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Jens Ingemar Johansson (September 22, 1932 – January 30, 2009) was a Swedish boxer and former heavyweight champion of the world. Johansson was the fifth heavyweight champion born outside the United States. In 1959 he defeated Floyd Patterson by TKO in the third round, after flooring Patterson seven times in that round, to win the World Heavyweight Championship. As a result, Johansson won the Hickok Belt as top professional athlete of the year and was named the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year and Sports Illustrated magazine's "Sportsman of the Year".
He enjoyed a successful career as a heavyweight. When he retired in 1963 he had a record of 26 wins, 17 by KO, and only 2 losses. He called 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 #99 on The Ring's list of 100 greatest punchers of all time.
Brought up in a pacifistic country whose traditions are highly inimical to boxing, Ingemar Johansson did not have the successful introduction to boxing at Olympic level that is, these days, considered the prerequisite for future success.
He was born in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1932. Leaving school at 15 he had worked in a road gang while learning to box, and at only 17 was amateur heavyweight champion of Sweden, though he only weighed in as a middleweight. He had then done well as a member of the European team which went to challenge America’s Golden Gloves squad in Chicago 1951, knocking out his opponent in the second round.
But his career then went into reverse when he made a bad impression at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki. In the final, against the huge American Ed Saunders, he was disqualified for “not trying hard enough”.
Johannson rarely threw a punch during the bout, and the referee felt that the boxer was not giving his best. This fight damaged Johansson’s reputation, and not until 1982 did the International Olympic Committee (IOC) award Johansson the silver medal he was denied at the 1952 Games.
The chairman of the Swedish Boxing Association wrote of him that he “was a plain coward, who brought shame to the Swedish name”. The American press dubbed him “the fleeing rat” and when his name later came up as a “soft” opponent for the until then unconquered Patterson, the label was not forgotten. Johansson was deeply hurt by these attacks which, somewhat unjustly, did not acknowledge the fact his opponent had done as little as the Swede to make a fight of the final. Johansson eventually received his silver medal 30 years later.
After going into seclusion for six months, during which he came close to abandoning boxing for good, Johansson returned to the ring and turned professional in 1952. Under the wise guidance of the Swedish publisher and boxing promoter Edwin Ahlquist, he won his first 21 professional fights. He took the Scandinavian heavyweight title in 1953 and in September 1956 knocked out Italy’s Franco Cavicchi in 13 rounds in Milan for the European title.
He defended this against Britain’s Henry Cooper, whom he knocked out in five rounds in Stockholm in May 1957 and against Joe Erskine whom he beat in 13 rounds in Gothenburg in February 1958. By now, boxing writers were speaking of his thunderous right hand as “the hammer of Thor” — or more lightheartedly as “Ingo’s bingo”.
Nevertheless, when he was accepted as a challenger for Patterson’s world title in 1959, few American fight commentators gave him any chance, though they might have done had they fully absorbed the implications of his first-round victory over the then No. 1 contender, Eddie Machen, in September 1958. But that fight had taken place in Gothenburg and attracted little attention in the US.
Ingemar Johansson and Floyd Pattersson 1959
Ingemar Johansson and Floyd Pattersson
Ingemar Johansson and Floyd Pattersson
Floyd Patterson vs Ingemar Johnasson
In the run-up to his world title challenge Johansson’s rather relaxed-sounding training regime also gained wide publicity. Pictured living comfortably at home on mother’s cooking or out dancing with his fiancée, Birgit Lundgren, he gave the impression that he was completely unprepared for the mayhem of the American ring.
In fact, Johansson climbed through the ropes at Madison Square Garden on June 26, 1959, in trim condition and within three rounds had confounded boxing pundits. After stemming the champion’s rushes for two rounds Johansson opened up in the third, and before long had floored Patterson with a tremendous right-hand punch. It was to be the first of seven trips Patterson made to the canvas before the referee stepped in to halt the bout in 2 min 3 sec of the round with the champion in a clearly helpless condition. The crowd, at first stunned, rose to greet the new champion.
Floyd Patterson Vs. Ingemar Johansson
In the June 20, 1960, rematch, which took place at the Polo Grounds in New York, Patterson seemed to have learned from his mistakes. Johansson was knocked out in the fifth round. On March 13, 1961, at Miami Beach, Florida, Johansson made another attempt to regain the championship but failed when Patterson scored a sudden knockout in the sixth round.
Johansson became a businessman after finishing his boxing career. He owned a fishing boat and a bar called "Ingo's" in Goteborg, Sweden's second-biggest city. He later moved to Florida, where he operated a hotel in Pompano Beach and started playing golf. He also completed the Stockholm Marathon before hundreds of thousands of spectators in 1985.
In 2000, the Swedish Sports Academy selected Johansson as Sweden's third-best athlete of the 20th century, behind tennis star Bjorn Borg and Alpine skiing great Ingemar Stenmark.
He was married and divorced twice, and is survived by six children.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press)
Ingemar Johansson posing
IN LATER YEARS, and in certain of the early ones, Ingemar Johansson ate with more hands than he punched with. But that right mitt, when used in the ring anyway, earned him all the fame he'd ever need. The burly Swede, who died on January 30,2009 at the age of 76, called his right fist "toonder and lightning" for its concussive power, although not all his opponents either heard or saw it coming. He used it to forge a record of 28--2 with 17 knockouts, one of them most notably delivered on a rainy night in Yankee Stadium.