They called heavyweight boxing champ Floyd Patterson the Gentle Gladiator, because he was, oddly, so nice. Patterson could punch an opponent’s mouthpiece out, then back off mid-bout and stoop to help look for it. When he scored a knockout against nemesis Ingemar Johansson in their third match, he kissed the Swedish boxer on the cheek. “[I]t was my expression of admiration for a man who had fought me well,” Patterson said.
Make no mistake, though. Patterson pulverized guys. An Olympic gold-medal winner as a teenager in 1952, he became the youngest heavyweight champion in history four years later at 21. Patterson then would become the first to lose the title and win it back, in a masterful performance recounted with vigorous insight in W. K. Stratton’s “Floyd Patterson: The Fighting Life of Boxing’s Invisible Champion.’’