Nearly 60 years ago, Floyd Patterson fought a rematch against newly crowned heavyweight champion Ingemar Johansson. This was the 12th time a former champion had attempted to regain the heavyweight crown after losing it; as the previous 11 attempts of former champions to regain the title had all ended in failure. As Floyd Patterson attempted to recapture his title, there was no reason to believe he would be successful. Ingemar Johansson destroyed Floyd Patterson in their first fight. Johansson knocked Patterson down 7 times in the first round before stopping him in the third. The new champion’s victory over Patterson was as dominate as any championship fight seen before or since.
Patterson’s victory in the rematch (a crushing left hook knockout in the 5th round) was a testament to his resiliency, his focus, and his strength of will. An undersized heavyweight who was frequently criticized and questioned in the media, Floyd Patterson had an unbelievable belief in himself. Once criticized as being knocked down more than any heavyweight champion, Floyd famously responded that he also got up more than any heavyweight champion. The determination if not the ability of Patterson makes it easy in hindsight to see how he succeeded where 11 other former champions had failed.
Since Floyd Patterson’s victory over Ingemar Johansson, only 3 other champions have successfully regained the heavyweight title in direct rematches with the men who beat them. Muhammad Ali defeated Leon Spinks in a rematch to recapture his title. Evander Holyfield defeated Riddick Bowe in a rematch to recapture his title. Lennox Lewis defeated Oliver McCall in a rematch to recapture his title and then defeated Hasim Rahman in another rematch, to once again become heavyweight champion. These 3 champions shared traits similar to Floyd Patterson. They all possessed the resiliency, focus, and strength of will needed to brush off criticism. They all possessed an obsessive desire to win as well as an internal belief the heavyweight championship was their right. However what differentiated their respective rematches from Floyd Patterson was the circumstances surrounding it. Heading into their rematches, neither Muhammad Ali, Evander Holyfield, or Lennox Lewis were dominated in defeat. Although all men lost their crowns without much controversy, they were competitive in losing. Indeed although Lennox Lewis lost in highlight fashion against Hasim Rahman in their first fight, he was clearly winning before Rahman landed the right hand heard around the world. As a result none of these champions experienced the challenge of having to beat a fighter that previously dominated them.
Heading into his rematch with Andy Ruiz on December 7th, former unified heavyweight king Anthony Joshua will have to perform as Floyd Patterson did 60 years ago. Unlike Joshua’s successors who had to make minor adjustments in their attempts to regain their titles, AJ must fight a substantially different fight than the one which cost him the unified heavyweight championship. Joshua will have to demonstrate the loss to Ruiz didn’t permanently damage his confidence. AJ will have to demonstrate that he can get up not just physically but psychologically after losing the title in devastating fashion. Anthony Joshua must do what only Floyd Patterson has been able to do in the heavyweight division. Ironically Floyd Patterson is rarely considered among the great champions of the past and during his title reign was often criticized as the worst heavyweight champion. Yet there is no better champion that Anthony Joshua should look to for inspiration as he attempts to regain the title.