Ingemar Johansson

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Ingemar Johansson
IngemarJohansson 2.jpg
Ingemar Johansson
  • Ingo
  • The Hammer of Thor [1]
Weight(s) Heavyweight
Height183 cm (6 ft 0 in) [2] [3]
Reach178 cm (70 in) [4] [5]
BornJens Ingemar Johansson
(1932-09-22)22 September 1932
Gothenburg, Sweden
Died30 January 2009(2009-01-30) (aged 76)
Kungsbacka, Sweden
Stance Orthodox
Boxing record
Total fights28
Wins by KO17
Medal record

Jens Ingemar "Ingo" Johansson [lower-alpha 1] (Swedish:  [ˈɪ̌ŋː(ɛ)mar ˈjûːanˌsɔn] ; [6] 22 September 1932 – 30 January 2009) was a Swedish professional boxer who competed from 1952 to 1963. He held the world heavyweight title from 1959 to 1960, and was the fifth heavyweight champion born outside the United States. Johansson won the title by defeating Floyd Patterson via third-round stoppage, after flooring him seven times in that round. For this achievement, Johansson was awarded the Hickok Belt as top professional athlete of the year—the only non-American to do so in the belt's entire 27-year existence—and was named the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year and Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.


Johansson also held the European heavyweight title twice, from 1956 to 1958 and from 1962 to 1963. As an amateur he won a silver medal in the heavyweight division at the 1952 Summer Olympics. He affectionately named his right fist "toonder and lightning" for its concussive power (it was also called "Ingo's bingo" and the "Hammer of Thor"), and in 2003 he was ranked at No. 99 on The Ring magazine's list of the 100 greatest punchers of all time. [7]

Professional career

Early years

Johansson's introduction to the top rank of the sport was inauspicious. At age nineteen he was disqualified for passivity at the Helsinki 1952 Summer Olympics in the heavyweight competition in a fight against eventual Olympic gold medalist Ed Sanders. Johansson maintained he was not evading Sanders (who also got a warning for passivity), but rather was trying to tire his opponent. Johansson said he had been limited to a 10-day training camp, had only trained with newcomers, and had been told by his coach to let Sanders be the aggressor. Nevertheless, his silver medal was withheld for poor performance and only presented to him in 1982. [8]

Johansson had earned his spot in the Olympics by winning the Swedish National Championship earlier the same year, 1952, after he knocked out his opponent in the first round of the final. [9]

After the Olympics Johansson went into seclusion for six months and considered quitting boxing. However, he returned to the ring and turned professional under the guidance of the Swedish publisher and boxing promoter Edwin Ahlquist, subsequently winning his first 21 professional fights. He won the Scandinavian pro title by knocking down and outscoring the Dane Erik Jensen (breaking his right hand in the process). A broken hand and a one-year military service kept him out of the ring until late 1954. In August 1955, in his twelfth professional fight, Johansson knocked out former European Heavyweight Champion Hein ten Hoff in the first round. He took the Scandinavian heavyweight title in 1953 and, on 30 September 1956, he won the European Heavyweight Championship by scoring a 13th-round KO over Italy's Franco Cavicchi in Milan.

Johansson successfully defended his European crown against ranked heavyweights Henry Cooper (fifth-round KO on 19 May 1957) and Joe Erskine, with a TKO in round 13 on 21 February 1958. [10]

World heavyweight champion

Johansson knocks out Floyd Patterson to become world heavyweight champion, 1959 Ingemar Johansson and Floyd Pattersson 1959.JPG
Johansson knocks out Floyd Patterson to become world heavyweight champion, 1959

Johansson earned his shot at the world heavyweight crown when he knocked out top ranked contender Eddie Machen in the first round of their elimination match on 14 September 1958. In front of 53,615 fans in Ullevi football stadium, Johansson downed Machen three times, finally finishing him with a barrage of punches at 2:16 of the first round. Johansson then signed to fight champion Floyd Patterson.

Johansson was a colourful figure in New York City as he trained for the fight. Eschewing the monastic training regimen favored by Patterson and other fighters, Johansson trained at the Catskill resort of Grossingers. He did not seem to train particularly hard, and was often seen at night spots with his attractive girlfriend, Elaine Sloane, whom he asked out while she was working for Sports Illustrated .

He entered the ring in Yankee Stadium on 26 June 1959, as a 5–1 underdog. [11] Johansson spent the first two rounds of the encounter retreating and flicking a light left jab at the champion. In the third round, Johansson threw a wide left hook that Patterson blocked with his right hand. [12] When he moved his right hand away from its protective peek-a-boo position before his chin, Johansson drilled him with a short powerful right hand. Patterson went down, arose on unsteady legs and was out on his feet. Johansson followed up his advantage and sent Patterson down six more times in the round before the bout was stopped by referee Ruby Goldstein. [11] [12] Johansson celebrated with his girlfriend and future wife Birgit Lundgren and the next day a headline in a New York newspaper expressed the city's amazement. It read: "Ingo – It's Bingo." [13] When Johansson returned to Sweden, he flew in on a helicopter, landing in the main football stadium in Gothenburg, his home town, and was cheered by 20,000 people. [14] He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, as well as the cover of Life Magazine on 20 July 1959, alongside Birgit. [12]

Johansson was a flamboyant champion – a precursor to the "Swinging Sixties". One publication dubbed Johansson "boxing's Cary Grant" and in 1960 he appeared in the movie All the Young Men as a marine, alongside stars Alan Ladd and Sidney Poitier. Wherever he went, in the U.S. or in Sweden, he had a beautiful woman on his arm, with paparazzi snapping pictures. [15]

At that point, retired heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano, who sat ringside and witnessed as Johansson knocked out Patterson, considered a possible comeback for a championship bout versus Johansson. He entered a training camp, keeping it low profile, but dropped the idea because he could not get into the condition he previously had, feeling he was too old for a title fight. [16]

Rematch with Patterson

Johansson proposed to girlfriend Birgit in April 1960 after the champion visited Egypt. Then he turned his attention to defending his title against Floyd Patterson. [17] The two signed for a rematch on 20 June 1960. Patterson knocked Johansson out in the fifth round with a leaping left hook to become the first man to recover the world's undisputed heavyweight title. The punch caught Johansson's chin and he hit the canvas with a thud, out cold before he landed flat on his back. With blood trickling from his mouth, his glazed eyes staring up at the ring lights, and his left foot twitching, the Swede was counted out. After the count, Patterson showed his concern for Johansson by cradling his motionless opponent, and promising him a second rematch. Johansson lay flat on his back on the canvas for five minutes before he was placed on a stool brought into the ring. He was still dazed and unsteady fifteen minutes after the knockout as he was helped out of the ring.

Third match with Patterson

Patterson and Johansson fought their final match on 13 March 1961. Johansson appeared to be in the worst physical condition of his three bouts with Patterson. A. J. Liebling, writing in The New Yorker , said the outcome seemed preordained and that Johansson was not dieting for the fight, eating creamed chicken, strawberry shortcake, and cherry cheesecake. Nonetheless the fight was competitive. Johansson caught Patterson leaping at him in the very first round and knocked him down. He followed his advantage up by scoring another knockdown, but was himself caught going in wide open by that famous Patterson left hook, resulting in a knockdown. As the fight progressed, it became obvious that Johansson was spent. Patterson won when the referee swiftly stopped the contest in round six after Johansson had been knocked down once again.

To train for the third fight with Patterson, Johansson sparred with a young Muhammad Ali, known then as Cassius Clay, in Miami Beach. After Ali had "boxed his way around the ring, as if it was he, using 'Ingo' as a sparring partner", somebody offered $100,000 to Johansson to fight in a televised event with Ali, but he declined saying that the fight would not draw three ticket holders and that Ali did not have the ability to step in the ring with him at that time. [18]

Later career and retirement

Johansson, then only 29, returned to Europe. He recaptured the European crown from Dick Richardson by an eight-round KO on 17 June 1962. By this time, Sonny Liston had captured the heavyweight crown from Patterson, and efforts were underway to match Johansson with Liston.

Johansson, however, fought journeyman heavyweight Brian London on 21 April 1963, in a non-title 12-round match. Johansson won most of the rounds but seldom threw a serious right-hand punch with the exception of round seven when a short right from Johansson staggered London (Las Vegas Sun, April 22, 1963, page 24). In round 12, with four seconds remaining in the fight, London hit Johansson with a powerful right hand that knocked him on his back. Johansson arose at the count of four, just as the bell rang to end the fight. Johansson was groggy, but was the points winner. UPI scored the fight 11-1 in favour of Johansson (Las Vegas Sun, April 22, 1963, page 24).

The next day, the front page of Stockholm's newspapers showed a photo of him dizzy, climbing the ropes, with the headline "Wake up Ingo – You won!" After seeing this, he wrote a letter to the European Boxing Union resigning his title and retiring from boxing at the age of 30.

Life after boxing

"Ingo the Champ", Peter Linde's bronze statue of Johansson, was unveiled in his home town Gothenburg in 2011, outside the Ullevi stadium where he won a fight in 1958 against Eddie Machen. Golden Ingo.JPG
"Ingo the Champ", Peter Linde's bronze statue of Johansson, was unveiled in his home town Gothenburg in 2011, outside the Ullevi stadium where he won a fight in 1958 against Eddie Machen.

Ingemar Johansson and Floyd Patterson became good friends who flew across the Atlantic to visit each other every year.

Johansson made several films in Sweden and appeared as a marine in the Korean War film All the Young Men (1960). In the 1960s along with other business interests, Johansson co-promoted boxing cards in Sweden, including several with ex-champ Sonny Liston (1966 and 1967). On 22 April 1966, he boxed a five-round exhibition with European Heavyweight Champion Karl Mildenberger for his first co-promotion. He also owned a fishing boat and a bar called "Ingo's".

By the 1970s, he resided in Pompano Beach, Florida, where he owned a hotel. He ran in marathons (including the New York City Marathon [19] and Boston Marathon) all over the world until the mid-1980s. In 1985 he completed the Stockholm Marathon.

During the 1990s, Johansson and Patterson would attend boxing conventions and also sign their autographs on boxing memorabilia. They continued to be friends until the onset of Alzheimer's disease incapacitated them both. It is thought the illness was of the type linked to boxing, although his career was fairly short compared with some champions. In the 1990s Johansson's business interests in Sweden included sports apparel and a light lager beer called "Hammer", named for his punching prowess.

In 2000, the Swedish Sports Academy selected Johansson as Sweden's third-best athlete of the 20th century, behind tennis great Björn Borg and Alpine skiing great Ingemar Stenmark. In 2002, he was inducted to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Having suffered from Alzheimer's disease and dementia since the mid-1990s, he lived in a nursing home in Kungsbacka while his health deteriorated. In the later stages of his illness, he was reunited with his second wife, Birgit, who was at his side when he died on 30 January 2009, from complications following pneumonia. [14] [20] At the time of his death, he was at age 76 the oldest living heavyweight champion. Johansson was married three times [14] and is survived by five children. [21]

In January 2011, the 1959 Johnny Lion song "Ingemar Johansson", which chronicles the 1959 Patterson fight, was re-released on the compilation album From The Vault: The Coed Records Lost Master Tapes, Volume 1. [22]


While his victory over Floyd Patterson was a huge upset at the time, Johansson's standing within heavyweight history is fairly poor. Considered to be an ordinary fighter with a very good right hand, the Swede was perhaps fortunate to have met Patterson, one of history's more vulnerable heavyweight champions, for the title. Patterson also likely took the challenge of Johansson lightly, given the Swede's apparently lackadaisical approach to training. This was also at a time when it was considered a virtual impossibility that a European heavyweight could inflict a defeat on an American champion on U.S. soil. Furthermore, Patterson had defended the title just 56 days previously, against Britain's Brian London, and likely considered Johansson to be another inept challenger from Europe.

Johansson's world title victory is still historically significant within European boxing, as he became only the fourth-ever European to become heavyweight champion, and the first since Primo Carnera in 1933, who lost the title to Max Baer almost exactly 25 years before Johansson's triumph. Johansson would be the last European to win the heavyweight title until Italy's Francesco Damiani became the inaugural WBO heavyweight champion in May 1989. As the WBO was a fledgling sanctioning body at the time and not considered a legitimate world title, it was not until Great Britain's Lennox Lewis was awarded the WBC title in 1992, 33 years after Johansson's victory over Patterson, that a European again held a recognized version of the heavyweight title. It was also not until 1999, when Lewis unified the titles against Evander Holyfield, that a European again held the undisputed heavyweight championship, as Johansson had 40 years earlier. Johansson was also the last non-American to hold the heavyweight title until South Africa's Gerrie Coetzee won the WBA version in 1983.

Despite never successfully defending the title, Johansson can claim to have been a heavyweight champion in two decades (the 1950s and 1960s). He was the first heavyweight champion to lose the title to the man whom he had beaten to become champion since Ezzard Charles's loss to Jersey Joe Walcott in 1951. This would not happen again until September 1978, when Leon Spinks dropped the title back to Muhammad Ali, having beaten him in February of that year to become champion.

Outside of Europe, Johansson is best remembered as the opponent whom Patterson beat to become the first man to regain the heavyweight championship. As this loss, and the one which he suffered to the American in their third fight, are his only defeats, Johansson is one of three heavyweight champions to have retired with victories over every opponent he faced as a professional. The others are Rocky Marciano and Lennox Lewis. Although the win over Patterson to claim the heavyweight title is his most famous, Johansson's first-round victory over the undefeated American, Eddie Machen, in 1958 is also noteworthy and provides evidence of the power the Swede held in his right hand. Machen would go on to take Sonny Liston the twelve-round distance in 1960 and lasted into the tenth round against Joe Frazier in 1966.

Johansson also held the European Boxing Union Heavyweight title on two occasions, scoring stoppage victories over notable foes such as Henry Cooper, Dick Richardson and Joe Erskine.

Professional boxing record

Professional record summary
28 fights26 wins2 losses
By knockout172
By decision80
By disqualification10
No.ResultRecordOpponentTypeRound, timeDateLocationNotes
28Win26–2 Brian London PTS1221 Apr 1963 Johanneshovs Isstadion, Stockholm, Sweden
27Win25–2 Dick Richardson KO8 (15), 2:1317 Jun 1962Ullevi, Gothenburg, SwedenWon European heavyweight title
26Win24–2Wim SnoekKO5 (10), 1:1515 Apr 1962Kungliga tennishallen, Stockholm, Sweden
25Win23–2 Joe Bygraves TKO7 (12), 2:089 Feb 1962Exhibition and Congress Centre, Gothenburg, Sweden
24Loss22–2 Floyd Patterson KO6 (15), 2:4513 Mar 1961 Exhibition Hall, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.For NYSAC, NBA, and The Ring heavyweight titles
23Loss22–1 Floyd Patterson KO5 (15), 1:5120 Jun 1960 Polo Grounds, New York City, New York, U.S.Lost NYSAC, NBA, and The Ring heavyweight titles
22Win22–0 Floyd Patterson TKO3 (15), 2:0326 Jun 1959 Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S.Won NYSAC, NBA, and The Ring heavyweight titles
21Win21–0 Eddie Machen KO1 (12), 2:1614 Sep 1958Ullevi, Gothenburg, Sweden
20Win20–0 Heinz Neuhaus TKO4 (12), 2:5613 Jul 1958Ullevi, Gothenburg, Sweden
19Win19–0 Joe Erskine TKO13 (15)21 Feb 1958Exhibition and Congress Centre, Gothenburg, SwedenRetained European heavyweight title
18Win18–0Archie McBridePTS1013 Dec 1957Exhibition and Congress Centre, Gothenburg, Sweden
17Win17–0 Henry Cooper KO5 (15), 2:5719 May 1957 Råsunda Stadium, Stockholm, SwedenRetained European heavyweight title
16Win16–0Peter BatesKO2 (10), 1:4528 Dec 1956Exhibition and Congress Centre, Gothenburg, Sweden
15Win15–0Franco CavicchiKO13 (15), 1:1630 Sep 1956 PalaDozza, Bologna, ItalyWon European heavyweight title
14Win14–0Hans FriedrichPTS1015 Apr 1956Kungliga tennishallen, Stockholm, Sweden
13Win13–0 Joe Bygraves PTS824 Feb 1956Exhibition and Congress Centre, Gothenburg, Sweden
12Win12–0 Hein ten Hoff KO1 (8), 1:0028 Aug 1955 Ullevi, Gothenburg, Sweden
11Win11–0Günter NurnbergKO7 (8)12 Jun 1955 Westfalenhalle, Dortmund, Germany
10Win10–0Uber BacilieriUD83 Apr 1955Kungliga tennishallen, Stockholm, Sweden
9Win9–0Aldo PellegriniDQ5 (8)4 Mar 1955Exhibition and Congress Centre, Gothenburg, SwedenPellegrini disqualified for repeated low blows
8Win8–0Kurt SchieglTKO5 (8), 2:2813 Feb 1955 Kungliga tennishallen, Stockholm, Sweden
7Win7–0Ansell AdamsPTS86 Jan 1955Exhibition and Congress Centre, Gothenburg, Sweden
6Win6–0Werner WiegandTKO5 (8), 2:455 Nov 1954Exhibition and Congress Centre, Gothenburg, Sweden
5Win5–0Raymond Degl'lnnocentiKO2 (6)3 Dec 1953Exhibition and Congress Centre, Gothenburg, Sweden
4Win4–0Erik JensenPTS612 Mar 1953 K.B. Hallen, Copenhagen, DenmarkWon vacant Scandinavian heavyweight title
3Win3–0Lloyd BarnettPTS86 Mar 1953Exhibition and Congress Centre, Gothenburg, Sweden
2Win2–0Emile BentzKO2 (6), 0:326 Feb 1953Exhibition and Congress Centre, Gothenburg, Sweden
1Win1–0Robert MassonKO4 (8), 1:305 Dec 1952 Exhibition and Congress Centre, Gothenburg, Sweden

Exhibition boxing record

Professional record summary
1 fight0 wins0 losses
No.ResultRecordOpponentTypeRound, timeDateLocationNotes
1N/A0–0 (1) Muhammad Ali N/A2Feb 6, 1961 Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.Non-scored bout

See also


  1. According to the Swedish Tax Agency, Johansson was registered as Jens Ingmar Johansson.

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    1. "Ingemar Johansson". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
    3. 03/03/1961-New York: The tale of the tape offers a physical comparison between challenger Ingemar Johansson (left) and heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson (right). They meet for the third time for the heavyweight title in Miami, Florida, on March 13th.
    5. 03/03/1961-New York: The tale of the tape offers a physical comparison between challenger Ingemar Johansson (left) and heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson (right). They meet for the third time for the heavyweight title in Miami, Florida, on March 13th.
    6. "Johansson". .
    7. Hoffer, Richard (9 February 2009) Ingemar Johansson 1932–2009. Sports Illustrated
    8. Ingemar Johansson: Boxer who beat Floyd Patterson to win the world heavyweight title 3 February 2009. The Independent
    9. Swedish National Championships – Stockholm – February 29 – March 2 1952.
    10. "Login" . Retrieved 24 June 2015.
    11. 1 2 Sveriges Radio. "Ingemar Johansson – "The Champ"" . Retrieved 24 June 2015.
    12. 1 2 3 New York Times – Johansson Retrieved 24 June 2015
    13. "OBITUARY: Johansson confounded skeptics against Patterson". Reuters. 31 January 2009. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
    14. 1 2 3 Ingemar Johansson, Who Beat Patterson for Heavyweight Title, Dies at 76 New York Times. 31 January 2009.
    15. "Boxing News". The Sweet Science. Archived from the original on 27 February 2012. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
    16. Rocky Marciano - 1966 Australian TV Interview
    17. "People, Apr. 11, 1960". 11 April 1960. Archived from the original on 28 November 2009. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
    18. Video on YouTube
    20. "Ingemar Johansson Dies". Boxing News 24. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
    21. "Boxing legend Ingemar Johansson dead". CBC News. 31 January 2009. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
    22. Baptista, Todd (March 2011). "Lost and Found", Goldmine , Volume 37, Issue 797, Page 97.

    Further reading

    Ingemar Johansson, McFarland Publishing (2015) by Ken Brooks. 272 pages.

    Sporting positions
    Regional boxing titles
    Preceded by
    Franco Cavicchi
    European heavyweight champion
    30 September 1956 – July 1958
    Title next held by
    Dick Richardson
    Preceded by
    Dick Richardson
    European heavyweight champion
    17 June 1962 – 1963
    Title next held by
    Henry Cooper
    World boxing titles
    Preceded by The Ring heavyweight champion
    26 June 1959 – 20 June 1960
    Succeeded by
    Floyd Patterson
    World heavyweight champion
    26 June 1959 – 20 June 1960
    Heavyweight status
    Max Schmeling
    Oldest living world champion
    2 February 2005 – 30 January 2009
    Ernie Terrell