There were three men last week at Earls Court, London's famous arena, who had a chance to fight Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight championship of the world. One was Brian London, holder of the Great Britain and Empire title, a brawler who has Bob Hope's prominent chin, Sir Aubrey Smith's prominent nose and the latter-day Bing Crosby's prominent belly. Another was the challenger, Henry Cooper, who had stopped London in one round almost three years before, a fellow with a stately style and a sturdy jab. The third was Ingemar Johansson, a spectator in a dinner jacket.
Circumstances alter cases and faces. Cooper, who won, came out of the fight so cut about the eyes that he probably will not be able to fight again until June. That had been the time planned for a Floyd Patterson-Johansson bout, which was to have been preceded by a Patterson-Cooper fight in March, assuming Cooper won, because Patterson, sluggish from inactivity, sorely needs to sharpen his weapons before taking on a man of Johansson's ability. Now chaos prevails. Cooper must be allowed time to heal, and the schedule looks like something the Long Island Rail Road would improvise in a blizzard.
London, who had been the press favorite, was beaten in spite of some very intelligent heeling and butting. He may never be seen again, and, if so, the world will not have lost a Mona Lisa.
Johansson, who had already beaten Cooper, had just been insulted publicly by the surly London, who refused to shake hands with him when they were introduced in the ring before the bout. As a result, Johansson's Swedish blood steamed like hot buttered aquavit. Throughout the fight, which went 15 rounds to a blood-spattered decision, he rooted for Cooper. Afterwards, he issued a terse statement to the press.
" London is a bum," he said.
The best prizefighter in Sweden's history is a former street paver who disapproves not only of Brian London but also of Picasso and all modern art, a hardheaded businessman with a blonde secretary and downtown suite of offices, and a handsome, dimple-chinned young fellow of 26 who looks very like the Lindbergh of Le Bourget Field. All this has made Ingemar Johansson a Swedish hero, the protege of businessmen who admire his commercial intelligence, and very attractive to women. He himself has a very pretty girl friend, but he believes that prizefighters should not marry.
He is, you might say, a conservative type but with built-in contradictions. This is true even in the ring, where he spars cautiously and studiously until a certain moment arrives when he decides that a large, businesslike profit might be realized by throwing a right hand at his opponent's jaw. It was thus that he made his future last September against Eddie Machen, then allegedly the No. 1 boy among the challengers to Floyd Patterson's title.
The chances are that Johansson owns the most devastating right-hand punch of any heavyweight currently practicing. With it, and a sometimes surprising left, he has scored 12 knockouts in 21 professional fights and has won the heavyweight championship of Europe, an honor that became quite respectable during 1958, when top-rated American heavyweights fell before him and England's, so to speak, finest.
What is Ingemar (Ingo) Johansson, European champion and Gothenburg businessman, thinking of these days? He is thinking that he would like to fight Floyd Patterson for the championship of the world but he is also thinking that he would like to add to his already considerable business investments—he is an earth-moving contractor—by buying a $100,000 fishing vessel in Holland. The deal is now in progress. These two considerations, sport and business, are always in his mind and sometimes intermingled.
The Patterson bout is all but certain, despite legalistic difficulties that are being ironed out. Terms were discussed thoroughly two weeks ago at Gothenburg's Swedish-American-style Park Avenue hotel in meetings between Bill Rosensohn, promoter, and Edwin Ahlquist, Johansson's adviser. Lawyers for both Patterson and Johansson were present. The talks were continued later in London before the London-Cooper fight and in New York this week.