Monday, February 2, 2009

The death of a boxing champ

It would have gone by unnoticed, had my future father-in-law not said something today about it.

"You know that Swedish guy we talked about a few weeks ago? He just died a few days ago," he said. "Ingmar, something."

"What?" I said, thinking of director Ingmar Bergman. "I thought he was already dead (Note: Bergman died in 2007)."
I looked over at Albie. "Have you heard anything about this?"

We both work for newspapers, and we both scan the national and international obituaries as they come over the AP wire for anyone of importance. But Albie was as clueless as I was.

When I got home I was determined to find out more. I scrolled down the home page of a Swedish tabloid until - at last - I found it near the bottom: Boxer Ingemar Johansson has died. I then remembered our conversation, which had not been about movies...

Albie's dad, being in his early teens when Ingemar Johansson came out of nowhere in 1959 and beat heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson for the world title at Yankee Stadium, of course remembered this remarkable Swede.

Johansson, who suffered from Alzheimer's, died Friday at age 76.

Some remarkable thing about this man:

* In his professional career, he only lost two matches - both against Floyd Patterson (rematches of the world title in 1960 and 1961)

* Johansson, the underdog, flew in on a helicopter to Gothenburg after his 1959 win and was greeted by 20,000 Swedes

* He was the Swedish amateur heavyweight champion at age 19, winning 80 of his 88 fights

* He received an Olympic silver medal 29 years after his 1952 fight where a referee had disqualified him for "a lack of effort," according to the New York Times

Ingo, as he was called in Sweden, was famous before I was even born. However, through the movie "My Life As a Dog," I grew up learning what a historic moment the Patterson-Johansson fight had been for our little country. Nobody should ever forget that. So, here's to Ingo!

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