WAIL! | The CBZ Journal | August 2004


From the Bloody Mitts of Time: Scandinavian John Andersson

by Crister Berge


Now here's a guy whose life you could base a movie on!

Andersson participated in 95 fights during a 10-year period. In the quality-of-opposition category, he must receive the highest ranking possible. He did battle with four former, present, or forthcoming world champions and eight former, present or forthcoming European champions. He took on many heavyweights, even though he stood only 5-foot-9 and rarely scaled more than 175 pounds. Because he merely fought six times in his native country, John remained relatively unknown in Sweden. One of the reasons for this was that pro boxing actually was banned in Sweden's capital city during the 1930s. A true ring warrior, John was very strong and brave but had severe shortcomings in his defense. His best punch was a sweeping left hook.

Unable to get a professional contract in Sweden, John left his home country in 1931 for France. He was handled by manager Dortignac, and for three years he fought out of Paris, establishing himself as one of the best light heavyweights in Europe. In his second year as a pro, he drew with Kid Tunero, who just a few months later beat Marcel Thil, which catapulted him into the middleweight Top 10.

In 1933, John clashed with 32-year old Jack Etienne of Belgium for the vacant European light-heavyweight title and won a unanimous decision by scores of 299-290, 297-293, and 296-294. Now, these figures seem strange, don’t they? The fight was scored based on the ancient 20-point must system. One round could be scored 20-19.5, and judges in those days had a tendency to score a lot of rounds even. Sadly, John never got the chance to defend his title, as no promoter wanted to promote a mandatory defense against the Spaniard, Martinez de Alfara. John was sidestepped when a fight for the vacant title was set up in 1934 with de Alfara declared the winner and new champion.

In 1934, John’s manager tried to establish him in the heavyweight division, with poor result. Thus, John traveled the ocean in 1935 and climbed between the ropes 33 times in two years, mainly at club dates held in New York. For two years, John faced some of the best fighters of the '30s. 

Let’s take a look at some of Andersson’s finest efforts while he fought in the U.S.: In '35 John defeated the legendary former world champ (albeit faded at the time) Mickey Walker, known as “The Toy Bulldog,” and drew with a very young Gus Lesnevich, who would enter the Top 10 the following year. A few months later, John came very close to being world-ranked by The Ring after beating Al Gainer, a perennial world-class contender for years who’d challenged John Henry Lewis for the world light-heavyweight title in ’38, but lost by decision.

In 1936 John lost on points in a non-title fight to then-reigning world light heavyweight champ, the aforementioned Lewis. Boxing journalist Henry Eidmark wrote in a 1962 newspaper article that John’s fee for that fight was a lousy $28. In his next fight, he lost to Bob Pastor, who soon would be a force to be reckoned with in the heavyweight division. By the end of that year, John started losing more fights than he won, and he decided to return to Paris. In May 1937, he failed in another bid for the European light heavyweight crown, as the brilliant Belgian Gustave Roth kept his title over 15 rounds in a fight that took place in Roth’s hometown of Antwerpen.

A few rough years followed for John, as he fought some of the best German boxers of the time on their home turf. According to John himself, the one fight that damaged him irreparably was a brutal KO at the hands of German Adolf Heuser in 1937. In an interview conducted in 1953, John said: “I was ill at the time, but needed the money so I took the fight. He [Heuser] gave me the worst beating of my life. And in the eighth, he hit me so hard, I saw a thousand stars. It took me days ‘fore I even could remember my own name.” John’s last fight was against Herman Kreimes in Gothenburg, January 31, 1941. On the same card, newcomer Olle Tandberg made his pro debut. The torch was passed…

John engaged in too many hard fights against strong opposition and was injured by his sport. His looks also suffered; I’ve seen pictures of him when he was 20, and he was a handsome young man, a blond version of Georges Carpentier (whom John claimed that he partied with in Paris during the early '30s), if you will. After finishing his career, he had a face that “could only be loved by his mother,” as the phrase has it. In 1948, he was awarded the Legion of Honour for helping French refugees during World War II.

In the late '50s, John appeared on Swedish television in a program that dealt with the dangers of boxing. The program caused strong reactions, as viewers were shocked by John’s appearance: his face callused from all the punches that he had soaked up through the years and his slurred speech (he’d busted his pancreas during a fight). His equilibrium was also damaged - he couldn’t walk a straight line and for a time had to carry a suit case in one hand to prevent him from going in circles (no, it’s not a myth; John told a reporter about it in 1962, and I interviewed the TV host from the program mentioned above in 1995, and it was one of the few things he remembered). I’ve looked up old newspapers from this time and managed to find a TV reviewer’s comment on the program where he says he was weeping in front of his TV set. What people didn’t realize was that there was nothing wrong with John’s intellect.

Because of all his problems, John was unable to get a job. He received an early-retirement disability pension before the age of 40. And would you believe it, his brother conned him on all the money he had earned as a fighter.

Finally, here is the unique list of the champions that John fought:

European champs:

1.   Leone Jacovacci, Italy (middleweight champ 1928): KO3, 1932

2.  Ignacio Ara, Spain (middleweight champ 1932, fought for world middleweight title in 1934 and 1935, beaten by Frenchman Marcel Thil): L10, 1933

3.   Poldi Steinbach, Austria (middleweight champ 1931): KO7, 1933

4.   Merlo Preciso, Italy (light-heavyweight champ for a month in 1935, tried unsuccessfully to regain the title in 1937, '38, and '39): D10 and L10, 1933; W8 and D8, 1934

5.   Heinz Lazek, Austria (light-heavyweight champ 1935-36; heavyweight champ 1938-39): ND6, 1934

6.   Gustave Roth, Belgium (middleweight champ 1933-34; light-heavyweight champ 1936-38; fought for world middleweight title in 1934, beaten by Marcel Thil): L15, 1937

7.   Adolf Heuser, Germany (light-heavyweight champ 1932 and 1938-39; heavyweight champ 1939, lost in his first defense to Max Schmeling; fought for world light-heavyweight title in 1933, beaten by Maxie Rosenbloom): KO by 8, 1937

8.   Karel Sys, Belgium (Heavyweight champ 1943, took title from Sweden’s Olle Tandberg, and 1952 defeated Hein ten Hoff): KO by 7, 1938

World champions:

1.   Gus Lesnevich, USA      (light-heavyweight champ 1941-48): L8 and D8, 1935

2.   Mickey Walker, USA (welterweight champ 1922-26; middleweight champ 1926-31): W8 1935

3.   John Henry Lewis, USA (light-heavyweight champ 1935-39): L10, 1936

4.   Solly Krieger, USA (middleweight champ, NBA, 1938-39): L10, 1936


Click Here to view John Andersson's record.


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