THREE times they went to war and three times the world watched. Back in the late 1950s and early ’60s, when the world heavyweight crown meant so much, America’s Floyd Patterson and Sweden’s Ingemar Johansson engaged in a truly thrilling three-fight series; each bout ending via violent KO.
Patterson, a huge betting favourite to defeat the less than formidably perceived Swede in their first fight instead ran into his most famous rival.
Originally deemed something of a letdown and even a coward, Johansson was famously disqualified in the final of the 1952 Olympic games for “running” against American fighter Ed Sanders. Shamefully, Johansson was then denied the heavyweight silver medal he had won. It was only a long thirty years later that “Ingo” was finally awarded with his silver medal, the original ruling to withhold it from him having been overruled in 1982.
Upon turning pro in December of 1952, fans were sceptical of the 20-year-old’s heart and commitment. This soon changed, however, when, in June of 1959, Johansson stunned reigning heavyweight king Patterson. Flattening the defending champ in the third round of their fight held in Yankee Stadium, the challenger actually put Patterson down seven times in total. Johansson was an overnight sensation and a hero to millions of fans back home.
Apparently, hundreds of thousands of fans stayed up until 3am local time to listen to the fight on the radio. “What he did was the biggest feat ever in Swedish sporting history,” friend and former sparring partner Stig Calderborn is quoted as saying by BBC Sport. But Patterson was hungry and ready for his revenge.
Something of a playboy who liked to party when he should have been training, the new champion lost the title in his very first defence – the return battle with Patterson. Floyd became the first man in boxing history to regain the heavyweight crown when he sent Johansson down and out in the fifth round of the 1960 rematch.
The two rivals would fight a memorable rubber-match on March 13 of 1961 (all three fights took place in the US), and once again “Ingo” and his “Bingo” decked Patterson; in fact, in a highly exciting opening round, both men went down. This time, though, Patterson got up and proceeded to stop his man in the sixth round. Theirs was a truly riveting series.
These three fights really did have it all. Not only were they extremely exciting and full of knockdowns – thirteen in total – but history was made too. In the second fight, Floyd Patterson became the first man in history to regain the heavyweight championship of the world. To have done so after having been painfully KO’d in the first fight was a great achievement. All three fights were terminated by KO, but it is the second bout that is the most famous. Not only did Floyd make history, but he avenged the loss to Ingemar with a KO that is startling to watch. The Swede’s foot can actually be seen twitching as he lays unconscious on the canvas. The left hook Patterson connected with was an absolute thunder bolt.
How we could use as thrilling a three-fight series fought out between two big-punching heavyweights today.