Former heavyweight champ Ingemar Johannson died in a Swedish nursing home in January 2009 at the age of 76. He’d lived in the nursing home in his hometown of Kungsbacka since the mid’90’s when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia. No official cause of death was given, but Johannson had suffered a serious bout with pneumonia just 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,’59 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.
Despite his devil may care approach to training, he shocked the boxing world on that night in Yankee Stadium. After a lackluster first two rounds, Johannson knocked Patterson to the canvas with a right hand early in the third. Patterson never recovered and was knocked down a total of seven times before the ref waved off the fight and awarded the victory to Johannson.
Johannson would hold the title for just under a year before he lost it back to Patterson in a rematch at the Polo Grounds in New York City. Patterson was the aggressor from the opening bell, and would eventually regain his title as he knocked Johannson out cold in the fifth round with a looping left hook. Johannson went down like he got shot, and took a ten count staring up at the lights with his leg twitching and blood dribbling out of his mouth. In the immediate aftermath of his victory, Patterson displayed the class of a champion as he was more concerned about Johanssons well being than celebrating his win. Patterson sat on the canvas with his fallen opponent cradling his head as medical personnel tended to Johannson. Floyd Patterson had just become the first man to regain the undisputed heavyweight championship, but his thoughts were with the man hed taken the title from.
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’63.
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(eg: Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosely, Mickey Ward and Arturo Gatti), it was less common in the’60s. Johannson remained a big star in Sweden, occasionally appearing in movies and enjoyed good health well into his 60’s when old age began to take its 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 freelance sports writer and highly respected authority on NFL football betting. His writing has appeared on a variety of sports sites including sportsbooks and sportsbook directory sites. He lives in Southern Nevada with three Jack Russell Terriers and an emu. He is currently working on an autobiography of former energy secretary Donald Hodell.