Remembering Swedish Boxing Legend Ingemar Johansson
Ingemar Johannson died in a Swedish nursing home in January 2009 at the age of 76. He’d lived in the nursing home in the Swedish coastal city of Kungsbacka since the mid 1990’s when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and had suffered from a tough case of pneumonia immediately prior to his death.
Johannson rocketed to international fame and rock star like superstardom in Sweden by virtue of his 3rd round knockout victory over Floyd Patterson on June 26, 1959 to become only the 5th heavyweight champion born outside of the US. Johannson was considered the underdog going into the matchup, and due to the perception that he wasn’t training particularly hard entered the bout a 5/1 underdog. Johansson was frequently seen in Catskill nightspots during his training camp with his attractive young secretary in stark contrast to Patterson’s disciplined regimen in preparation for his title defense.
His performance against the champ that night in Yankee Stadium shocked the boxing world”after a tentative first two rounds, Johannson floored Patterson with a short right early in the third. The champ never recovered and with no three knockdown rule in effect was knocked down a total of seven times before referee Ruby Goldstein called a halt to the proceedings and awarded the Swede the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world.
Patterson would regain the title just under a year later, becoming the first man to ever regain the heavyweight championship. Patterson was on top of Johannson from the opening bell, and eventually knocked his opponent out cold in the fifth round with a devastating left hook. After the fight was stopped Patterson was more concerned with Johannson’s well being and cradled his vanquished foe’s head while medical staff attended to him.
Johannson would again face Patterson less than a year later, with the champ retaining his title via 6th round knockout after an exciting slugfest that saw both competitors taste the canvas. Eventually, however, Patterson’s superior conditioning prevailed and he earned the victory. Johannson would fight only four more times after that, all in his home country of Sweden, before retiring for good in 1963.
Not surprising given the mutual respect shown during their heavyweight championship trilogy, Patterson and Johannson remained close lifelong friends and would travel to visit each other every year until the American champion died in 2006. While it is commonplace today for former in-ring adversaries to become close personal friends, it was something of an anomaly in the 1960s. Johannson made a number of film appearances in Sweden, and spent time in South Florida every year. He remained in good health well into his sixties, running in marathons yearly until his physical ailments took their toll.
Ingemar Johansson is considered one of Sweden’s greatest sports heroes, and was a crucial element in fueling the popularity of boxing in Europe and Scandinavia. He was married and divorced twice, and is survived by five children.
Ross Everett is a widely published freelance writer and respected authority on sports betting odds comparison. He writing has appeared on a variety of sports sites including sportsbooks and betting odds portal sites. He lives in Northern Nevada with three Jack Russell Terriers and an emu. He is currently working on an autobiography of former energy secretary Donald Hodell.