Forgotten Legends: Tracy Harris Patterson

By: Steve Gallegos

To be the son of a legend in boxing has it’s up’s and down’s. Some fighters get opportunities and breaks that they wouldn’t have gotten or don’t deserve because of their famous name. There was however one fighter who created a name for himself by coming up the hard way. That fighter was former two-time champion Tracy Harris Patterson.

Standing at only 5’5 1/2, Patterson was a little big man with excellent skill and power and he was a fan favorite amongst fight fans in the 1990’s. Tracy Harris was born in Grady, AL and his family would later relocate to New York. It was in New Paltz, NY that an 11 year old Tracy Harris would walk into a boxing gym operated by former two-time Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson. Patterson would get down on his knees so that he could work the mitts with young Tracy. Three years later Floyd Patterson would adopt Harris, thus becoming Tracy Harris Patterson.

The former Heavyweight champion guided his son through an outstanding amateur career in which he twice won the New York Golden Gloves championship. He would turn pro in 1985 at the age of 20 and would go 44-2 with 33 KO’s over the next seven years while claiming the North American Boxing Federation Jr. Featherweight title in 1990. Despite his excellent record as well as having his legendary father in his corner, Patterson didn’t get a shot at a world title until his 47th pro bout when he faced the tough Frenchman Thierry Jacob.

They met on 06/23/92 at the Knickerbocker Arena in Albany, NY and it was for the WBC Super Bantamweight title. Patterson came out throwing bombs in the first round, rocking Jacob and dropping him just before the bell. Jacob got up but was badly hurt. Patterson wasted no time in the second round as he went for the kill, putting Jacob down again, causing referee Arthur Mercante Jr. to stop the bout. Tracy Harris Patterson was finally a world champion and it was the first time that a son of a former champion would claim a world title.

Patterson would get a stiff test in his first title defense 5 1/2 months later when he fought the legendary Daniel Zaragoza of Mexico to a draw. Patterson would successfully defend his title three times over the next year, which included a technical decison win over Zaragoza in a rematch after the fight was stopped in the seventh round due to cuts. It was in his fifth defense of his title that he would suffer his first setback in five years as he dropped a close split decision to Hector Acero-Sanchez.

After the loss to Acero-Sanchez, Patterson made the very difficult decision to cut ties with father Floyd Patterson, who had trained him since he was a teenager. He then hired world class trainer Tommy Parks and after winning his next two bouts, he was back in line for a title shot, this time against undefeated Eddie Hopson.

The two met on 07/09/95 at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center in Reno, NV and it was for the IBF Jr. Lightweight championship. Many were wondering if Patterson had brought his power up to 130 lbs. Patterson would quickly answer that question as he blasted Hopson in two rounds. Just as his legendary father had done before him, Tracy Patterson was now a two-time world champion. The glory would however be short lived.

In his first title defense, Patterson faced a young, determined slugger named Arturo Gatti. They met on 12/15/95 at Madison Square Garden and it was on the undercard of Oscar De La Hoya’s lightweight title defense against Jesse James Leija. Patterson got off to a slow start in this bout and was dropped in the second round by a  right uppercut. Throughout the middle rounds, the fight heated up and turned into a exciting, back and forth slugfest. Patterson would rally late, putting together good combinations while causing both of Gatti’s eyes to swell. Despite a strong finish, Patterson would come up short, losing a unanimous decision.

The fight was one of the most exciting bouts of 1995 and a rematch wasbinevitable. After winning his next three bouts, Patterson would get another crack at Arturo Gatti when they met on 02/22/97 at the Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City, NJ and the IBF Jr. Lightweight title was once again at stake. Towards the end of the first round, Patterson rocked Gatti with a short right hand and he began to let his hands go. During this rally, Patterson landed a hard left hand to the body that put Gatti down. Gatti was clearly hurt and looked like he might stay down; however referee Rudy Battle ruled the punch a low blow instead of a knockdown.

Tracy was furious as he knew the blow landed cleanly. Television replays clearly showed the punch landed clean to the body. Rudy Battle didn’t realize at the time that he robbed Tracy Patterson of a possible knockout. Gatti recovered from the shot and the fight continued. With the exception of a brief Patterson rally late in the fight, Arturo Gatti dominated the bout by boxing smart. The end result would be a unanimous decision win for Gatti.

Patterson was humbled in defeat, not blaming the referee for the bogus low blow call. He gave credit to Gatti as he said he was in the ring with a young, hungry warrior. Many felt that Tracy Harris Patterson’s career was done, despite only being 32 years old. Patterson would continue fighting on, determined to get back in the world title hunt by winning his four bouts, however that quest would come to a screeching hault in July of 1998 as he was dominated and stopped by Goyo Vargas in six rounds.

Although he lost to Vargas inside the ring, he gained an even bigger win outside the ring as he reconciled with his father Floyd, whom he didn’t speak to very much in the last four years. He would go 2-2-1 from 1999-2001, retiring with a record of 63-8-2 with 43 KO’s. He was one of the tougher, more exciting little big men of his era. He was a hardworking, blue collar type of fighter that didn’t rely on his father’s name as some fighter’s do today. He instead made his own name and we hope to someday see him inducted into Canastota alongside his legendary father.

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