thinking of the first time I saw Floyd around the corner in the Gramercy Gym from my Father’s store in Manhattan.
It was the mid 1950’s. I watched him train every day with my Dad and got his autograph. The little boy I was never dreamed what I would share with him in the future. I never dreamed I would know what his last words on this Earth would be either.. Tracy told me.
He lay in bed, with his best girl sitting next to him, and a priest by his side. He was knocked down but good with the cancer taking him closer and closer to death’s door.
As he was down and dying, he said to Janet, “I see Jesus standing over there in the corner, can’t you see him? He wants me to come with him now, I have to go.” He then died. His last words left us with a renewed faith and in doing that, to me he got up from being knocked down.
He got up the only way he knew, with grace under fire, with dignity, politeness and faith, all his trademarks.
I told Brian Kenny about it, and we both grieved in our own way.
I wish I could tell Floyd one more time, Yes, I believe you Floyd, you always got up.
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