by Pax Beale
Johansson fought USA’s Ed Sanders in the ’52 Olympics. He was disqualified for cowardice, and only Gold and Bronze were given. No silver. Never before happened!
He went home to Sweden a disgrace.
He redeemed himself as a pro, and won Heavyweight title from Floyd Patterson, arguably the pinnacle of all athletic achievements, regardless of the sport.
Sanders, a better athlete than Foreman, Frazier, and Clay (Ali), was killed in the ring. He was African American, and a class act. Clay was a superb athlete, and I would rank him second to Sanders in athleticism.
Sanders was the only person to ever beat me.
I did better against Sanders than Johansson did. I did not quit. History shows, maybe I should have.
I remember after the Sanders fight – it was a 1952 pre-Olympic qualifying tournament – I couldn’t lift my leg up over the lower rope without help, I was so “out of it”…and the slight 2,500 feet altitude of Boise took its toll on me…in addition to the 218 lb. Sanders.
I honestly mean it. I think I could have beaten Patterson as an amateur. He did not hit hard, was not overly aggressive, and was 30 lbs smaller. Even as a pro, he was only 184 lbs.
I relate to that era.
They asked Patterson what his greatest moment was. They suggested it was becoming heavyweight champ, winning the Olympic Gold as a Middleweight (Sanders won the Heavyweight), or meeting the President. He said “No. It was when I learned to read and write at the age of 20!”
At Idaho State, Sanders went out only one year for track. His results: 100 yards: 9.8 seconds. Shot-put: 49’6″. 400 (440 yards) 49 seconds flat. High Jump: 6’8″. Long Jump: over 23′ on old 1951 tracks! He won the conference track meet by himself!
I asked an opponent of Sanders, the secret strategy to use against him. He said, “Don’t hit him. He gets pissed off!”
I made the mistake of hitting him.
Boxing started as the “manly art of self-defense” in college, but then it got out of control. By the time I got to Cal, boxing had become a farm system for the pros, except for some major scholastic-oriented schools like Cal, where I went.
When I fought at Idaho State in Boise, not one guy on their team was even from Idaho. All had scholarships. Four turned pro. The Welterweight fought Kid Gavilon in the pros. Hell, even my nemesis, Sanders, fought Eddie Machen and Charles “Sunny” Liston…and he didn’t lose.
In football, I had an excuse. Football didn’t like me. My back hurt every day I put pads on. Football was never rewarding to me, although I respected the sport. Three years in high school, two at U.C. and one in service, and never finished a season…ugh!
I had no excuse in boxing. Somehow, my back never interfered with my performance.
Then a guy from University of Wisconsin got killed in the ring. That ended college boxing as a sponsored, recognized “Big C” letterman’s type sport at Cal, and all college presidents agreed to drop boxing.
The powerhouses were Gonzaga, Idaho, Idaho State, San Jose State, Michigan State, Army, Penn State, and LSU, to name a few.
Sanders was from Compton, L.A. Now tell me how an African American guy from Compton would get to Boise Idaho…a scholarship, of course…in collegiate boxing, no less! Boxing?
Except at Cal, everywhere we fought at major boxing powerhouses, the arena was sold out. I fought Sanders in front of 8,000 people, in Idaho State’s basketball arena, who followed boxing like we follow football.
The Heavyweight fight is always last, in amateur boxing.
When I walked into that Idaho arena and saw Sanders, my sphincter muscles tightened up. The crowd went crazy. Idaho State was going to beat the crapola out of mighty Cal!
I even won the first round, because I had practiced with pros at Harry Fines’ pro gym in Oakland. I shocked Sanders, and swarmed all over him, as college boxers fought at a distance.
Second round was even. Sanders, a better athlete, was figuring me out. No one had attacked him like I did. (Not Johansson, Machen, nor Liston.)
The third round? I don’t even remember it. He had adapted to my style. Once he’d figured me out, it was all over.
Seriously, I don’t even remember being awarded the 2nd place medal in the tournament. Stupidly, I’d had to beat several guys during the prior week at the tournament to be in the finals of the pre-Olympic qualifier against Sanders.
Sanders won — or did he? He turned pro. He continued to be undefeated through 12 pro fights, but in the 13th, against James J. Parker, he was killed in the ring. So maybe I won after all, or I wouldn’t be writing this.
And I lived longer than Johansson, without dementia. Those were the days, my friend, and we thought they would never end.