Recalling a world champ’s love for Inishowen and Irish atmosphere

Former World Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson signing an autograph for Charlie Nash, the British Lightweight Champion, when they met at the Lough Swilly hotel, Buncrana(2110PG60)
Former World Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson signing an autograph for Charlie Nash, the British Lightweight Champion, when they met at the Lough Swilly hotel, Buncrana(2110PG60)
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The north west, it would seem, is no stranger to the legends of the fight game.

Last week, the ‘Journal’ recalled how Smokin’ Joe Frazier - complete with his band The Knockouts and at the height of his career - played two shows in Carndonagh and Magilligan.

But the man who floored the great Muhammed Ali with a thumping left hook way back in 1971 was not the only World Heavyweight Champ to visit these parts.

Fifteen years before Frazier touched down in the north west, Floyd Patterson was the name on every fight fans lips.

Like Frazier, Patterson was a former Olympic Gold medallist who would go onto claim the World Heavyweight crown.

In a turbulent and at times controversial career - Ali referred to him as an ‘Uncle Tom’ during their 1965 title bout after Patterson refused to acknowledge Ali’s name change from Cassius Clay - Patterson is best remembered as the youngest pre Mike Tyson heavyweight champ and the first man to reclaim the heavyweight belt.

Move forward to 1978, and with Patterson six years into his retirement, the former champ - as he had done the previous summer - touched down in Buncrana for a family holiday.

Speaking to a ‘Journal’ reporter in the Swilly Hotel the former champ said he “considers Donegal one of the loveliest places he has ever been” and spoke about his plans to buy some land in Inishowen.

“Floyd said that he had first visited Donegal last year,” the ‘Journal notes, “He loved the scenery so much that he simply had to return.”

Still fanatical about his fitness, the former champ had just returned from a run on the beach when the ‘Journal’ interviewed him.

“Patterson has already made many friends in Inishowen,” the report continues, “ where his quiet modesty and good humour has made him a very welcome visitor and it is obvious that he reacts well to the Irish atmosphere.”

The tranquillity of his Donegal sojourn was a fry cry from the cut and thrust of his career as a professional fighter.

As a distinguished amateur he had taken Olympic Gold in 1952 at the tender age of 17 before turning pro.

By 1956, aged only 21 and with his high hand style now nicknamed the peek-a-boo, he was world champ, beating Archie Moore for the vacant title.

Journey men contenders came and went before Patterson and Swede Ingemar Johansson fought three bruising encounters.

Johansson took Patterson’s belt in the first fight, before Floyd regained the title - the first man to do so - and then emerge victorious in a third fight. Title fights with Sonny Liston and Ali ended in defeat and the two time champ brought the curtain down on his career in late summer 1972. Patterson, who suffered from dementia and prostate cancer, passed away in 2006.