Johansson vs. Patterson: “The Hammer of Thor”

By Norman Marcus on March 20, 2012
Johansson vs. Patterson: “The Hammer of Thor”
Floyd would fret over breaking another man’s nose. He just didn’t have that “killer instinct.”

“Ingemar looks good physically…so does Errol Flynn—and Errol couldn’t fight his way out of a roomful of gorgeous blondes…”

“It’s a gift from the Gods. It is mystic and moves faster than the eye can see. I do not tell it when to go. Suddenly boom! It lands like toonder.”—Ingemar Johansson

The heavyweight division had reached the bottom of the barrel by the spring of 1959. Boxing had plunged from being one of the most popular professional sports in America to being on life support.

The new champion was Floyd Patterson, who had won the title vacated by Rocky Marciano. Floyd at twenty-one years old had knocked out ageless Archie Moore in Chicago on November 30, 1956, to become the youngest undisputed heavyweight champion in history. His mentor and manager was the brilliant Cus D’Amato. Cus had brought Floyd along from an Olympic Gold middleweight to heavyweight champion. D’Amato had indeed taught Patterson the ropes but he couldn’t change his mild personality. The new champ would help pick up an opponent after knocking him down. He would fret over breaking another man’s nose. Floyd just didn’t have that “killer instinct.”

There is an old saying in sports: “You can’t put in what God left out.” Cus was credited with inventing the “peek-a-boo” defense where a boxer holds his hands up in front of his face as he bobs and weaves. (D’Amato tried to create a new champion in Mike Tyson three decades later but time ran out for Cus when he died of lung inflammation in 1985. This left poor Mike Tyson an unfinished product, easy prey for the hoodlums in the boxing game.)

Almost on cue there appeared a new talent in the heavyweight division. His name was Ingemar Johansson. He was just what the stale game needed. Author John D. McCallum described Ingemar this way:

The quiet elegance of James J. Corbett
The animal magnetism of Jack Dempsey
The studious determination of Gene Tunney
The simple sincerity of Joe Louis

The new sheriff in town was from Sweden. He stood 6’1” tall, 196 lbs., had blond hair, blue eyes and looked like he just came out of Hollywood’s central casting. The gun he carried was a straight right hand that had knocked out 14 of 22 opponents. It was only natural that the press called his right hand “The Hammer of Thor” because it landed like a lightning bolt thrown by the mythical Viking god. His left hook was also something to watch out for but the right hand was the game-ender. No peek-a-boo defense could stop a straight right hand thrown with all of Johansson’s weight behind it. Johansson himself liked to call his right “toonder and lightning.”

All the Swede had to do was be patient and wait for the precise moment to throw the big right hand. Patterson’s jaw was suspect, and that was Johansson’s target. Floyd had already been knocked down by Pete Rademacher, in the second round of their fight in Seattle’s Sick’s Stadium a few months back. It was Pete’s first pro fight, against the new champion of the world. This recent amateur had floored Patterson!

Johansson’s ticket onto the world stage was his victory over top contender Eddie Machen at Ullevi Football Stadium in Gothenburg, Sweden, on September 14, 1958.  Over 53,000 fans turned out to see Ingo knock Eddie down three times in the first round for the KO. It was that big right hand again. This victory over Machen made Johansson a credible contender to fight for the world championship.

When Ingo got to the United States the New York and Chicago mob still ran much of the fight game. He was told that if he wanted any big fights and big money he would have to sign papers giving these gentlemen 33% of his purses. Otherwise he could go fight in the sticks.

Coming from Sweden, Johansson never heard such nonsense before. He went straight to the press and exposed the scheme. It came out that a gangster named “Fat” Tony Salerno was behind it all. The New York State Boxing Commission jumped all over these guys. Many of them later went up the Hudson River on an extended vacation, paid for by New York taxpayers.

There were some who still questioned Johansson’s abilities.  After all, the guys he knocked out were those foreign heavyweights. They bled a lot but usually couldn’t bust an egg with a punch. Was the Swede one of these guys? Sportswriter Harry Grayson said. “He hasn’t the slightest idea what infighting is…The best his sparring mates can say about him is that he is strong. Ingemar looks good physically…so does Errol Flynn—and Errol couldn’t fight his way out of a roomful of gorgeous blondes.”

Ingemar set up his training camp at Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel in upstate New York. He trained hard for the fight, putting in more miles and sparring more rounds than Floyd. He also had an interesting sparring partner in camp, a big tall kid named Cassius Clay! Clay would walk around the camp like he owned the joint. Clay, aka Muhammad Ali, was already drawing interest from the press who came to watch Johansson train.  ABC Sports offered Ingemar $100,000, to box the “Louisville Lip” on television. The Swede turned them down claiming that Clay hadn’t the necessary experience.

The bout was set for Yankee Stadium on June 26, 1959. The odds that night were 3 to 1 in favor of Patterson. The fight didn’t have long to go. Johansson was a calm methodical boxer that held Patterson off with hard left jabs while patiently waiting to slam through the peek-a-boo defense of the young champion. The opportunity came in the third round. As Gene Tunney did to Dempsey in 1927, the Swede threw his straight right—and it landed square on Patterson’s chin. The champ went down but beat the count and the fight continued. Ingemar now stalked Patterson, knocking him down six more times in the round. Referee Ruby Goldstein saw Patterson had had enough and stopped the fight. It was a TKO for Johansson in the third round! He was the first foreign heavyweight champion since Primo Carnera in 1933.

In the short time Johansson was champion he kept very busy. He didn’t spend his money on fancy cars and fast women. You see he had his fiancé Birgit Lundren, a blonde bombshell from Sweden, with him. It was a bit of a scandal in those days when it was revealed that they were living together. A few weeks later, after the Patterson fight, they got married.

Anyway, in the year before his rematch with Floyd Patterson, Ingo made a movie in Hollywood called “All the Young Men.”  He was featured with Alan Ladd and Sidney Poitier in a story about race relations among American soldiers during the Korean War. He also starred in the teleplay of “The Killers” in 1959 on the “Buick-Electra Playhouse.” His co-stars were Diane Baker and Dane Clark. Johansson played a boxer named Ole Anderson who was called “The Swede” and was on the run from the mob. It was a tough role originally portrayed by Burt Lancaster in the 1950s film noir of the same name. (Interesting to note that Lancaster’s character was also called “The Swede” in the original book.)

Obviously Johansson had more on his mind than boxing. He was a real renaissance man with interests in business, sports and the arts. He was an excellent speed skater and played soccer for Goteborg in Sweden.

The second fight was again held in New York at the old “Polo Grounds” on June 20, 1960. Ingo stunned Floyd with a straight right high on his temple in the second round but couldn’t follow up. In the fifth round Patterson had Johansson on the ropes and threw a leaping left hook, ala Rocky Marciano. It caught the Swede on the jaw, he fell, then got to one knee and took a nine-count. The champion tried to dance his way out of trouble but Patterson was all over him with lefts and rights upstairs and downstairs. Finally another left hook put Ingemar out for good. The Swede’s eyes had rolled up into his head and his right leg was quivering. Referee Arthur Mercante counted him out. Johansson lay there unconscious for five minutes before they could get him up onto a stool. Patterson stayed with him the whole time, until he was able to leave the ring under his own power. Floyd Patterson was a soft man in a hard game. It was the first time in history that an ex-champion had reclaimed the heavyweight title.

They met again for the rubber match. Never before had the same two heavyweights fought each other in three championship bouts in a row.

The third fight was in Miami Beach’s Convention Hall on March 13, 1961. Before the fight several former heavyweight champions were introduced to the crowd. Rocky Marciano climbed into the ring to wave and wish the best to Johansson and Patterson. The Rock got a nice round of applause. Marciano was followed into the ring by Max Schmeling. The German entered to a noticeably hushed welcome. Miami Beach was a Jewish town and perhaps the crowd remembered that Schmeling was Hitler’s favorite boxer in the 1930s. The biggest hand was given to the next man, a man that knew Max Schmeling very well—the one and only Joe Louis! Now it was time to box…

The “Hammer of Thor” descended on Patterson again in the first round. Johansson knocked Patterson down two times. Apparently “toonder and lightning” can strike twice in the same place, but it was not enough. Floyd got up and landed a right and left to Ingo’s head and Johansson went down! It was the first time since Jack Dempsey fought Luis Angel Firpo at the Polo Grounds in 1923 that both boxers went down in the first round of a heavyweight title match. Finally in the sixth round Patterson knocked the Swede to the canvas. Ingo got up at the count of nine but a fraction too late. He had been counted out. It was another KO for Patterson.

Ingemar only fought two more times. He beat Dick Richardson of Wales to regain the European heavyweight belt in Goteborg, Sweden, on June 17, 1962. He later won a 12-round decision against Brian London. He retired soon after and bought a big commercial fishing boat with some of his winnings. Ingo also opened the required restaurant/bar that most ex-heavyweight champions get involved with. He proudly served home brewed beer in the bar called “Hammer.” He walked away from boxing with all of his “marbles” and lots of money in his pocket.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Floyd Patterson vs Ingemar Johansson I - June 26, 1959 - Rounds 1 & 2

Floyd Patterson vs Ingemar Johansson I - June 26, 1959 - Round 3

Ingemar Johansson vs Floyd Patterson II - June 20, 1960 - Rounds 1 - 3

Ingemar Johansson vs Floyd Patterson II - June 20, 1960 - Rounds 4 & 5

Floyd Patterson vs Ingemar Johansson III - March 13, 1961 - Entire fight - Rounds 1 - 6 & Interview

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  1. Ron Lipton 08:43pm, 03/23/2012


    Good to know the subject is still popular, catchy title.

  2. Norm 05:40pm, 03/21/2012

    All you guys had a lot to add to these subjects and it was very interesting. Joe Frazer’s Gym is close to my home and Smokin’ Joe also called Ali Clay all the time. Ali is a complicated character and I’ll leave it there.

  3. the thresher 03:52pm, 03/21/2012

    Jilly, Ali did not handle his torture of Floyd with grace. He called him a “Rabbit.”

    Floyd was as decent a human being as you could ever hope to find, but he was caught in the crosscurrents of the ‘60s.

  4. the thresher 03:50pm, 03/21/2012

    Norm, Ali is like Roach only a lot worse. But his brain is fine. Parkinson’s and Pugilistica Dementia can both be caused by blows to the head. PD, however, is far worse and leads to a terrible ending. At least Ali and Roach can be treated.

    Their connection to Alzhemier’s is another story altogether and has not yet been determined.

    Sugar Ray Robinson got early onset dementia and it fnished him off in a about a year.

  5. Jilly Rizzo 02:49pm, 03/21/2012

    Really enjoyed the article about these two. Patterson later fought and lost by technical knockout to Ali who was mentioned as a sparring partner for Ingo in the article. Ali called Patterson an “Uncle Tom” for refusing to call him Muhammad Ali (Patterson continued to call him Cassius Clay) and for his outspokenness against Black Muslims. Instead of scoring a quick knockout, Ali mocked, humiliated and punished Patterson throughout the fight.

  6. Norm 11:34am, 03/21/2012

    That its true Thresher but I understood that the Parkinson’s that Ali suffers from, the shaking and lack of motor coordination, is also a result of head trauma. Parkinson’s patients have all their mental abilities but motor coordination is still located in the brain and can be damaged by a blow to the area of the brain where it is located. Senility or Alzheimer’s is damage to the reasoning/ memory centers etc. but in most people it is caused by a disease not a punch.
    We are getting rather scientific here aren’t we? But it is called the Sweet Science right? Great discussion everybody, enjoyed it!

  7. the thresher 10:29am, 03/21/2012




  8. mikecasey 08:21am, 03/21/2012

    The Ring Detective, a popular feature back in the day, found that Floyd’s problem was actually a vulnerable spot on the side of his head, which would certainly explain a lot of things. My dad saw Ingo knock out the tough Dick Richardson with an almost casual sweep of that big right hand that sent Dick down as if he’d been shot. The final fight with Brian London (‘London couldn’t beat my sister’, Ingo had earlier bragged) was bizarre and ironic, with Johansson knocked down and on the verge of being counted out in the final round when the bell saved him. He got the decision as Norm states and then hung ‘em up.

  9. Norm 08:07am, 03/21/2012

    Patterson was just an overblown light heavyweight. He fought a lot of bigger men. I read that Floyd’s type of Alzheimer’s was caused by too many head shots over the years. Johansson also suffered from the disease but he retired long before Patterson. I’ll try to find out if his was also caused by repeated blows to the head. Sometimes it’s just a product of old age. Floyd and Ingo were in their 70s. Jack Sharkey also died with Alzheimer’s Disease but he was 91 years old!

    Ali developed a form of Parkinson’s Disease also caused by head shots. So the only thing we can be sure of is blows to the head are to be avoided!

  10. the thresher 07:54am, 03/21/2012

    The third fight was a wild one and often overlooked

  11. Jimmy D 07:42am, 03/21/2012

    Johansson is often forgotten when talking about the heavyweight champions of yesterday. Thanks for bringing a snapshot of his career to the site, nicely done. I especially liked the tidbit about Schmeling not getting any applause in Miami Beach, that’s a very interesting aside.

  12. the thresher 07:04am, 03/21/2012

    When I saw Ingo slaughter Eddie Machen, I knew he was going to be a load for Patterson.

    Ironically, both got Alzheimer’s in later life.

  13. the thresher 07:02am, 03/21/2012

    Thank you Norman for a very fine job. I’ll never forget that leg twitching.

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