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Savant Sundays: Ingemar Johansson

Swedish heavyweight great Ingemar Johansson is the subject of this week’s look back into boxing history.

Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Swedish heavyweight Ingemar Johnasson fought from 1953 to 1963, finishing his career with a 26-2 record, and only losing to one man, Floyd Patterson. 19 of his first 21 fights came in Scandinavia, with the others in Germany and Italy. Johansson dominated that regional scene before making his U.S. debut at Yankee Stadium, beating the legendary Patterson inside of just three rounds in 1959.

That victory earned Johansson the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year award, making him just the third international athlete to claim the distinction to that point. But Patterson avenged the loss a year later at the Polo Grounds in New York, and a Miami rubber match in 1961 also went Patterson’s way, both via knockout. Johnasson fought four more times after the Patterson trilogy before hanging up his gloves at age 30.

Dimensions and Style

Johansson is billed at 6’0”, and generally weighed in near the 200 lb mark, a build typical of his heavyweight era. An orthodox fighter, Johansson was great with the jab. He either kept his right hand locked and loaded at his chest, ready to deliver devastating follow-up shots, or shuffled his gloves by his jaw. He was a patient fighter who knew when to fire, and had textbook footwork and plenty of ring savvy. He’d alternate between a conventional and a wider stance.

There isn’t an abundance of Johansson fight footage, but let’s take a look through what is available in full form.

Ingemar Johansson vs Eddie Machen (1958)

Johannson must’ve circumambulated Machen at least 10 times before the stoppage of this fight at 2:16 of round one. His movement wasn’t poetic, but effective and consistent. He was very active with his jab, keeping Machen at bay. Machen tagged him upstairs with a right hook, but Johansson absorbed the contact well and came back fighting.

Johansson was a bit choppy with his steps before setting up a short right with yet another left jab that sent Machen to the canvas. Machen got back up, and they tangled up on a couple occasions, where Machen would pummel Johansson’s head to try and make up ground. A flurry of uppercuts and crosses against a defenseless Machen downed him for a second and third time, giving Johansson the victory.

Ingemar Johnasson vs Floyd Patterson (1959)

Patterson was getting low, bending forward to show Johansson a variety of looks while picking his shots sparingly. Johansson once again took the outside of the ring in this bout, and got busy with his jab, defending well against cross attempts from Patterson.

Most of Johansson’s jabs were not landing as the second round drew on. It seemed more as if he was trying to establish distance from Patterson and keep him from exploding upward the way he was famous for doing. Johansson let off an impressive series of 1-2 combinations, including an uppercut-straight right combo that were his first impactful shots to land in the round.

Johansson’s footwork and body positioning kept forcing Patterson to almost sidestep before lunging. It worked at the end of the second as he caught Johansson flush with a left hook to the face. A right cross followed a left, and Patterson didn’t know what had happened, except that he was on his back. When he rose, he was clearly discombobulated, walking away from Johansson. The Swede proceeded to finish the job with five more knockdowns, including a very dangerous shot to the back of the head, ending the night in under nine minutes.

Ingemar Johannson vs Floyd Patterson III (1961)

For the first time in heavyweight history, the mandatory eight count was instituted in this fight. This was crucial due to the amount of knockdowns. Johansson wasted no time utilizing his jab with the sole intent of leading it up with powerful rights – something he did not do as frequently in their first bout.

Johansson knocked Patterson down inside of two minutes with a spot-on straight right that followed after his jab. Throughout the fight, Johansson was in a very wide stance with great posture. A right cross and left uppercut sent Patterson spiraling again.

Patterson returned the favor with a phantom right hand on his back legs that put Johansson on his butt, in what was as action-packed a first round as can be. As the fight wore on and Patterson’s punch count increased, Johansson was not particularly adroit at matching his barrages or making him pay for mistakes.

Patterson lunged at Johansson with a snappy jab and two right hooks to the temple that sent Johansson to the canvas and the eight count got the victory over him.


Johansson’s jab was incredible, and not too many fighters can be a jab artist and consistently throw with as much verve as he could. He had a command of all of the fundamental.

Here’s where Johansson lacked: He was not a great counter-puncher. When a fighter brought the pain full fledge, it slowed him down. Also, Johansson – while capable of throwing a wider variety of punches – loved that jab so much that, like Antonio Cervantes, it was his main weapon for scoring points.

Heavyweights who throw every punch in the book like Patterson would likely give him problems in theoretical matchups. His head movement was very sound but not otherworldly. Nevertheless, Johansson did many things right, enough for his career to see him enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2002. His power was there, so was his footwork, and it’s apparent that his fundamentals were cultivated early in his boxing career.

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