'SO QUICK YOU WILL NOT SEE IT'
Three pictures from TelePrompTer's vivid ringside movie of the heavyweight title fight show the blurred speed and dire authority of Ingemar Johansson's right hand as he clubs down Floyd Patterson. For Martin Kane's story of the fight, turn page
The sports world has a new look today, a fine, delirious look, thanks to the virile right hand of a handsome Viking who scored with it one of the most stunning upsets boxing's heavyweight division has known. With his stupefying right, Ingemar Johansson, the nationally derided challenger, honored only in his native Sweden, became the heavyweight champion of the world. And so Floyd Patterson, the youngest man ever to win the championship, became the youngest ever to lose it.
The right hand, hidden assiduously in prefight training and, indeed, scorned by many a skeptic as a preposterous Nordic myth, flashed through the bug-swarming mists at Yankee Stadium, crashed straight as a lance into the nose, mouth and chin of Floyd Patterson and shattered boxing's status quo.
July 5, 1959
Anyone who had bothered to look at the film of the Johansson-Eddie Machen fight, widely distributed, should have respected that right. It was a straight right, the very right Johansson showed in these pages a couple of weeks ago (SI, June 22), the right he described so correctly as his "best punch," and a right that must now go down in boxing's history texts as one of the best the sport has ever seen.
It is a precious fist, this right hand. With it Johansson, all but unknown on the western shore of the Atlantic, knocked out Machen, then the No. 1 contender, last September in a single round and so vaulted himself onto the top of what will certainly be a million-dollar heap and could pile higher as prizefighting's special kind of inflation sets in. A return match, contractually set for 90 days from the night of June 26, is already being discussed in terms of millions of dollars for television, radio and movie rights alone, with a live gate that can be evaluated only by the fact that this first bout, mocked on the sports pages and beset by plagues of lawsuits and other debilitating news, drew more than half its $470,712.25 revenue from persons willing and presumably able to pay $100 a seat to see it. One wonders what fantastic sum the novice promoter, Bill Rosensohn, now will dare to charge for his "red carpet" ringside tickets to the return match. A $500 elite has been brazenly suggested to him, and Rosensohn, aware of the values inherent in this new sports situation that he created, has, in his meek and willing way, consented that he would not be averse. He is now in a position to set an alltime record, easily exceeding the 25 guineas that Britons paid in 1922 (about $125 then) to see Georges Carpentier knock out Ted Kid Lewis in a single round. Rosensohn is a man who likes glory, and if that kind of money isn't glory, what is?
The crowd of 21,961 who braved an evening downpour and a previous day's postponement to see the fight got every penny's worth in excitement. The cravens who stayed away because of threatening weather will pay for it throughout a bitter eternity of regret. There was only one round of fighting that was worth more than a nickel, but that round was priceless.
It was the third round, the last round, the round that made a fabulous dream come true. To synopsize the sad but soul-uplifting saga, Ingemar Johansson, a Swede, had returned from the 1952 Olympics in disgrace. A Swedish newspaper headline damned him with: INGEMAR, FOR SHAME. He had, by all accounts, including those of expert eyewitnesses, shown a cowardly disinclination to fight an American named Ed Sanders. It was well known at the time that all American fighters, except freaks, are invincible and that all European fighters are lineal descendants of Phainting Phil Scott. Sanders was an amateur of some attainments as a puncher, and when Ingemar persistently faded away from him (as Ingemar was later to fade away from Patterson) it seemed only natural to disqualify him for not trying, as the referee soon did.
In these same finals Patterson, an invincible American, won his gold medal as a middleweight. Ingemar and Sweden were deprived of even a second-place award and he was not allowed to stand on the platform for the official bowing and picture-taking. He was, you might say, expunged. It was a dreadful disgrace, and some Swedes soon started a campaign to ban boxing as altogether too brutal to be borne, a national rationalization that has from time to time afflicted other European countries.
All Sweden was shamed and, to an extent, all the world, by this Olympic fiasco.
THE SIMPLE TRUTH
As the years passed, Ingemar, though sorely hurt, discussed the disaster with the serene assurance that comes from a clear conscience. Insistently, over the years, he pleaded innocence and pleaded it again to me last January in Goteborg, Sweden, when I was there observing the proceedings incident to the signing of his proposed match with Patterson.
It was a simple plea and it is now clearly the simple truth. His corner had advised Ingemar to make Sanders do all the leading and to counterpunch him. Sanders, a natural counterpuncher, had a somewhat similar idea. Neither fighter did any leading, and the referee kept pleading with them to fight. And then, in what must have been a classical magisterial fit of pique, he picked on Ingemar for disqualification. It took almost seven years for Ingemar to reverse the decision in prizefighting's only court of justice—the ring itself.
Thus was Ingemar's victory over the champion of the world, the man who had won the world's highest honors while Ingemar was winning disgrace, made honey-laden by the memory of that sour incident. Not until last Friday night was the Johansson version of the Olympic tragedy accepted universally. No one will deny it now. At ringside, just before the bell, it was used to demean him for the final time. You won't hear much about it any more.
Ingemar came back from disgrace along a long, hard road. Campaigning as a professional, he defeated 21 opponents before he met Patterson, 13 of them by knockout. But not one of these victories, nor their sum total, fully bleached the Olympic stain. He had to beat the professional champion of the world to do it. When he did beat him it was with dramatic suddenness and certainty, in a way that won him moral victory over everyone who had doubted his stature as a fighter or his cool and certain courage in the ring.
The courage was not tested by any overt adversity in the fight, for Patterson, master of the fastest combinations ever seen on a heavyweight, never did get a chance to complete one of them. The only signs of courage required of Johansson in this brief and one-sided fight were that he look serenely pleased to be in the same ring with the champion and that he do his job well. He carried out both assignments.
The Johansson defense is simple and supremely effective. Watching it, one harks back to the 1952 Olympics. It does seem as if this fellow, sticking out a long left and retreating swiftly before every punch thrown at him, might indeed be afraid to fight. But all it means is that he does not care to be hit and intends to win with his best weapon, that extraordinary right. Meanwhile, biding his time, he uses a long and persistent left jab as both a point scorer and a device to confuse and discourage and make desperately careless his opponent. He uses his surprisingly fast feet to stay out of harm's way.
Thus it was that in the first two rounds of the championship fight he staved off Patterson's efforts with the jab—sometimes a mere annoying flick of the extended glove, sometimes a fairly sharp probe. At the same time his big feet, which had clumped through the Stadium mud to the ring encased in girlish plastic rain booties, carried him backward with perfect timing, precisely right to escape the champion's lunges.
Those feet were astonishingly adept for a man who weighed 196 pounds (to Patterson's 182). With them he was able to circle both clockwise and counterclockwise, to retreat and to advance, always just out of Patterson's range, always just close enough to snap the jab into Patterson's face whenever eager Patterson, crouching and glowering, tried to get close enough to fire a burst. The jabs held him off. The circling and backing made him ineffective.
A sedulous Associated Press man studying movies of the fight reported that in the first round Johansson threw 96 jabs and in the second threw 107.
When the bell ended the second round Patterson did what was for him an ungentlemanly thing. He scowled at an opponent. It created some comment afterward and Ingemar was offended, though not very much. The scowl has been variously interpreted by principals to the engagement—Patterson disappeared before anyone could ask him—but a sensible explanation might be that he was disgusted by his inability to reach Johansson and rightly blamed Johansson for it.
The famous right hand, concealed for so long in training (but not to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S Robert Riger) was publicly revealed for the first time late in the first round as part of a left-right-left combination to the head. It had light impact, and was nothing like what was to come. Patterson, seeking some way to get past the incessant jab, tried a couple of his famous leaps, a device he often uses to close with an elusive opponent, and failed each time as Johansson withdrew just enough to avoid solid impact. Johansson won this round, in my opinion and against the majority official opinion, on almost his jab alone.
SCOWL OF FRUSTRATION
But it was not, so far as scoring went, a significant round. Neither was the second, won by Patterson. Their significance lay in the fact that Patterson was up against something altogether new in his brief experience—an opponent who could nullify his famous punching speed with speed of foot. Try as he would, Patterson could not get close enough to Johansson to cut loose with the body attack that had weakened other challengers, slowed them enough to permit a blazing head combination and a knockout. There was that pesky jab to hold him at bay and there was that curiously and effectively timed withdrawal occurring always at the very moment Patterson was about to cut loose. It was enough to make any man scowl.
Patterson tried a couple of leaps to the body in the second round, and they did him no particular good against his retreating target. Johansson, on his account, managed a couple of right leads to the head, each followed by a left hook, but they had little meaning.
What had much more meaning to a student of boxing who is also a trusted lieutenant in the camp of Cus D'Amato, Patterson's manager, was a Johansson move that looked a trifle clumsy and amateurish.
It came late in the second round when Patterson managed at last to achieve infighting range. Johansson simply grabbed him and hugged him in his powerful arms. It was not the stylish kind of clinch the academies teach. It was just a plain hug.
"That was when I knew we were in trouble," said Charlie Black, D'Amato's dear friend. "This fellow wasn't going to let Floyd work on him inside."
Patterson won that round, mostly by jabbing harder, though far less often, than Johansson. Still, it was a close one.
Then came the third round. It started out with little more excitement to commend it than the previous two had offered. There were again those Chinese water-torture jabs by Johansson and there was Patterson crouching again like a cat about to pounce on a robin but not quite sure he can manage the distance before the bird flies away.
And then the most astounding thing happened. Patterson was down and the ludicrous 5-to-1 odds that had favored him looked like what happened to the stock market on Black Friday.
It was the first of seven knockdowns, each of them delivered by the suddenly revealed straight right hand of Ingemar, though his left helped out occasionally. It was preceded by a left hook that Patterson caught typically on his right glove, but the straight short right that followed it so swiftly penetrated the champion's famous peekaboo defense, slicing between the two upraised gloves and crashing into Patterson's face.
Patterson said later that he did not see the punch. It is unlikely that he consciously saw any that followed it. He fell to the canvas on his back and remained there, rolling to rise, while Referee Ruby Goldstein counted nine. When he got up, he was clearly out on his feet, wobbling like a 3 a.m. drunk. Had this been anything less than a championship fight Goldstein would have stopped it as soon as he saw Patterson turn his back on Johansson and stagger toward Johansson's corner as though seeking the assistance of a friend to walk him home.
Johansson is known in the boxing trade as a "finisher," which means that he does not pause to admire his work when he has an opponent in difficulties. He rushed Patterson, tried to circle him to oppose him from the front, and then crashed a left hook against his jaw from behind. As Floyd started down under the impact of that punch, Johansson caught him again with the right hand, this time to the back of the head. Patterson, his title fading with the seconds, went down once more. He rose gallantly again but, as D'Amato was to say later in his curiously erudite way, "The punches were too functional." Patterson's body could not handle the load of shock inflicted on it though his heart and soul wanted to fight.
ETERNITY OF SECONDS
Up again, he made the futile, pathetic gesture of going into his old crouch and even managed to throw a few sad, pawing imitations of an old familiar combination that starts with a left hook to the body. He did not realize that at the moment he was too far from his opponent to reach him. Dutifully, Johansson knocked him down again, this time with a right to the head followed by a left-hand push. Four more rights, each a knockdown, and the last one to the top of the head, ended it. This time Goldstein did not even bother to count to one. He rushed forward, and with an eternity of 57 seconds left to go in the round, stopped the fight.
The Swedes are held to be a phlegmatic people but their joy in Ingemar now broke all restraint. Several hundred of them had flown the Atlantic to see this very denouement and in sudden ecstasy scores of them broke through police lines, which never are very efficient at the big fights, and swarmed over the reporters' tables and into the ring to greet their champion, the first world titleholder Sweden has ever had.
Thus glory and justice came at last to Ingemar Johansson, the scapegoat of 1952.
To win this fight Ingemar broke many a cherished rule of training, traditional but meaningless rules that require prizefighters to live in monkish seclusion, apart from wives and families, sometimes for months on end, restricted in their pleasures to comic books and television. These rules have been invented by trainers and managers, though doctors scorn them. Ingemar scandalized the sports world by openly enjoying the company of his parents, his siblings and his fiancée, while living in a $100,000 country home near Grossinger's Hotel in the beautiful Catskills. Prizefighters are supposed to diet on beef, preferably steaks, but Ingemar loved his herring and ice cream. Fighters are ordered to shun nightclubs but Ingemar slipped out occasionally for a bit of dancing with his girl. And then, in the ring, he scarcely boxed at all and never once threw his right hand with any appreciable force.
It was all most unorthodox and it sent him into Yankee Stadium relaxed and hardy.
An avid witness to the proceedings was Promoter Rosensohn, the sad-faced gambler who had lost 20 pounds off his spare 6-foot frame (normally 150 pounds) as he sweated out everything from lawsuits to the weather that seemed to doom what was only his second fight. A morning rain and an inaccurate weather forecast for the evening forced postponement of the fight from Thursday night, which turned out to be quite pleasant for a late June night, to Friday, which turned out to be most unpleasant as thunderstorms rolled down on the Stadium from upstate and caused uncounted thousands to stay in their homes. The rain stopped only 90 minutes before fight time and by then it had cost Rosensohn a loss of $40,000 on the promotion. (The fighters did much better. Patterson's share of all incomes was estimated at $600,000, Johansson's at $250,000.)
ROSENSOHN ON THE THRONE
The promotion, nonetheless, put Rosensohn on boxing's most desirable throne—control of the heavyweight championship. Had Patterson won, Rosensohn would have been out of the fight game, which badly needs a man of his keen imagination and daring. He had quarreled with D'Amato and with Irving B. Kahn, president of TelePrompTer, who had bought the rights to closed circuit television, radio and moving pictures. But Rosensohn, who alone among fight promoters had had the wit to fly to Sweden for Johansson's engagement with Machen, and there signed him to a title fight contract, was betting that Johansson would win and recoup for him his fortunes in a return bout.
That return fight may now take place in September, though there is always a dubiousness about fight contracts, and it should make Rosensohn a very rich young man (he is 39). It may well establish him as successor to Tex Rickard, Mike Jacobs and James D. Norris, all of whom used the heavyweight championship to project them into domination of prizefighting.
The day after the fight Rosensohn repeated what many had been saying in the ball park.
"This is the best thing that has happened to boxing since Frankie Carbo went to jail," he said. "It makes it clear that you never can tell what will happen when two good fighters get into the ring. Hereafter no one will ever pay any attention to 5-to-1 odds. They don't mean anything."
Except, that is, to those Swedes who bet on Ingemar.