Given contenders of true championship stature, there is always an aura of special glamour in a world heavyweight title match that makes fight fans of millions who at other times are scarcely aware the sport exists. This was plainly evident last week at New York's Polo Grounds, where people of such diverse interests as Nelson Rockefeller and Elizabeth Taylor mingled with boxing's hardy habitués, its headliners and its hangers-on. It was above all evident in the floodlit ring itself, where challenger Floyd Patterson and champion Ingemar Johansson fought for a prize that obviously meant more to each of them and to all of their partisans than a mere divisional boxing title.
When a heavyweight title match cuts across international boundaries, even the normal heightening of interest around it increases in proportion to national pride. The Johansson-Patterson match included not only this added ingredient but opposed two fighters so dramatically different in attitude and personality that their contest took on something of the quality of a morality play. Though he was a foreigner, the U.S. had taken Ingo Johansson warmly to its heart during the year of his championship, largely because he enjoyed his acclaim in such a characteristically American way. Smiling right and left, the young Swede bestrode his prosperity as a triumphal hobbyhorse, with his girl friend at his side and all the world happily at his feet. By contrast, the moody, serious young man Ingo had beaten disappeared from public view, living out the long year of his adversity in an oblivion many thought he had earned.
But if the happy-go-lucky, hail-fellow Ingo represented one side of the American spirit, his defeated opponent—bitter and hurt at the neglect that had overtaken him, forging in secrecy the determination to overcome it—personified another and equally valid one. This was the often-forgotten resilience of the American spirit in adversity, a resilience that has won wars and survived depressions. In the very first minutes of the championship fight it became suddenly, thrillingly and almost unbelievably exemplified in Patterson, as the newly mature and newly determined young challenger set about reclaiming the title he had lost.
No observer, radio listener or newspaper reader, whether fight fan or not, could escape the drama that was packed into the little more than 13 minutes of boxing that brought the heavyweight title back to the U.S. and Floyd Patterson. It was sport at its true summit. In a triumph earned by determination and dedication, Floyd Patterson brilliantly illuminated one road to victory for all Americans. In gracefully accepting the first defeat of his career, the old champion Ingo Johansson again proved himself a sportsman and a man able to cope with adversity. Whether he will convert it to his own interest, as did Floyd, remains to be seen, but in the meantime SPORTS ILLUSTRATED salutes both the victor and the vanquished as men who met at a high place and proved themselves thoroughly worthy of the eminence attained.