Ingemar Johansson

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Ingemar Johansson
Class of 2002
Modern Category
Hall of Fame bio:click
World Boxing Hall of Fame Inductee

Name: Ingemar Johansson
Alias: Ingo
Born: 1932-09-22
Birthplace: Gothenburg, Sweden
Died: 2009-01-30 (Age:76)
Nationality: Swedish
Hometown: Gothenburg, Sweden
Stance: Orthodox
Height: 6′ 0½″   /   184cm
Reach: 72″   /   183cm
Boxing Record: click

Division: Heavyweight
Trainers: Nils Blomberg, Whitey Bimstein, Al Silvani
Manager: Edwin Ahlquist
Ingemar Johansson Gallery


Ingemar Johansson was World Heavyweight Champion from June 26, 1959 to June 20, 1960. Johansson, a powerful right-hand puncher, is best known for his three fights against two-time champion Floyd Patterson.

Press coverage of the Floyd Patterson-Ingemar Johansson match of 1959 focused on Johansson's training methods primarily because Patterson, the defending champion and prohibitive favorite, was often uncomfortable around the press and provided little in the way of exciting copy. Johansson's training methods, when compared to the conventional wisdom of the time, were unorthodox. Eschewing the notion that a fighter ought to be miserable while preparing for a match, Johansson set up shop in the open air of Grossingers resort hotel. While Patterson, who trained in a barn, spent his evenings playing cards with his sparring partners, Ingemar could occasionally be seen at local night spots dancing the night away with his "secretary" Birgit. But the press erred when they characterized Johansson as less than a serious professional. They hadn't taken into account his impressive victories over Joe Erskine, Henry Cooper, and Joe Bygraves. They also hadn't taken into account his victory over number-one ranked Eddie Machen. It was this match, held on September 14th, 1959, that showed what Johansson could really do.

Machen arrived in Sweden expecting easy money and some low-risk prep work for a shot at Patterson's title early the following year. He received neither. Early in the first round, Johansson landed with a straight right, a punch he affectionately referred to as "Toonder and Lightning." Other called it "Ingo's Bingo" and the "Hammer of Thor." Machen went down as if shot. He managed to beat the referee's count, but Johansson scored with "Toonder" a few more times and Machen took the full count with his head resting on the ring apron. The victory should have won him instant acclaim, but it didn't. The location of the fight - Johansson's back yard - coupled with the bias typically shown against European boxers, caused the public to regard his victory as a fluke.

Another factor contributing to Johansson's slight reputation can be traced back to the 1952 Olympics at Helsinki. Matched in the final against the huge American Ed Sanders, Johansson kept his distance and rarely threw a punch, prompting French referee Roger Vaisburg to disqualify him for not trying. Olympic officials then ruled that the Silver Medal would not be awarded to Johansson (he was eventually awarded the Silver Medal in 1982). Johansson was branded a coward in Sweden. Years later, in his autobiography Seconds Out of the Ring, Johansson wrote that it had all been a big mistake, that the referee hadn't understood his battle plan, which, according to Johansson, called for a strict defensive strategy over two rounds, and a surprise attack in the third. In light of future events, he may have been right. In any case, his performance at Helsinki seriously damaged his credibility. On the eve of his first fight with Patterson, Johansson was a five to one underdog.

The fight, held in New York's Yankee Stadium on June 27, 1959, began as expected, with Patterson the aggressor and Johansson on defense. Through the first two rounds, Johansson was content to move around the ring and throw soft left jabs that annoyed Patterson more than anything else. The right hand that destroyed Machen was nowhere in sight. By the third round, Patterson, according to his memoirs, was convinced that Johansson's fabled right hand, his "Toonder," didn't exist, that it was just a myth manufactured by the press.

Johansson being presented with the championship belt by Nat Fleischer, founder of The Ring.

Patterson's downfall began with a simple shift in strategy. In the first two rounds, the champion avoided Johansson's jab by bobbing under it, but by the third, a complacent Patterson started picking off the jab with his right glove. About a minute into the round Johansson turned the jab into a wide left hook and Patterson moved his right glove out of position as Johansson hoped he would. Johansson then drove his own right hand straight down the middle, catching Patterson flush. The champion crashed to the canvas. Glassy eyed, he staggered up at the count of nine, out on his feet. Referee Ruby Goldstein should have stopped it right there, but instead, wiped off Patterson's gloves and waved Johansson in. Trapped in a deep fog, Patterson, believing that he had scored the knockdown, turned away from Johansson and started to walk to the neutral corner. Johansson slammed a hook to his jaw and a right to the back of his head, dropping him a second time. Five more knockdowns followed before Ruby Goldstein stopped the fight, making Ingemar Johansson the first European since Primo Carnera to win the Heavyweight Championship the World.

He was a popular champion. Unlike the moody, introspective Patterson, Johansson enjoyed the limelight. He appeared on television, made a movie, and even cut a hit record in Sweden. Many critics believed that the charismatic Swede was the best thing to happen to boxing in years. While the victor cavorted in public, the vanquished lived in a self-imposed exile. Criticized in the past for a lack of killer instinct, Patterson became a man consumed by hate, a hate that served him well in the rematch staged at New York's Polo Grounds.

Many predicted a rerun of their first fight, including Johansson. He was fond of telling anyone who would listen that the next time he hit Patterson with old "Toonder" the referee might as well count to a thousand. And history was on his side as well. No former World Heavyweight Champion had ever regained the title, though many had tried.

Unfortunately for Johansson, a different Patterson showed up on the night of June 20, 1960. Fighting with an intensity missing in the first match, Patterson negated Johansson's counter punching with tremendous pressure. Johansson's "Toonder" found the mark only once, in the second round, but Patterson took it well and Johansson couldn't follow up. When in close, Patterson worked the body furiously, and when on the outside, he fired a hard left jab that had the dual effect of hurting Johansson and keeping his big right hand from exploding. Early in the fifth, a left hook dropped Johansson to the canvas for the first time in his career. He made it up at the count of nine, but he was in bad shape. Patterson attacked in a frenzy: punches poured in from every angle. During the attack, Johansson lost his equilibrium and found himself turned around, vulnerable to the same back-of-the-head blow that he struck Patterson with a year earlier. Patterson passed on the cheap shot and whirled him around with his right hand and threw his trademark punch, a leaping left hook. It was a direct hit. Johansson crashed to the floor in much the same way Patterson had when hit by "Toonder" a year earlier. But unlike Patterson, Johansson didn't get up. Many at ringside feared for his life as blood trickled out of the left corner of his mouth and his right foot twitched in a manner that suggested brain damage. Floyd Patterson became the first man in history to regain the World Heavyweight Championship.

Johansson recovered from the beating and engaged Patterson in a third fight in Miami Beach on March 13th, 1961. Five weeks before the fight, Johansson unwittingly became part of the early Muhammad Ali legend while training in Miami Beach. On February 6, 1961, Johansson boxed six rounds with three sparring partners at Convention Hall before a crowd of about 2,000. One of the sparring partners was 19-year-old Ali, then known as Cassius Clay. With only four pro fights to his credit, young Clay treated Johansson as if he were the sparring partner. He jabbed, he danced, and he made Johansson miss repeatedly with his vaunted right hand. "He's good, this fellow," Johansson said afterward. Later in the year, Clay's promoter offered Johansson $100,000 to fight Clay. Johansson turned it down, saying, "That guy couldn't even draw a non-paying crowd, much less any real money."

He had better luck connecting against Patterson, and for a brief moment, it seemed Johansson would become the second man to regain the World Heavyweight Championship. Twice in the first round, Johansson found the mark with his right hand and twice Patterson went down. As Johansson waited in the neutral corner following the second knockdown, it was evident by the broad smile on his face that he believed he was about to repeat his performance from 1959. But his moment of glory passed when Patterson scored a knockdown of his own near the close of the round, one of the wildest in heavyweight history. Both had their moments in rounds two through five, but in the sixth, weary from Patterson's ceaseless body attack, Johansson went down and out from a Patterson hook, thus ending the three bout series.

Johansson returned to Europe, where he continued his career with knockout wins over Joe Bygraves, Wim Snoek, and Dick Richardson. Talk of a challenge to Sonny Liston, who had relieved Patterson of the championship on September 25, 1962, began circulating.

On April 21, 1963, Johansson took on Brian London in a bout scheduled for twelve rounds. Near the close of the last round, London, who ranked in the top ten but was held in low esteem, flattened the former champ with a right hand. The bell rang at the count of four, saving Johansson from a knockout. The referee and sole judge of the fight awarded the decision to Johansson, a decision greeted with jeers and catcalls. Johansson had gotten lucky and he knew it. He never fought again.

In 1970, Johansson made international news when he starting training in a local Swedish gym. Photos of the former champion showed him with a beer belly. One of his sparring partners, an amateur Swedish heavyweight, said that Ingo still had power in his punch. Johansson's rumored return made the pages of the The Ring Magazine, International Boxing, Boxing Illustrated, and just about every newspaper in the free world. However, whatever Johansson was planning never amounted to a ring return. The simple fact remained, that at 37 years old, he no longer had the drive and desire to get back into fighting shape.

The highlight of Johansson's post boxing career happened in 1982 when the International Olympic Committee forgave him for his tepid performance at the Helsinki Olympics and presented him with the Silver Medal. For Johansson, it was a special moment. In that same year, Johansson took a break from his many business activities and entered the New York City Marathon along with his old nemeses, Floyd Patterson. Though severely overweight, he managed to finish the race. But, as in two of their three championship fights, he finished well behind Patterson.

Johansson signing autographs

Amateur Record

1948 (Feb. 17 - Dec. 30)
Uno Jacobsson (SW) Göteborg, Sweden W KO 1
Helge Olausson (SW) Göteborg, Sweden W PTS 3
Hans Fredriksson (SW) Göteborg, Sweden W TKO 3
Stig Johansson (SW) Göteborg, Sweden W KO 1
Carl Nilsson (SW) Malmö, Sweden L PTS 3
Gert Schyllert (SW) Göteborg, Sweden W PTS 3
Lars Varg (SW) Göteborg, Sweden W PTS 3
Einar Dragsten (SW) Stockholm, Sweden L PTS 3
(Swedish Junior Championships)

1949 (Jan. 23 - Dec. 11)
Lars Johansson (SW) Jönköping, Sweden W PTS 3
Bengt Åkerman (SW) Borås, Sweden W KO 1
Sven Nordin (SW) Göteborg, Sweden W PTS 3
Olle Bergstr?m (SW) Göteborg, Sweden W PTS 3
Bror Andersson (SW) Halmstad, Sweden L PTS 3
Rolf Thorsrud (NO) Trollh?ttan, Sweden W TKO 3
Hugo Nyström (SW) Eskilstuna, Sweden W PTS 3
Bert Bergkvist (SW) Nyköping, Sweden W KO 2
Filip Karlsson (SW) Skövde, Sweden W TKO 2
Gert Schyllert (SW) Helsingborg, Sweden W PTS 3
Karl Frank (DK) Göteborg, Sweden W KO 3
Lars Meurling (SW) Kalmar, Sweden W KO 2

1950 (Jan. 2 - Dec. 30)
Folke Sjöberg (SW) Stockholm, Sweden W KO 1
(Swedish Junior Championships)
Lars Varg (SW) Stockholm, Sweden W KO 3
(Swedish Junior Championships/Final)
Arne Holm (SW) Göteborg, Sweden W KO 3
Leo Sörensen (DK) Helsingborg, Sweden W KO 2
Knut Hwidsten (NO) Västerås, Sweden W TKO 2
(Sweden vs. Norway Junior International)
Villy Hansen (DK) Lund, Sweden W KO 1
Ludvig Larsen (DK) Göteborg, Sweden W TKO 2
Arne Holm (SW) Stockholm, Sweden W PTS 3
(Swedish Championships)
Bengt Modigh (SW) Stockholm, Sweden W PTS 3
(Swedish Championships/Final)
Stig Frisk (SW) Värnamo, Sweden W PTS 3
Bengt Modigh (SW) Stockholm, Sweden L PTS 3
Johannes Björneflaten (NO) Göteborg, Sweden W KO 2
Aldo Pellegrini (IT) Milano, Italy W PTS 3
(Italy vs. Sweden International)
Aldo Pellegrini (IT) Roma, Italy W PTS 3
(Italy vs. Sweden International
Laurent Touzard (FR) Göteborg, Sweden W PTS 3
Leo Kroon (SW) Linköping, Sweden W PTS 3
Henrik Boström (FN) Stockholm, Sweden W KO 1
Olle Axelsson (SW) Lund, Sweden W KO 3
Bjarne Olsen (NO) Göteborg, Sweden W PTS 3
(Sweden vs. Norway International)
Lars Johansson (SW) Jönköping, Sweden W KO 2
Herluf Hansen (DK) København, Denmark W PTS 3
(Denmark vs. Sweden International)
Olle Axelsson (SW) Kinna, Sweden W TKO 2
Leo Kroon (SW) Helsingborg, Sweden W TKO 3
Uwe Jansen (GE) Hamburg, Germany L PTS 3
Horst Herold (GE) Wolfsburg, Germany W PTS 3

1951 (Jan. 12 - Oct. 10)
Peter Toch (UK) Göteborg, Sweden W PTS 3
Ilkka Koski (FN) Helsingfors, Finland W PTS 3
Aljgirdas Schotsikas (USSR) Göteborg, Sweden L PTS 3
Uwe Jansen (GE) Göteborg, Sweden W PTS 3
Uwe Jansen (GE) Kinna, Sweden W TKO 2
Thörner Åhsman (SW) Stockholm, Sweden W PTS 3
(Swedish Championships)
Bror Sandgren (SW) Stockholm, Sweden W PTS 3
(Swedish Championships/Final)
Tommy Skovgaard (DK) Stockholm, Sweden W PTS 3
(Sweden vs. Denmark International)
Ernest Fann (US) Chicago, IL, USA W KO 3
Norvel Lee (US) Göteborg, Sweden L PTS 3
Tommy Skovaard (DK) København, Denmark W PTS 3
Bjarne Lingaas (NO) Oslo, Norway L PTS 3
(Norway vs. Sweden International)
Thörner Åhsman (SW) Göteborg, Sweden W KO 1
Laurent Touzard (FR) Paris, France W PTS 3
Aldo Pellegrini (IT) Göteborg, Sweden W PTS 3
(Sweden vs Italy International)

1952 (Feb. 29 - Aug. 2)
Owe Wahlfeldt (SW) Stockholm, Sweden W KO 1
(Swedish Championships)
Gerhard Lindblom (SW) Stockholm, Sweden W TKO 2
(Swedish Championships)
Gert Schyllert (SW) Stockholm, Sweden W KO 1
(Swedish Championships/Final)
Carl Frank (DK) Stockholm, Sweden W KO 1
(Sweden vs. Denmark International)
Laurent Touzard (FR) Stockholm, Sweden W KO 1
(Sweden vs. France International)
Tomo Krizmanic (JU) Stockholm, Sweden L PTS 3
Walter Kuhnert (GE) Stockholm, Sweden W KO 2
Horymir Netuka (CZ) Helsinki, Finland W PTS 3 (3-0) (Olympic Games)
Tomo Krizmanic (JU) Helsinki, Finland W PTS 3 (3-0) (Olympic Games)
Ilkka Koski (FI) Helsinki, Finland W PTS 3 (2-1) (Olympic Semifinal)
Ed Sanders (US) Helsinki, Finland L DQ 2 (Olympic Final)

Total Bouts: 71 Wins: 61 (31 KO/TKO) Losses: 10 (9 PTS, 1 DQ)
Palais 17.12.02/RSbg
Amateur Record

Awards & Recognition

Trivia

  • Before becoming a boxer, Johansson worked as a street laborer and a dock worker.
  • Appeared as a guest on the American television series What's My Line? on February 1, 1959. Panelist Martin Gable, although blind-folded, quickly guessed Johansson's professional boxing occupation. Johansson appeared on the show again on June 19, 1960.
  • Johansson's autobiography, Sekonderna Lämnar Ringen (Seconds Out of the Ring), was published in 1960.
  • Had a brief acting career in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • Married and divorced three times.
  • Had four children: two sons, Thomas and Patrick, and two daughters, Jean and Maria.
  • Johansson owned, at different times, a successful construction company, a fishing trawler, a suite of offices in Stockholm and a hotel in Florida.


Preceded by:
Floyd Patterson
World Heavyweight Champion
NBA World Heavyweight Champion
NYSAC World Heavyweight Champion

1959 Jun 26 – 1960 Jun 20
Succeeded by:
Floyd Patterson


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