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The Best of a Nation: Sweden
By Crister Berge

Harry Persson

Sweden's first real boxing idol was stiff as a board, stood 6'2" and weighed about 210 pounds. Amazingly, he fought only 11 fights as an amateur! He was strong as an ox, had great stamina, and possessed good power and a great chin. He was world-ranked by The Ring in 1925 and 1926. The somewhat ponderous Persson is probably the best fighter to come out of Sweden except for Ingemar Johansson.

Persson was extremely idolized and had immense following in Sweden during the mid-20's and had advantage of fighting almost constantly in his native country. Managed by shrewd promoter Hjalle Palton, he soon moved up the ranks in Europe.

After knocking Phil Scott senseless with a thunderous right in 1926, he boarded a ship bound for New York. In his first fight on American soil, his iron jaw was put to the test, as he outpointed tough contender Johnny Risko. Another decision win over Carl Carter strengthened his reputation and two weeks after that, some 120,000 spectators watched as he kayoed Jack Adams on the undercard to the first classic battle between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney in Philadelphia, September 23, 1926.

Just as things were looking good, Lady Luck turned on him and three consecutive losses followed. He was disqualified for a low blow in a fight with Bud Gorman; he lost a horrendous decision to Pat McCarthy; and he fought ten grueling rounds against Jim Maloney with an injured back! After the Maloney debacle, he returned to Sweden, completely demoralized about the fight business. He resumed his career, fighting exclusively in Stockholm, and a rematch with Gorman was set up. He won their second meeting and more wins would follow, but his heart wasn't there anymore; money was his only motivation. In 1931, he suffered the only stoppage loss of his career, when he was knocked out in one round by 6'4" Norwegian Otto von Porat.

After retiring from boxing, he married an extremely unattractive woman (described by a boxing journalist as a "toothless, bearded hag") who left him and stole all his money. Recently, some 70 years after his last fight, an opera about his life premiered in Europe

John Andersson

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 category "quality of opposition," he must recieve the highest ranking possible. He did battle with four former, present or forthcoming world champions and seven former, present or forthcoming European champions. Fought quite a few heavyweights even though he rarely scaled more than 175 pounds. A true ring warrior, Sweden's first European champ was very strong and brave but had severe defensive shortcomings.

Unable to get a pro contract in Sweden, in 1931 John left his home country for France. For three years he fought out of Paris, establishing himself as one of the best light heavyweights in Europe. Travelled the ocean in 1935 and fought two years in the US, mainly in New York.

Due to the fact that he only 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 Thirties.

Unfortunately, he engaged in too many hard fights against strong opposition and ultimately ended up as a tragic, punch-drunk victim of his sport.

His brother conned him of all the money he had earned as a fighter. See the similarity to Harry Persson?

Olle Tandberg

Tandberg stood 6'3" and weighed about 200 pounds. Olle was a very skillful fighter with great technique, but he lacked real power and killer instinct.

He fought 126 times as an amateur, twice becoming a very young European champion. Tandberg "qualified" for a title fight vs. Karel Sys during World War II via two losses and a draw! He won the vacant title, but in the rematch six months later, he suffered a terrible beating as Sys punched the living daylights out of him through 15 rounds.

Yet, he briefly held the record for most knockdowns in a fight when he gave Jock Porter 17 trips to the ring floor in 1946.

Olle's career highlight was a questionable decision win over American Joe Baksi in 1947, which earned him a world ranking by Ring magazine. Went to America and lost a decision to future world light heavyweight champion Joey Maxim. Retired after devastating kayo loss in Stockholm to future world heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott in 1949.

Ingemar Johansson

Arguably one of the best white European fighters ever and the best white heavyweight since Rocky Marciano. He is still to this day the last non-black guy to hold the undisputed world heavyweight title.

An outstanding boxing talent with fine jab, quick feet and awesome punching power, "Ingo" stood a little over six feet and weighed 196 pounds in his prime.

Ingo lost the final in the Olympics in 1952 by disqualification, and didn't recieve his silver medal until 30 years later.

As a pro, he was matched carefully by his manager Edwin Ahlqvist. Won the European crown in 1956 when he knocked out rugged Italian Franco Cavicchi.

Earned himself a title shot in 1958 by blasting out undefeated #1 contender Eddie Machen in one round in front of a crowd of more than 53,000 people in his home town Gothenburg.

Shocked the world when he sent Floyd Patterson sprawling to the canvas seven times in 1959 to win the world heavyweight championship, but lost both rematches. In their second encounter, Patterson connected with a vicious left hook that left Ingemar unconcious for five minutes.

Regained the European title in 1962 by stopping Dick Richardson, but retired the following year after dismal decision win over Brian London. Ingemar felt that the spark wasn't there anymore and wisely called it quits. He was an intelligent, sympathetic man that did credit to his sport. Needless to say, he is Sweden's greatest athlete ever.

Anders Eklund

Here's a fighter whose career I followed closely as I was growing up. This giant of a man stood 6'6" and rarely weighed under 230 pounds.

Had excellent boxing skills and a decent right, but lacked a good defense and due to circumstances, his training was sometimes mediocre. During his entire career, he lived in Sweden, where pro boxing was banned. That was a fatal mistake.

Wasn't guarded the way that Ingemar Johansson was; in his fifth pro contest, Eklund faced Felipe Rodriguez, who only had four losses in 33 fights. Ingemar was brought along much more carefully.

Lost controversial decision to highly experienced Joe Bugner in 1984, much due to the fact that Bugner broke Eklund's left arm in the second round. Later that year, he kayoed Dorcey Gaymon, whose claim to fame came in 1986 with an unsuccessful bid for the IBF cruiserweight title held by Lee Roy Murphy.

When Eklund won the European championship from previously undefeated Steffen Tangstad in 1985, boxing fever erupted in Sweden, and the Swedish media heralded him as a future world champion. In a disgraceful manor, the very same press trashed Eklund completely when he lost the title in the fall to Britain's hard-punching Frank Bruno.

In 1986, Eklund defeated two "name" fighters in Jesse Ferguson and Glenn McCrory. The latter would three years later become IBF champ in the cruiserweight division.

Regained the European crown in 1987 via knockout win over cagey veteran Alfredo Evangelista, but lost it again in his first defence to highly touted, undefeated Italian Francesco Damiani.

Was contracted to fight former world champion George Foreman in 1988, but Foreman pulled out when he was informed of the big Swede's size and build. Remember, this was at the early stages of George's comeback.

In 1989, Eklund was pole-axed by a murderous overhand right courtesy of Tim Witherspoon in Atlantic City. Thus, he joined the line of Swedish heavyweights whose trips to America ended in disaster, his predecessors being Persson and Tandberg. The only one who made it was, obviously, Ingemar Johansson.

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