Remembering Ingemar Johansson

How good, or great, was heavyweight king Ingemar Johansson? The hugely popular Swedish fighter with the “Hammer of Thor,” a big and powerful right hand, played his part in one of the most exciting, up and down heavyweight trilogies in the history of the division. Without a doubt the finest boxer to have ever come out of Sweden, the man who ruled as heavyweight king from June of 1959 to June of 1960 was originally deemed to be something of a let-down, a coward even.

Johansson was famously disqualified in the final of the 1952 Olympic games for “running” against American fighter Ed Sanders. Shamefully, the Swede was then denied the heavyweight silver medal he had won. It was only a long thirty years later that Ingo was finally awarded with his silver medal, the original ruling to withhold it from him having been overruled in 1982.

Upon turning pro in December of 1952, fans were sceptical of the 20-year-old’s heart and commitment. This soon changed, however, when, in June of 1959, Johansson stunned reigning heavyweight king Floyd Patterson in the third-round of their fight held in Yankee Stadium. Seven times in total the underdog challenger decked the heavyweight champ, and Ingemar was an overnight sensation and a hero to millions of fans back home. Apparently, hundreds of thousands of fans stayed up until 3A.M local time to listen to the fight on the radio (imagine this happening today!)

Something of a playboy who liked to party when he should have been training, the new champion lost the title in his very first defence – a return battle with Patterson. Floyd became the first man in boxing history to regain the heavyweight crown when he sent Johansson down and out in the fifth-round of the 1960 rematch. The two rivals would fight a memorable rubber-match in March of 1961 (all three fights took place in the US), and once again Ingo decked Patterson (in a highly exciting opening round, both men went down). This time, though, Floyd got up and proceeded to stop his man in the sixth-round. It was a truly riveting series.

Johansson, aside from his bouts with Patterson, also met and defeated such top names as Henry Cooper (KO 5), Joe Erskine (TKO 13), and Eddie Machen, who he stopped in August 1958, in just one round, to earn his crack at the world title. After an April 1964 points win over Brian London (where Johansson was badly hurt in the final round), Johansson called it a day and retired. A former European champion as well as being world heavyweight king, Ingo retired with a fine 26-2(17) record.

He may not have been one of the all-time greats, but Ingemar Johansson earned himself a special place in boxing history nonetheless. He also conducted himself like a champion, in and out of the ring. There was no such thing as trash-talk in Johansson’s day.