For the first time since he won the heavyweight championship of the world almost three years ago Floyd Patterson is about to peek out between his six-ounce gloves at a fighter who has a reasonable chance to beat him. The chance depends almost entirely on his challenger's right hand. Everyone Patterson has fought in recent years—with the possible exception of the inept Hurricane Jackson—has hit him with a solid right-hand punch. One of these right-handers, the amateur Pete Rademacher, even knocked the champion down. Conceivably, a really powerful right-hand puncher could knock Patterson out.
The champion's latest opponent knows all this. The new man, with the biggest right hand of them all, is Ingemar Johansson, who used it one chilly, fateful evening in G√∂teborg, Sweden to turn the heavyweight ratings and Eddie Machen topsy-turvy in a single round. Machen was then the fellow Patterson was supposed to be afraid to fight.
Thanks to that right-hand punch, which has served him well in his 18 professional fights, Johansson became No. 1 contender in all ratings. So, on the night of June 25, he is to meet Patterson at Yankee Stadium before a crowd that will include hundreds who paid $100 for a single "red carpet" ringside seat to see the handsome, dimpled Swede make his ultimate bid. Such a price has been paid only three times before in heavyweight history—when James J. Corbett beat Peter Jackson in 1891, when Corbett defeated John L. Sullivan in 1892 and when Joe Louis beat Billy Conn the second time in 1946.
This spendthrift crowd will include hundreds who paid even a higher price to be flown across the Atlantic from Sweden in the hope that they may tell their grandchildren that they were there on the night a Swede named Ingo brought home the smorgasbord, just as a Negro heavyweight named Jack Johnson once made good on a promise to bring home the bacon and so contributed to our language a deathless piece of pith.
June 21, 1959
The fight will come off despite a mountain of legal obstacles. All were scaled by the poker-faced young man on your left—Bill Rosensohn, an Ivy League grad buzzing about in a jungle of Venus's-flytraps but relentlessly promoting what is only his second heavyweight championship, gambling on it for half a year as something that would make or break him as a promoter, at first with the calm of a croupier spinning a fixed wheel, later with the sad look of a waif who has just been kicked. More sales-killing news of court actions and boxing commission decisions has been printed about this fight than news of the abilities of the two young men—Patterson, 24, Johansson, 26—who in the end must settle all the issues with their fists.
But, 10 days before the fight, with ticket sales in the lower-priced (up to $50) seats picking up, Rosensohn began to smile again and to foresee a gate of about $750,000. He begins to make money at $500,000. The $100 seats went well from the start.
The fight will not be on home television. Irving B. Kahn of TelePrompTer Corporation bought the theater TV, movie and radio rights for $300,000, then sold domestic radio rights for $100,000. In addition, the fight will be radioed to Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Cuba and perhaps to Australia and other countries.
Kahn expects record attendance for theater TV, surpassing the previous figure of almost 400,000 viewers set by the large-screen telecast of the second Sugar Ray Robinson-Carmen Basilio fight in March 1958. Close to 550,000 theater seats will be available for this fight at an average price of $4.
From any sensible standpoint, the fight is a natural. Whether it goes long or short there should be suspense in every round. No one has yet hit Patterson hard enough to test him truly. No one the champion has met since Archie Moore has been able to punch as hard as Johansson.
The quality of the challenger is what makes an attractive fight when a championship is at stake. Challenger Johansson has attractive fighting and personal qualities. He is a fellow of great social charm, and at the same time he is an excellent businessman. He is pleasantly aware that the title he seeks is worth, to pluck a good round figure out of the potential, a million dollars. That is a lot of money to a Swedish boy who once worked as a street laborer. Ingo is about to go after the million.
But the road he has taken toward it has been a topic of dispute ever since he set up camp a few weeks ago in a $100,000 cottage near Grossinger's famous Catskill Mountains hotel, a resort of luxury and pleasure that contrasts, like the personalities and fighting styles of the two prizefighters, with Patterson's characteristically Spartan domicile—a tiny, grimy room just off the gymnasium—at Ehsan's Training Camp in Chatham Township, New Jersey.
In Ingo's expensively simple house are his parents, his pretty fiancée, his kid brother, his kid sister and his kid brother's fiancée. Patterson, on the other hand, lives sternly in the same room as his co-trainer, Buster Watson. Johansson's relaxations are dancing, lolling, swimming and a very occasional nightclub show. Patterson mostly likes to play a little blackjack with Co-trainer Watson, and whoever else might drop in of an evening. Patterson has left camp to visit his dentist. Johansson has left camp to appear on television programs (for money, you may be sure) and, with his fiancée, Birgit Lundgren, to take in some nightclub shows. He likes, very occasionally, to dance and to listen to the comics at Grossinger's Terrace Room.
You might get from this, and some have, the impression that Johansson is not training seriously. Those closest to him—among them the very skilled Whitey Bimstein, who shares training responsibilities with Nils Blomberg, Johansson's Swedish trainer—are half inclined to think quite the opposite—that Ingo may be training too hard, although Whitey expresses loyal admiration for the challenger's persistence and dedication.
"He trains like the oldtimers," Whitey said one afternoon while Ingo was exhausting spectators with his customary long routine in the gym. "The oldtimers loved their work and so does this fellow. I can remember Johnny Dundee boxing 20 rounds at Stillman's Gym because he felt he was learning something every round. Who does that nowadays?"
Still, Whitey wishes Ingo would lay off a trifle on days when it is very hot. "But if it is a hot night at Yankee Stadium?" Ingo asks. He has been studying the torrid climate that often strikes New York in late June and wants to be ready for it.
Johansson does, in fact, train with the body-punishing dedication of a Rocky Marciano, who also trained at Grossinger's, and went very far on strength alone. Where Patterson runs 3½ to five miles, Johansson runs six. Where Patterson boxes four rounds, Johansson boxes six or seven. And where Patterson contents himself with a few rounds of bag-punching and rope-skipping, Johansson adds his own extraordinary Swedish calisthenics and at least two rounds of punching on a strange contraption, a Swedish girls' slungboll, which is normally hurled in girlish imitation of the hammer throw. Suspended from a bang board by its 18-inch strap handle, it is much harder to hit consistently than the ordinary speed bag, which moves with a swift but definite rhythm. The slungboll moves with the approximate speed and unpredictability of an opponent's bobbing, weaving head. Johansson's reflexes are being trained, in other words, to catch Patterson's head going east with a Johansson punch going west. The very first of the three Machen knock-downs proved the value of this device, invented by Trainer Blomberg and perfected by Johansson. Ingo caught Machen with a right that landed to the temple and, as Machen was falling, picked up his head again with a sharp left hook. Machen continued on down.
There is, of course, a sensible reason for the difference in the training methods of Patterson and Johansson. The champion weighed only 182¼ pounds for his fight with Brian London on May 1. In training he has dropped at times to as little as 179, just four pounds above the light heavyweight class. And, as his trainer, Dan Florio, argues, "what Patterson puts into one round of boxing or bag-punching is worth three rounds by another fighter." In boxing, especially, Patterson goes almost all out against his sparring partners. His roadwork is over rugged, hilly terrain. Aiming to come to the weigh-in scales at 182, Patterson must not give away more than 14 pounds to a natural 196-pounder. His training has concentrated on speed, power and sharpness, and maintenance of enough poundage so that he will have something to take off in the ring.
As to the nightclubbing of Johansson, it has been an innocent and almost certainly harmless diversion, by no means to be compared to the champagne-swigging of Harry Greb. Johansson has limited himself to ordinary soft drinks and a little Swedish cha-cha-cha.
"Most nights I get to bed by 10 or 11 o'clock," he says, "but if I have slept in the afternoon it is very hard to get to sleep so early at night.
"So I must have a little fantasy. I went to the Hawaiian Room after I was on the Steve Allen show and I had so much fun watching the Hawaiian dancers. A little fantasy is good for me, you know."
HAPPY SPARRING PARTNERS
He has also enjoyed the fantasy of the comedians at Grossinger's, the dancing and a little repartee with the crowds. But he has not been to bed later than one a.m. and that very seldom. He begins his day with a run of six miles. He eats nothing substantial until afternoon when, instead of the usual trainer-approved diet of beefsteak, he dips adventurously into a variety of dishes. These consist of whatever he enjoys and he seems to enjoy everything. The orthodox beef and vegetables diet of most boxers is not for him. (He has a counterpart in Patterson, who is fonder of pork chops than of steaks.)
"If I don't eat different things my body will miss some things that are good for me," Ingo explains. There are dieticians who would agree.
At 4:30 p.m. he is in the ring at Grossinger's ski lodge and sometimes starts boxing immediately without even loosening up. The real dubiousness of his training method is centered in this ring.
He has the happiest sparring partners ever assembled. They are happy because they know Johansson will not hurt them. He has yet to throw that right hand in anger during a sparring session. Instead, he jabs repeatedly with his left and, using his superior body weight, bulls his partners about until he has them on the ropes. There he leans on them and, instead of punching, pushes with his fists. He tries to work them off the ropes into his right hand but the sparring partners quickly learned that trick and push furiously to his left. From time to time he gets hit—especially to the body with left hooks, which are a Patterson specialty—but none of the hired hands wants to hit him very hard. Why spoil a good thing by angering this gentle man?
It is a most unusual way to prepare for a fight but Johansson says he has always boxed this way in the gymnasium and the method has, after all, made him the undefeated European champion.
He does seem to have a good jab, which is important against Patterson's glove-high, peekaboo guard, and he also has a way of pawing the air confusingly with his left hand. He showed in the Machen fight that he has an efficient left hook and an excellent straight right. It is apparent that he intends to stay close to Patterson in order to deny the champion punching room, closing in quickly after a succession of jabs and watching always for the chance to throw that big right hand, the punch that could make him champion.
Clearly, he cannot win a 15-round decision against such a superior boxer as the champion. He must knock Patterson out. Can he do it?
PATTERSON BY A KNOCKOUT
It is certainly possible. He did it to Machen, who was undefeated when they met. But it is not the most likely conclusion to this fight.
Patterson, who looked so dreadful against Roy Harris, has begun to move back toward the form he showed the night he knocked out Archie Moore in five rounds. The Brian London bout, which went 11 rounds because London protected his chin sedulously until the 10th, did Patterson a world of good. Only actual matches can maintain a good fighter's edge, and Patterson, fighting so seldom, has not lately been the razor-keen puncher he once promised to be. But in training for this Johansson affair-at-arms he has shown the good effects of the London bout. He is a better man than he was that night in Indianapolis and he might even come up to the ring steps on June 25 as good as he was the night he fought Moore.
The youngest man ever to win the heavyweight title, Patterson is dedicated to proving that he deserves to be ranked with the best of heavyweights. In physique he has the look now of a steely-thewed panther. The speed of his hands, then lost in a long layoff, has begun to come back. What's more, he works these days with a champion's pride.
The pride was touched to the quick a few days ago by an enormous sparring partner named Ed Bunyan, a 259-pounder who stands 6 feet 4 inches tall. Bunyan ambled into training camp with no awe whatever for Champion Patterson.
"You want me to throw bombs at him?" he asked Trainer Florio.
Florio was indignant.
"What the hell do you think you're being paid for?" he asked. "You throw bombs or you'll be gone out of here before supper."
Bunyan threw a bomb, a right hand which proved once again that Patterson can be hit with rights. It did not, like Rademacher's right hand, knock the champion down but it was enough of a shocker to embarrass him, especially since Bunyan has fought only as an amateur.
Patterson's response was quick. Weaving into position, he suddenly threw a combination that ended with a left hook to the jaw. Bunyan sagged back across the ring and into the ropes, then slumped to the canvas.
Patterson can, to be sure, be hit with a right hand but anyone who does it must face the consequences. There is not much doubt here that at some time during their fight Ingemar Johansson will make his grand challenge with a big right to Patterson's jaw. It will, perhaps, be the climactic moment of the fight, for on it will hang all the hopes of Ingo, and the hopes of all the Swedes from Malmo to North Dakota.
But, though Ingemar Johansson is a worthy challenger, deserving of his No. 1 position, Floyd Patterson is a worthy champion, deserving of his title. The odds, which have fluttered in the 3-to-1 range with surprising consistency since the fight was announced, seem excessive and may drop shortly before the fight. Wilbur Clark, proprietor of Las Vegas' Desert Inn, paid a couple of visits to Johansson's training camp and, with his entourage, was impressed with both the odds and the Swedish challenger. He announced he had wagered $10,000 on Johansson at 3 to 1, and would invest somewhat more if the price went higher.
"But," he said, "I think the odds will drop shortly before the fight."
A realistic appraisal of the two fighters would make this seem to be a sensible conclusion. Johansson has better than a 3-to-1 chance.
This is not to quarrel with the prevalent belief that Patterson will win, but only with the oddsmakers. The champion has survived right-hand punches. The chances are that he can, and will, survive Ingo's best and, in the end, knock Ingo out.
'I will jab and jab—and then...'
JOHANSSON'S VERSION OF HOW THE FIGHT COULD GO, DRAWN BY ROBERT RIGER, FOLLOWS ON PAGES 36-39
'...I will use my best punch!'
Johansson's best punch is his straight right hand. "Yes!" he exclaimed when he saw this drawing, in which Patterson is beaten before he can hook to the body. "This is my right! Straight, and so quick you will not see it! It is always good to use the short right when he is coming on. He comes right to it." But Champion Patterson does not come straight on into a punch. He bobs, weaves and feints. Still, at some point, Johansson feels, the champion must drop his famed peekaboo guard.
'I can fight with only my jab for 10 rounds. The jab must be straight to have power'
In training, Johansson has concentrated on his jab almost to the exclusion of his right hand. Clearly, he expects to use the left to pile up points while waiting a chance to throw his big right, the right that finished Eddie Machen in one round. "So he will come out with his two hands up on his face," Johansson says, "and I will jab and jab and jab straight and hard and this will do something, this will annoy him and he will do something with his hands."
'You can't see the time between the left and right. They come together'
Johansson has two versions of his left-right combination. His favorite (at left) has the two fists arriving almost simultaneously, the left a fraction of a second ahead of a fairly short right. In the other version (above) the jab is used with almost a pawing motion to confuse the opponent in the instant before a powerful, much longer right is launched with plenty of shoulder behind it to give the punch full authority.
'When Patterson misses—'
"That depends," says Johansson. "I do not know what hand I will use. The main thing is to go on him then." By "going on him" Johansson means moving in close, probably after throwing a punch.
'I must be careful'
Patterson's peekaboo defense can sometimes be solved by an uppercut, but Johansson is dubious. "I must really be careful," he says. "If I miss, my hand is up here and he will voom to the body."
'When I get him on the ropes, I will keep him there'
Johansson has worked assiduously with sparring partners on this maneuver, which could be a decisive one. Bulling them to the ropes, he tries with left shoulder and left knee to turn them so that they will come off the ropes into the full power of his right hand. But even if Patterson should escape the right he will have been subjected to the tiring effects of Johansson's big weight advantage, perhaps as much as 15 pounds. "I try to keep him there [on the ropes]," he says. "It is good for me. It is easy, just lean on him and dig and keep him there and he will get tired 10 times faster than me because he must defend himself, try to punch, try to get away, and then he always has the ropes in back and they bother him." Ingo plans to crowd the champion at every opportunity, hoping to get him into this position.
'I keep my left foot out when I back'
Johansson's retreating style permits him to stop instantly and either jab or throw a long overhand right. "If I bring my legs together when I move back I will get too far away from him," he says. He can move backward with great rapidity for such a big man and demonstrated this during the first minute of the Machen fight, when he was coolly sizing up the American fighter's style. He believes his speed of foot may well nullify Patterson's speed of hand.