Production Team: X
Interview Date: March 13, 1989
Camera Rolls: 2104-2105
Sound Rolls: 248
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Floyd Patterson, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on March 13, 1989, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
OK. Mr. Patterson, as a champion you were always considered a person who, outside the ring, led a quiet, reflective kind of life. When Cassius Clay first came on the fight scene what did you think of him?
Well it was something different. In fact, ah--
Can we stop. When you start--
Oh, yes, you're right. You're right. When Clay came on the scene, ah, he was Clay then, when Cassius Clay came on the scene, he was something different. I had never seen anything like that before. I thought it was rather comical. In fact, ah, I had a lot of laughter out of it. He would predict, but after a while, many of his predictions came true.
Did you think he was brash, or too, too much?
Well, after a while I realized he was doing that to convince himself that he could do it. And he did a very good job in convincing himself because he did it.
Let's cut a second.
I'm going to ask you again.
OK, Mr. Patterson, you were considered the champion who, outside the ring, led sort of a quiet, reflective life, Gay Talese says "a life of solitude". When you first, when did you first hear of Clay? What did you think of him and his personal style?
Well, when I first saw Clay, he was on television, he was yelling to the top of his voice about what he was going to do his opponent. Ah, I found this very, very funny, ah, in the beginning. But after a while I began to dislike it because he said demeaning things about his opponents. And that's something that in boxing I always thought was a "no-no". You never down another guy to up yourself. But then as time went on I realized that he was doing this in order to give himself more confidence, convincing himself that he could do it. And Clay, in my opinion, I felt was very, very intelligent, because, ah, ah, I watched him fight once and he had predicted that he would knock the guy out in four rounds, excuse me, in six rounds. And then the guy had something derogatory to say back and he said, "Well because of that, I'm going to knock you out in four." Ah, right after the fight, the fight went the distance. It was in the Gard--Madison Square Garden, it went the distance. And right away, the TV jumped into the arena, put the mic in front of him and said, "Now you said you were going to knock him out in six, you failed. Then you said you were going to do it in four. What happened?" He said, "What's six and four?" So, what I'm trying to say, that was a very intelligent answer. I got a big kick out of that. Ah, after a while, ah, ah, of course we, we had differences as far as, ah, beliefs were concerned. And, ah, that's mainly why, in the very beginning, we weren't too friendly toward one another because, well he has his beliefs, I have mine. I respect his as long as he respects mine and back then he didn't respect mine.
Good. That's a good answer. That's a very good answer.
Mr. Patterson, in '64, I have this article from the New York Times where you challenge Clay, you know, to fight. Now how did that come about where you challenged him and you challenged his belief in the Black Muslims.
Well, first of all, call me Floyd, OK?
Ah, secondly, ah, I didn't challenge him. I just expressed the way I felt about the things he believed. And he expressed the way he felt about the things I believed. I only did this because of, ah, some of the derogatory things he was saying about my beliefs** which indicated to me he did not respect what I believed. So therefore I was not going to respect his belief. You see if you respect what I believe, I will respect what you believe. But if you don't show me the same courtesy then I can't show it to you. Well, that's the way life is.
Let's, let's cut a second.
Floyd, what were some of the things that Clay was saying that, that, you know, made you react to him by challenging him to fight?
Well some of the things he said was that, ah--
Could you clue, I mean Clay.
Well, some of the things Cassius Clay said about me is, going back when he was Cassius Clay. Ah, he called me a White man's champion. Now, I always, always respected what he believes, ah, and I felt he should respect my belief. And the fact that, ah, I didn't see colors, he called me a White man's champion. And I resented that.**
And so, you made the statement, what was his reaction to your challenge?
Well, he made a lot of derogatory things back then but frankly I don't even remember because they would go in one ear and out the other. You see those things don't stick with me. Ah, a lot of things he said, ah, about me and I guess eventually, we, we fought.
OK, let's stop a second.
Now, let's take you back to this first fight you had with Cassius Clay, who by this time I guess was Muhammad Ali. What are some of your thoughts about that fight? What do you remember about that fight?
Well, frankly, I remember more about the second fight than the first fight. I prefer not to remember the first fight. However, I will tell you some of the things that happened in the fight. Ah,, as you may know, I had a bad back then. In fact it was a knot as big as my fist in back of my back because the blood could not get through my, ah, spinal cord. Ah, I sustained an injury when I threw a left hook and I believe fell down and, ah, when I got up, ah, well. Anyway. I took a very bad beating for many, for several rounds. Finally, I think in about the 10th round, I said to myself, "I'm going to try to hit this guy at least one shot." So I tried to tie up his left jab, because he throws an awful lot of jabs. And as he was throwing the jab, I went to cross a right hand to catch him as the jab was coming back. Now there are many things that you can do to avoid a right hand. You could bob, weave, you could take a step to the side, left to right and move back. You can do several things. Ah, he did every one of them. I never even threw the right hand. So I said to myself, "How do you hit this guy?" Which led me to believe he was very, very fearful of getting hit. And the fact that he was so fearful of getting hit, he had a tremendous, ah, a very, very good defense. Ah, but he took no chances when it came to getting hit. Then I realized why it was so difficult to hit him. Ah, of course after the fight was all over, ah, if you remember back then Howie Cosell said that he carried me, ah, during, during the fight. Ah, that's not true. He did not carry me. It's just that he was, ah, aggressive at times, being very fearful of getting hit and very, when anyone that fearful of getting hit, very rarely gets hit. Clay never really got hit until he lost his legs. When he lost his legs, then he started taking a lot of punishment.
I see. Let's cut.
I mean, some people said that--
Now, legend goes that when Clay was fighting, he kept saying, "What's my name? What's my name?" And at some point you said, "Muhammad Ali." Now, tell me your version of this.
Ah, that is not true.
I mean in terms of the fight.
Ah, ah, while we were fighting in, ah, Clay had said, maybe once or twice in the earlier rounds, maybe like in the third or fourth, "What's my name?" Ah, my reply was "Cassius." And finally in the latter part of the fight, I say maybe around the ninth, tenth, or eleventh round, and I was really taking a bad beating, suffering. He said, "Now, what's my name?" And my reply was, once or twice I believe I said the same thing. "Cassius Clay and that's what it's always going to be regardless of the results of this fight, Cassius Clay."
If we have, good.
In '67 Clay refused to be inducted into the armed services, what did you think of that stance that he, that he took?
Well every man has his own rights to believe as he chose to believe and I respect that. Ah, I can only speak for myself. I cannot speak for Cassius Clay because, well, he has own mind, his own beliefs. If I was asked to go into the service, I can only tell you what I would have done. The fact that my, ah, next door neighbor lost her husband, the lady across the street lost her son, based on that alone, I would have had to go.
Didn't I just give you the answer?
Yeah, well sometimes we like to have it again because you might have another thought that you. I need you to expound a little bit about my neighbor next door and--
Oh, OK, all right.
Floyd in '67, Ali refused to be inducted into the armed services, I mean, what was your reaction to it? What did you think?
Well I was bit shocked in the beginning but then I thought about it.
Excuse me a minute, when Ali refused to be--
When Ali refused to be inducted into the service, I was a bit shocked in the, at the beginning but as I thought about it, I respect his, his opinion. He had his own thoughts about it and, ah, perhaps he was right. I don't know. But I can only tell you about myself. You see, and that is if I was asked to go in the service, back then, the fact that my next door neighbor lost her son, the lady across the street lost her husband, I would have had to go on guilt feelings alone.
Floyd, what did, what did you think of the, the Black Muslims at that time?
Well, ah, I'm not a racist in any way. I dislike anyone who's prejudiced, whether they be White or Black, see. So, I don't see any colors. So as I said back then, and I'll say again, ah, and I think if you put, ah, all the, ah, KKKs, along with the Black Muslims on an island somewhere, ah, it would be a better world to live in.
When, when, when Ali, being just Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston and then two days later announced that he was a Black Muslim, what did you, what did you think of that?
Well back then, I didn't know what to think because I knew very little about the Black Muslims. Back then when Cassius Clay had said, ah, when I found out that he was a Black Muslim, that he had just joined the Black Muslims, ah, I didn't know that much about them. But, ah, it was then that I started listening to Malcolm X on television and then I learned what they were representing.
What did you think they were representing, I mean?
Well, that's fairly obvious, you know.
I mean, what did the Ku Klux Klans rep--rep--represent?
Let's, let's stop for a second. I know it's obvious, I know.
Floyd, two days after Clay fought Sonny Liston and won the heavyweight championship, he announced that he was a Black Muslim. What did you think of his announcement? And what did you think of the Black Muslims?
Well, back then, ah, I really didn't know that much about the Black Muslims. It wasn't until he joined, joined the Black Muslims and, ah--
I need you to say Clay's name: "When Clay--"
Back then I really didn't know that much about the Black Muslims. But when I heard that Cassius Clay had joined them, ah, I began to read about them. I began to listen to interviews on the television. And Clay himself had an awful to say about it. And I'd always try catch any interview he, ah, had made back then. And I guess it was through Clay and Black Muslims themselves I learned more about them and what they believed in.
What did you think of what they believed in?
Well, I naturally disagree, you know. As I said before, I do not see colors. Ah, to me we're all brothers and sisters and on Judgment Day, God will judge us based on what we did for our brothers and sisters not based on our color.
OK, let's cut.
Got to the ring in the first and second round, he kept asking you, "What's your, what's his name?" and you said, "Cassius Clay," and by the ninth or tenth round, when you were in the pain that you were talking about. OK?
Before the first fight with you and Clay, he had been saying a lot of things to the press that he was going to have you call him by his, ah, his Muslim name. Tell me a little bit about what he had been saying and then the fight itself.
Well, yes, he had, ah, Cassius Clay had said this over TV many a time and he had said it to the press at press conferences. That he was going to beat me so bad he'd have me, he was going to ask me, he was going to make me call him by the name he wanted to be called. Ah, and during the actual fight he did say during the earlier rounds, I believe he asked me once or twice, "What's my name? What's my name? And, ah, I said, "Cassius Clay". I distinctly remember the latter rounds when I was taking a bad beating, ah, ah, he said, "What's my name now?" And I, my reply was, "Cassius Clay and that's what it will always be." I'm 54 years-old now and it's still Cassius Clay. Now don't misunderstand. I'm not being disrespectful. Ah, his mother and father, they still call him Cassius Clay. I ran into his father several years ago and he had said to me, ah, "I met you at such and such a place, do you remember who I am?" So I looked at him and I said, "Well, I don't quite remember. But you look familiar." He said, "Well, I'm Cassius Clay's father." So, I said, "Oh, you still call him Cassius Clay?" And he said, "Yeah." So anyway, to get back to what I was saying. Ah, Clay and I get along very well now. You know, I mean, ah, I've seen him on several occasions. We talk. We're friends. You know, all that's forgotten about. But he's still Cassius Clay. I'm still the rabbit. He calls me a rabbit.
Cut. OK. That's good. That was nice.