Monday, September 29, 2008


Printed on this Website with the Express Permission of the Author


By John A. Bardelli

All these years I have labored under the impression that Floyd Patterson worked over Jimmy Ellis something ferociously in September of 1968 ... venue Sweden. Indeed, as recently as 7:00 a.m., this very morning, September 28, 2008, forty years after having watched the live telecast of the Patterson-Ellis fight which I thought then, as I did this morning, that Patterson had won going away ... a decisive victory ... I penned the following words this morning, words based entirely on my recall of having watched that fight and the impression I was left with in watching it during a tumultuous 1968:

Patterson beat a good fighter in Jimmy Ellis ... beat him coming and going. Beat him bad. Ellis hit Patterson with some wicked right hands and Patterson's jaw took all that Ellis had to offer and Patterson gave five times what Ellis delivered. I felt so bad for Patterson after this fight .... it made me sick! This was a low point in boxing history ... a black eye for the sport! * * * Patterson was a real credit to life ... let alone boxing.

Harold Valan was the referee of the contest and he, alone, was to score the fight. It was broadcast by satellite round the world and in the USA the television commentator was Howard Cosell.

I decided to watch the fight again and did so commencing at 4:00 pm on September 28, 2008, as noted some 40 years after having seen it for the first time. In fairness, I have watched it several other times and my impression was always the same .... Patterson won the fight going away. But to my recollection, I had never scored the fight. I had only viewed it and listened to the commentary as the fight unfolded.

I scored the fight both by points on a 10 point must system and on the winner of each round basis as that is how the fight was to be scored in Stockholm by referee Harold Valan. Here's my overall reaction to having seen the fight again:

As noted, Cosell broadcast the video and his observations were entertaining but ... if one looks for accuracy he was terrible. He kept reminding a viewing audience that the fight was being unofficially scored by several boxing writers and those writers had Patterson winning the fight. The longer the fight went, and this fight was one of the last of the 15 round contests, the greater the lead Patterson was compiling. No one questioned why any round was scored as it was --- we were told that Patterson was ahead and that he was building his lead. If one watched but didn't score the fight, Cosell's commentary, alone, would influence an observer's ability to objectively determine who, indeed, was winning the fight and would leave the observer with a foregone conclusion that Patterson was the winner ... no questions asked.

When the audio portion of the fight failed several times late in the fight thereby preventing our hearing Cosell call the fight as he was seeing it, the video portion continued and we were again told by an unknown commentator, apparently from New York, that Patterson was ahead in the fight and winning handily. He would try to describe what was transpiring but for all practical purposes this makeshift covering was inept from the get-go. When Cosell was brought back into the fold, he quipped in with words to the effect --- "I am told the audio portion is bad. No matter, one can plainly see what is happening in this fight and you don't need me to tell you." But in fact, the viewing audience had been told what was happening. We were told that Patterson was about to regain the Heavyweight Championship of the World, and when we could once again hear the refrains of Cosell it was reinforced that Patterson was cleaning house.

It must be noted that Harold Valan has been vilified and suffered harsh criticism from boxing writers and fans for the decision he rendered in the fight. Criticism came from all corners. For example, referee Arthur Mercante penned with his autobiography Inside the Ropes the following observation:

Many years later, while watching the Jimmy Ellis - Floyd Patterson fight via satellite from Stockholm, Sweden, I --- along with thousands of other television viewers --- nearly choked on my beer when referee Harold Valen [sic] awarded the fight to Jimmy Ellis. It was clear to anyone with 20/2000 vision that Floyd Patterson was the clear winner. Even though Floyd had demolished their hero, Ingo, the Swedes had taken Patterson to their hearts and the verdict for Jimmy Ellis (Valen had the sole vote) caused a virtual riot. The hapless Harold Valen [sic] was lucky to get out alive.

One can only ask Mercante, did he score the fight, and how much beer did he in fact drink while watching it if he was, in fact, scoring it? In other words, was his personal insight impaired or was he influenced by Cosell and the pro-Patterson crowd which roared whenever Patterson even started to throw a punch as the rest of the viewing audience.

In the fourteenth round, Patterson connected with a counter right uppercut when Ellis' right hand seemingly went wide of its mark although it is difficult to see whether or not he caught Patterson as well. Regardless, Ellis was dropped at 2:20 into the round onto his butt and left flank. The reverential Patterson, stooped down and leaned over a stricken Ellis and then attempted to assist him to his feet interfering with Valan who should have been counting. As Ellis arose with Patterson's assistance, Ellis whispered something into Patterson's ear. Patterson seemingly nodded in approval to whatever it was that Ellis communicated to him!

Ellis was on the canvas for a count of nine. Certainly, an argument can be advanced that Ellis would have been able to get up before a nine count had Patterson not leaned over him thereby impeding Ellis and his ability to rise. The counter is that Ellis might have gone all the way to his back side had Patterson not intervened and started immediately assisting Ellis to his feet thereby raising the specter that Ellis might not have beat the count. Additionally, it should be pointed out that no ringside timekeeper started slapping the canvas as an aide to Valan so he could pick up the count. And it should be noted that even as Patterson attempted to assist Ellis to arise, Ellis had trouble getting up.

As Ellis did finally arise, he shook his head once while walking toward a corner --- then twice --- in an endeavor to clear the cobwebs and --- Valan didn't pick up on Ellis' appearance, reaction, and see his diminished reflexes. Had he done so, he would have called it a knockdown but by this time, since he failed to start his count, the easy out was to waive off a knockdown to save face. This was clearly a knockdown. Eventually Valan intervened and it appeared as though he wanted to assist Ellis to his feet. Ellis backed into the corner and grabbed the ropes for balance. Valan waved his hands in the air signifying he did not consider Ellis' being deposited onto the canvas as a knockdown. Further, he half heartedly wiped off Ellis' left glove but not his right glove before motioning to the fighters to continue the fight.

Patterson, throughout his entire career, had gone to help fighters whom he had deposited on the canvas even while the fight was still going on, i.e., the referee had not counted ten over a stricken opponent. The classic example of this is when Patterson floored Henry Cooper. Instinctively, he stooped down to assist Cooper who was obviously hurt on the canvas. Patterson's nature was contradictory. At times he was vicious and possessed the snarling tiger of a Dempsey but this law of the jungle requisite nature seemingly always was subdued by the passion of St. Francis which flowed through Patterson's veins. If it is possible, at least in the business of boxing, he was a gentlemen to a fault.

Did Patterson confuse Harold Valan and lead the referee to think that Ellis had slipped to the canvas as Patterson, himself, had slipped on four separate instances in this same fight? I believe Valan was convinced that Patterson, himself, did not think that Ellis had been knocked down. Valan was a fighter himself before becoming a boxing referee. Intuitively Valan had to be thinking: Why would any fighter knock another fighter to the canvas, especially in a championship contest, and then assist that fighter to his feet? Thereby, no count was initiated by Valan as Patterson's reactions predominantly convinced Valan that Ellis had not been floored by a punch.

As the fight resumed and for the balance of the round, Patterson did not act like he had his opponent on queer street and I do believe that Ellis was hurt bad and ready to go from his reactions while on the canvas, upon arising, and as the fight resumed. Yet, Patterson was unable to land another effective punch for the duration of the round and looked bewildered in his own right as to what the hell had just happened. Amazing round and Patterson just may have brought on his own defeat by the way he handled himself in this round.

When the fight ended, Ellis was cut over his right eye and he suffered a broken nose in the fight which bled as Cosell described at various times during the contest, "from the right nostril" and "now from the left nostril." The viewing audience was also told that the blood on Ellis' white trunks "was all his own" yet, Cosell did tell us during the fight that Patterson was bleeding from his mouth. From an appearance sake, Patterson looked the victor and Ellis the vanquished. But we all know that looks are deceiving in a fight and no fight is every judged on how a fighter looks when the final bell rings.

Contributing to the belief that Floyd Patterson won this fight were the actions and the roaring of Swedes at ringside who loved Floyd Patterson. Every time he threw a punch they roared vociferously even when the vast majority of Patterson's shots were wide of their mark or sailed aimless through the cool Swedish air. When Ellis connected, which was often, there was a deafening silence and literally, one waited to see Patterson drop as we had become so accustomed throughout his distinguished and great career. Listening to the crowd, one came away with a belief that Ellis was ready to go in at least 10 of the 15 rounds.

When Valan's card revealed that Ellis won the fight nine rounds to Ellis and six rounds to Patterson, the pro-Patterson crowd virtually rioted. The coming together of Floyd Patterson's being the sentimental favorite despite being the underdog in the fight, the announcing of Howard Cosell, the chiming in of an unknown New York announcer stressing that Patterson was winning by "a large margin", the repeated references that two ringside boxing writers were scoring the fight for Patterson at ringside, and the appearance of Jimmy Ellis when the fight was over, all contributed to my belief, that Floyd Patterson was the victim of an injustice in Stockholm and Harold Valan was blind if not worse.

On watching the fight on September 28th, I scored the fight as follows [expand the page to maintain continuity: (I was unable to get the scoring to line up correctly but you should be able to figure it out-Randy)

                    1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14 15

Ellis            W    W     W      E E W        W   W    E 
Patterso        W     W     W E E      W                 E    W   W

My card has Patterson winning 6 rounds, Ellis winning 6 rounds and three were even. However, note that I gave the 15th round to Patterson because I thought he won over the first two minutes of the round. I was simply guessing and that is inexcusable for an official rendering a decision that impacts the direction the lives taken by fighters. Here, it is less offensive in an analysis sense. I did so because the last minute was not seen as the satellite coverage gave us a blank screen. I have read accounts that state that Ellis came back from that knockdown in the 14th round to win the 15th round. If so, my card then would read Patterson 5, Ellis 7 with three rounds being even. All in all, based on my scoring, Patterson was behind in the fight going into the final round.

So, I convey my apologies to Harold Valan and his family after all these years. From my perspective, Valen most likely was correct and the margin of error in judging any fight has to be factored into the equation. Given the official, especially a referee who is on top of the fighters, seeing for the most part when punches do, in fact, land and when they are missed shots.

The fight was competitive, no doubt, and the fact that the sentimental favorite, Floyd Patterson, put up a good fight does not mitigate against the fact that he simply did not do enough in the fight to prevail despite the punishment he dished out to an obviously respectful Jimmy Ellis. Valan's scoring of the fight most assuredly was not out of line as I thought it was for all these years ... in fact, right up to this very morning.

I am at peace with what I believed had transpired in Sweden despite wanting Floyd Patterson to prevail as did so many others just because he was who he was --- a Saint mixed up in a violent business.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Patterson was a credit to his race---the human race. I met him later, and he was a great person. A Kurt Warner, only with much better taste in women. But he did NOT deserve the decision vs. Ellis. He SHOULD, and COULD, have won the fight...possibly by a ko, but, for some reason, didn't have the desire/motivation. The physical skills were still there, but, at his career stage, they alone weren't enough.

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