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Floyd Patterson’s Spanish adventure

Fly to Madrid wearing a false beard, fake a limp, and eat bad soup: all in a week’s work for a recently dethroned heavyweight boxing champion.


Patterson (lying) headed to Madrid after losing to Liston (standing).

It’s not often that Spain is associated with boxing, particularly heavyweight boxing. The country has no tradition of producing top-flight fighters and some media do not cover the sport on principle.

You certainly wouldn’t expect heavyweight great Floyd Patterson to have spent any time in Spain. But he did, under strange circumstances. In 1962, Sonny Liston fought title-holder Patterson for the world heavyweight belt. Despite his prowess in the ring, Patterson, a deeply insecure man, always kept a disguise in his fight bag in case he should lose and need to escape the venue incognito.

Two minutes and six seconds into the Chicago fight, Liston had knocked the champ down and he didn’t make the count. It was the third-fastest heavyweight knockout in heavyweight history.

In his excellent biography of Muhammad Ali, King of the World, David Remnick describes Patterson’s loss to Liston and the former’s eccentric reaction to defeat. Pasting on a fake beard, his head still throbbing from the fight, Patterson drove 22 hours with a friend to his training camp in Highland Mills:

“Not long after, Floyd decided to get away entirely. He went out to New York’s Idlewild Airport carrying his passport, a suitcase, and his disguise. Before he got to the ticket counter, he put on his beard and moustache. He looked up at the departures board, scanned it for the next few flights, and bought a ticket to Madrid. It made no difference – anywhere but here. When he got to Madrid, he took a cab straight to a hotel and registered under the name Aaron Watson. For several days, Patterson wandered around the poorer sections of the city, faking a limp. The people stared at him. Patterson got the distinct impression they thought he was mad. He ate most of his meals in his hotel room. The one time he ate at a restaurant he ordered soup, not because he liked it –he hated soup– but because he figured that soup is what an old person would eat.”

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Published: May 2 2011
Category: Iberoblog, Sports
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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