Ingemar Johansson: Ingo's A No-No

By Jeff Day

05.07 - Now, I'm not one to cast aspersions on the good people at the International Boxing Hall of fame, but it strikes me that induction is becoming a little diluted.

The vast majority of the fighters honoured in the "Modern" section, nobody in their right mind could argue with. However, as time has gone on since the very first set of inductees back in 1990, the standards for induction have, understandably, declined: you can only elect Ali, Louis, Robinson etc once of course.

Surely, the induction of a boxer should be based on four things: longevity, record, quality of opposition and the mark left on the sport by that individual. Admittedly, a great statistical record can be misleading. There are still fighters compiling great numbers in the American mid-west for example.

I must start by saying I do not know Ingemar Johansson. We have never met and I have no axe to grind with my fellow European, but is his enshrinement at Canastota truly justified?

True, Johansson was World Heavyweight Champion, as well as European King and an Olympic Heavyweight silver medallist. But does he really qualify as an all-time great? Let's take a look at the Swedish puncher.

At the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Ingemar reached the final where he met giant American Ed Sanders. In an unprecedented scene, Johansson was disqualified for "not giving of his best" by French referee Roger Vaisberg at the end of the second round. Johansson, in ignominy, never received his silver medal until 1982!

While the Swede was in disgrace, Floyd Patterson, the man with whom Ingemar will be forever linked, was winning the gold medal at middleweight for the USA. The future heavyweight king from Gothenburg was not yet 20-years-old, however.

Johansson made his professional debut on 5 December 1952, in Gothenburg, against Frenchman Robert Masson. He prevailed by fourth round knockout. In his fourth fight he captured the Scandinavian championship with a six round points win against Dane Erik Jensen on 12 March 1953.

In his 13th fight, he faced Jamaica's Joe Bygraves. Bygraves was to be Empire (now British Commonwealth) Heavyweight King three fights later. Ingemar won an eight round decision on 24 February 1956; a very creditable performance considering Bygraves was a veteran of nearly 40 fights.

Two fights later and Ingemar finally arrived at major championship level. He faced Italy's Franco Cavicchi in Milan on 30 September 1956. It was clearly the Swede's toughest assignment to date. He clinched the European Heavyweight Championship with a thirteenth round knockout.

Still, the reputation of the European heavyweight did not exactly send shockwaves throughout the boxing world; only Bob Fitzsimmons (British born, though American citizen when winning the World Title), Max Schmeling and Primo Carnera had won sport's richest prize in the gloved era from Europe.

Ingemar took a non-title fight against Peter Bates of Britain (W KO2), then took on one of Britain's ring legends on 19 May 1957: Henry Cooper. Cooper, remarkably, was given a shot the European Heavyweight Championship having lost his previous two fights. To make matters worse for Henry, the two defeats were both inside schedule and against men that the champion had himself beaten convincingly.

The fight, again in Sweden, though this time outdoors, saw Johansson lower the boom in round five. A right hand that Cooper claimed he didn't see coming because of the sun knocked him out by the ropes.

Three more victories followed before the Swede faced a real acid test. He was to be paired with world rated number two Eddie Machen. Machen was unbeaten in 24 professional contests and considered a legitimate threat to World Heavyweight King Floyd Patterson. Johansson was to be the final tune up.

Machen and Johansson met in front of 55,000 fans in Ullevi Stadium in Gothenburg, Sweden on 14 September. The battle between the two 25 year olds was effectively an eliminator for the World Title.

Just a minute into the fight, Ingemar blasted Machen to the canvas with his "Toonder" right hand. Eddie rose from the floor, but could not survive the opening round. The right hand, which was also known as "Ingo's Bingo", struck again less than a minute after the initial knockdown. Now the boxing world had to take note of the man with the "Hammer of Thor".

On paper, this win must be the very best of Johansson's career. You must take into consideration the men Machen had beaten prior to his sensational defeat: Nino Valdes (twice), Joey Maxim (twice), Bob Baker and Tommy "Hurricane" Jackson. He had taken fellow top contender Zora Folley to a draw just five months before facing the European King.

In fact, in 1960, Machen went the full tens rounds to future king and fierce punching Sonny Liston, when nobody, especially Floyd Patterson's people, wanted no part of the brooding Liston. In 1962 Machen would get a draw with Cleveland Williams.

He was still good enough in 1965 to meet Ernie Terrell for the WBA Heavyweight Title and lose only by fifteen round decision. He was good enough to beat a young and hungry Jerry Quarry in 1966 and last into the tenth round against Joe Frazier later the same year. Eddie Machen was no mug.

Still, Floyd Patterson's mentor Cus D'Amato, who was ultra cautious when selecting the champion's challengers, decided that Ingemar Johansson was a soft option for Floyd.

On 26 June 1959, the 24-year-old Patterson made the fifth defence of his World Heavyweight Title against Johansson at New York's Yankee Stadium. The Swede was given little hope and for the first two rounds those expectations were about right; a pouring left and an inaccurate right hand.

However, in round three, Johansson threw a glancing left hook, but then followed up with a peach of a right hand. The shot to Patterson's head had an extraordinary effect on the champion. Patterson was so dazed, he actually got up and walked to a neutral corner because he was of the impression that it was he who had scored the knockdown!

The champion was floored another SIX times in the third round before referee Ruby Goldstein stopped the slaughter. In a staggering upset, Ingemar Johansson was the new World Heavyweight Champion.

Unfortunately, the year between their first meeting and the rematch, Johansson spent his new wealth freely and lived life to the full. Patterson meanwhile was so ashamed of his performance, he set out immediately to reclaim the title; a feat as yet attempted by many but accomplished by none.

On June 20 1960, Johansson made his first defence in the return with Patterson. The venue this time was the Polo Grounds, again in New York. Patterson boxed like a man on a mission. For Johansson, it seemed he had spent rather too much time training on his lovely girlfriend Birgit, rather than the heavy bag and doing his roadwork.

In round two, Ingemar landed a fair right hand, but his time Patterson showed little reaction. The rematch lasted until round five, when Patterson floored the champion with a left hook. Johansson rose from the canvas, was hurt by another left hook, this time to the body, before Patterson's trademark leaping left hook connected with his jaw.

Johansson fell, unconscious on his back, his leg violently shaking uncontrollably. Patterson initially leaned over the ropes in what seemed like a repost to the journalists that had written him off the year previously. He then saw his vanquished opponent lying still on the canvas. Ingemar appeared to be seriously injured, but eventually recovered enough to leave the ring unaided.

What must be realised is that when a champion put his title on the line more than forty years ago (and beyond), there was invariably a rematch clause. This time both men went for it knowing that each had the ability to knock the other out.

On 13 March 1961, at the Miami Beach Convention Hall, there would be no feeling out process. Johansson knocked Patterson down twice and was sent to the canvas once himself by a Patterson left hook in a wild first round shootout.
Patterson had the edge through rounds two, three, four and five. In round six, the champion got through with two right hands that crashed off Ingo's head. He managed to pull himself up just as referee Billy Regan had reached the count of ten. One of the most amazing rivalries was had gone it's course.

Johansson made around five million dollars from the Patterson trilogy. The three fight series itself had lasted a total of fourteen rounds with a total of thirteen knockdowns!

The former champion took nearly a year out, before meeting old foe Joe Bygraves on 7 February 1962. Joe was 10-9-1 since their first meeting and Ingemar, once more in front of his own adoring fans in Gothenburg, got back on the winning track with a seventh round stoppage.

Victory over Wim Snoek in April 1962 in the fifth round and Johansson secured a crack at his old European Championship. The current champion was Welshman Dick Richardson. Richardson had won the title in 1960 and the defence against Ingo would be Richardson's fourth.

In Richardson's last fight, he had flattened future World Championship challenger Karl Mildenberger. Mildenberger would lose in a gallant bid against Muhammad Ali in 1966. Once again, Ingo's bingo worked the oracle and Richardson lost his crown via eighth round knockout on 17 June 1962.

There was already talk of Johansson challenging World Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston. Liston had taken the title from Patterson by first round knockout in September 1962 and defended it successfully against Patterson, winning again in the first round in July 1963.

Brian London of England, however, would be Ingemar Johansson's last professional opponent when they met on 21 April 1963. It would be a non-title fight over twelve rounds in Stockholm.

It was a meeting that Johansson was winning on points quite comfortably, until in the very last moments of the fight, London unleashed a flurry of big punches to the head and Johansson fell flat on his back. Fortunately, the bell saved him before he was counted out. He was a points winner, but was the only person in the arena who didn't know it!

So, there you are. By anyone's standards, a fine career. To conclude though, is Ingemar Johansson worthy of induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame? I believe he falls a little short of the criteria.

He retired at 30-years-old with a record of 26-2 (17), but never beat a fighter that could be termed great. He beat Patterson, Machen and Cooper, but they were GOOD fighters not GREAT.

Ingo, you were a good heavyweight, but history looks as though it may view you as an even better one.


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