Philly Boxing History

May 06, 1955



  On this day in 1955, Manayunk's Harold Johnson lost in controversial fashion in his main event bout at the Arena with Julio Mederos. Johnson had beaten Mederos in a previous match by ten round decision. But this bout was very different. Even before the fight started, as the ring introductions were being made, Harold complained of a headache and of not feeling well. As the fight started, Johnson boxed with his usual finesse, but he was clearly slower and less effective. As the action heated up, Johnson was whacked with a few good shots, but he fought back. When the bell ending the first round sounded, Johnson turned to his corner but then began to stagger as he walked. He even shook his head in an attempt to clear the fog he was feeling. As he sat on his stool, both his corner men and the ringside doctor swarmed him. Under harsh questioning, Johnson maintained that he was fine and the bout continued.

In the second, Johnson seemed to be making a good comeback. He boxed and landed punches on his Cuban foe. The two  clinched, and as they came out of it, Johnson fell to one knee - without being hit by a punch. The ref, Dave Beloff,  called it a slip and Johnson got up and finished the round without another incident. However, once again, as he turned to go back to his corner, he staggered. This time however, ringside doctor Alfred Ayala, Jr. jumped into Johnson's corner and insisted that the bout be stopped. Mederos was declared the winner by second round TKO. Johnson was taken to Hahnemann Hospital for testing and thankfully he was fine.

Many in the small Arena crowd of about 500 as well as those watching on national TV were thinking that perhaps the fix was in. The commission had similar concerns, but was also worried that Johnson appeared to have been drugged. A full investigation followed. Johnson explained that his poor performance may have been caused by an orange that he ate which had been given to him by a stranger prior to the fight.             

The story goes like this - earlier in the day, just after the official weigh in at the commissioner's office, Johnson stepped away from his trainer, Skinny Davidson, and encountered a mysterious stranger who was eating an orange. The man struck up a conversation with Harold and then offered him an orange from a brown paper bag he was holding. He said, "Take it; they're good for you." The always gracious Johnson accepted the fruit and put it in his pocket, where it remained throughout the rest of the day. Later, when Johnson prepared to leave for the Arena, he grabbed the orange and brought it along. Shortly before the fight, while still in his dressing room, Johnson ate the orange for a little energy boost. What he got was the exact opposite.

In the end, the Johnson camp had no other explanation for what had happened. The commission even retrieved a piece of orange peel from the dressing room and gave it a full battery of tests. The investigation, the tests, and the story about the mysterious "swarthy" stranger, all proved inconclusive. So the official decision (TKO 2) stood and no one was charged with any wrong-doing - even though controversy still swirled. Because of the whole fiasco (and especially because the incident played out on national television), PA Governor George Leader slapped on a 90-day boxing ban and the Philly prize rings went silent. Things revved back up by the fall, but no further clarity about the Mederos-Johnson fight ever came. So the legend of the tainted orange lives on. 

  1932 - Leroy Haynes KO8 Hans Birkie at the Dreamland Auditorium in San Francisco
  1932 - Dick Welsh D8 Jose Fino at Portsmouth, VA
  1937 - Tommy Forte KO5 Willie Cubic at Philadelphia
  1946 - Jetson Arnold W8 Johnny Forte at Philadelphia
  1955 - Garnet 'Sugar' Hart KO3 Joey White at the Philadelphia Arena
  1957 - Garnet 'Sugar' Hart W10 Al 'Sugar' Wilson at St. Nicholas Arena in New York
  1959 - Joey Giardello W10 Holly Mims at Capitol Arena in Washington D.C.
  1959 - Sidney 'Sweet Pea' Adams TKO5 Brown Lee at Capitol Arena in Washington D.C.
  1961 - Jose Stable TKO6 Sidney 'Sweet Pea' Adams at St. Nicholas Arena in New York
  1934 - Jimmy Beecham