These days, no one would even consider taking an Olympic gold medalist straight out of the amateur ranks and throwing him in with the heavyweight champion of the world. But back in 1957, Pete Rademacher had a bright idea that would make history and himself a lot of money.
Rademacher was the premier amateur boxer of his day, winning major tournaments from 1949-1956, including the ’53 U.S. Amateur Championship. 1956 would bring him worldwide recognition when he won the heavyweight gold medal at the Melbourne Olympics.
Soon after, Rademacher began to hit the press with claims that he was going to make history by winning the heavyweight title in his first professional fight. Floyd Patterson, who won the title in late 1956 over Archie Moore, initially scoffed at the idea until Rademacher offered 250,000 in guaranteed funds. It was an offer Patterson couldn’t refuse. The angle had been set with Patterson, the first Olympic gold medalist to win the heavyweight title, seeking to defend his crown against another gold medalist.
While seen as an intriguing mismatch on paper in favor of the 22-year-old Patterson, the 29-year-old Rademacher came into the ring outweighing his opponent by 15 pounds (202 to 187), possessing a significantly longer reach (77 to 71) and a slight height advantage (6’1 to 6’0). These attributes gave Patterson difficulty early as he struggled to get beyond Rademacher’s steady jab and counterpunching. The though of an upset grew to a fervor pitch in the second when a chopping overhand right dropped a visibly embarrassed Patterson for a three count.
Patterson refused to be discouraged and kept steady pressure on Rademacher behind leaping hooks. As the rounds progressed, the grueling pace of the fight began to wear on Rademacher, who was used to four round, two-minute amateur bouts. Patterson hooks began a series of knockdowns, six in all, that firmly put to rest the idea of an upset. Rademacher labored badly around the ring until a Patterson left-right hook combination ended matters in the sixth.
Rademacher’s career never truly recovered from his ambitious first fight. He would suffer a fourth round knockout to Zora Folley in his second bout, and finished his career in 1962 with a record of 15-7-1, with 8 KOs.
Patterson would make several more defense before being upset by Ingemar Johansson in 1959. Patterson became the first man to regain the heavyweight title by knocking out Johansson in a 1960 return bout. He repeated the feat in a ’61 rubbermatch. Patterson would lose the title for good to Sonny Liston in 1962 but continued facing top fighters such as Jerry Quarry, Jimmy Ellis, George Chuvalo and Muhammad Ali before retiring in 1972.