Patterson, who won the Gold medal in he 1952 Helsinki Olympics as a Middleweight, fought Archie Moore in 1956 for the world Heavyweight championship left vacant by Rocky Marciano. He beat Moore by a knockout in five, and became boxing's youngest world Heavyweight champion in history, at the age of 20. That record would stand for 30 years.
After a series of defenses, Patterson met Ingemar Johansson of Sweden, in the beginning of what many consider one of boxing's most interesting and pintoresque trilogies of fights. Johansson knocked Patterson out in 1959 in the third round to become that country's first world Heavyweight champion,thus becoming a national hero in Sweden immediately, but Patterson came back and knocked Johannson out in the fifth round of their rematch, with what many boxing historians have called the best punch ever in boxing, to become the first man ever to recover the world's Heavyweight title. Interesting enough, after the rematch, Patterson endeared himself with the people who had made Johansson their national hero, and when he went on an European exhibition tour after that rematch, he was greeted by Swedish fans, who were eager to shake hands, ask for autographs and take photos with Patterson everywhere he went during his stay there. On documentaries shown on television about that trip,it seems that Patterson, a good autograph signer, always obliged. People in Sweden referred to Patterson and Johansson on a first name basis only.
Their third fight was in 1961, and Johansson put Patterson on the floor, but Patterson got up and retained his title by a knockout in six to win the rubber match. After one more defense, Patterson lost his title by a knockout in the first to Sonny Liston. Patterson attempted to become the first boxer ever to win the world's Heavyweight title three times, but Liston once again knocked him out in the first round.
Patterson went through a depression after that, often using sunglasses and hats to go out in public and go unnoticed, but he recovered and began winning fights again, until he became the number one challenger of the man who twice beat Liston, Muhammad Ali. On another attempt to be the first to win the world's Heavyweight title three times, Patterson lost by a knockout in 12. Once Ali was stripped of his belt for protesting action against the Viet Cong, Jimmy Ellis won the vacant world Heavyweight championship, and Patterson, in his third and final attempt at becoming the first boxer to win the Heavyweight world title for a third time, lost a split 15 round decision to Ellis in Sweden. He used that new trip to that country to rekindle his love relationship with the citizens of that area.
Patterson went on, but after losing in a rematch to Ali for the United States Heavyweight title by a knockout in seven , he retired for good.
Patterson also holds the record for the Heavyweight champion who came off the floor to retain the title the most often in boxing history, falling a average of one time per fight where he retained the belt.
In retirement, he and Johansson became good friends who flew across the Atlantic to visit each other every year, and he became chairman of the New York state Athletic commission, job that he held until recently. He also became a member of the International Boxing Hall Of Fame.
He had a record of 55 win, 8 losses and 1 draw, with 40 wins by knockout.