When Ingemar Johansson sat down one day last week before a movie screen in the conference room of the Hotel President in Geneva, Switzerland, he never had seen Sonny Liston fight—in the flesh, in movies or on television. He had a firm opinion about him, though. He had heard what a cold-hearted killer Liston is in the ring, about his massive fists, his skull-jarring jab and the chilling power of his straight right hand. As a virtuoso of the straight right hand, which won him the heavyweight championship of the world and all but won it for him a second time, Ingemar was impressed by these reports, many of them from experts whose opinions he respects. At the moment of sitting down he was willing—with Liston still unseen—to say he believed that Liston would take the heavyweight title from Floyd Patterson when they meet in Chicago on the night of September 25. And though there has been little betting action as yet, the odds agreed with Ingemar, making Liston a 7-to-5 favorite over the champion.
Then, for the next hour or so, watching movies of Liston in the Golden Gloves, Liston winning a decision over Eddie Machen and Liston stopping Willi Besmanoff, it dawned on Johansson that, although Liston did have all the terrifying qualities ascribed to him, he needed the kind of opponent on whom they could be worked. The films were a revelation to Ingemar and they changed his mind about Sonny Liston and the outcome of the big fight.
The revelation occurred in Geneva, because that is where Ingemar and his bride, the stunning Birgit who graced his training camps, now reside in a modest apartment while a more commodious home is being built for them in the suburbs. Recent winner of the European heavyweight championship by an eighth-round knockout over Dick Richardson of England, Ingemar is a trim six pounds over fighting weight, does roadwork daily after a long morning's sleep, golfs and swims, and recently succumbed to the blandishments of a couple of waiters at Geneva's M�venpick restaurant to play center forward on their soccer team. He seems, in fact, to be more athletically active than he was when he was training for his three Patterson fights.
Nor has he by any means retired from boxing. He has even been negotiating for a fight with Archie Moore, tentatively considered for the Tijuana, Mexico bullring, where he would be safe from U.S. and Swedish income tax pursuit. About taxes, which have driven so many fighters into poverty after lucrative careers, Ingemar is now serene. He has his own sizable treasury tucked away in impregnable Swiss banks, his fishing trawlers and real estate in Sweden are productive and, like many another man of means, he has become a patron of the arts. He has begun a collection of abstract paintings, which are on display in his apartment. There is some prospect, though, that the Swedish government will confiscate his fishing trawlers if it decides that he is not a bona fide resident of Switzerland. Despite this outlook, Ingemar is imperturbable.
"I have enough in the banks here," he said, waiting for the room to darken and the screen to light up. "I do not worry about such things. Nobody can touch what I have in the banks."
The screen brightened and began to show Liston mauling a Golden Gloves opponent to a decision. It was not a stylish performance, even for an amateur. Ingemar turned to the man running the projector.
"The film is turning too slow," he said. "Can you speed it up?"
"That is normal speed," the man said.
Ingemar shrugged and turned to watch Liston against Eddie Machen in a fight that went a full 12 rounds because Liston never could catch up. (Ingemar had knocked Machen out in one round to win his successful chance at Patterson's title.) Liston, doggedly stomping after Machen, seldom could get within serious punching distance of him. And that explained why Ingemar thought the movie projector was faulty. It wasn't the projector. It was Liston.
"My God, he is slow," Ingemar said, as Machen easily evaded Liston time after time.