Julio Mederos: On the Fringes

By Clarence George on July 21, 2016
Julio Mederos: On the Fringes
Roland LaStarza, who'd been a four-to-one favorite, was down in the first, third, and fifth.

Archie Moore once described Marciano as “a bull with gloves.” Perhaps the same could be said of Julio Mederos…

“The Rock didn’t know too much about the boxing book, but it wasn’t a book he hit me with. It was a whole library of bone-crushers.”—Joe Louis on Rocky Marciano.

“It hurt to bump into him,” said Joe Louis of Rocky Marciano. If anyone knew that better than Louis, it could only have been Roland LaStarza. Stopping the Bronx heavyweight was easy, like cracking open a walnut with your bare hands is easy. Marciano managed it, stopping LaStarza by 11th-round TKO in a title match, and The Ring‘s Fight of the Year, at the Polo Grounds on September 24, 1953, the year LaStarza was fourth-ranked by The Ring.

“Marciano’s gloved fists broke blood vessels and bones in LaStarza’s arms and elbows,” writes Bill Libby in Rocky: The Story of a Champion. “First the arms grew heavy, then they began to ache awfully, then they grew numb. As the relentless battle wore on, LaStarza found it harder and harder to raise his arms, much less jab with them or punch with them. His hands lowered, his defense dissipated, Marciano began to punish him about the head. LaStarza began to take a terrible beating.”

“He destroyed me,” LaStarza said.

“I was surprised he stayed up so long,” said Marciano. Longer than he stood up to the only other man who managed to knock him out—Julio Mederos.

That’s right, the Havana heavyweight did the job, and by full-blown knockout, in only five rounds at Miami Stadium on March 2, 1955. Rollie, who’d been a four-to-one favorite, was down in the first, third, and fifth, suffering “the worst beating of his career,” according to one wire account. Worse than what Marciano dished out? Now that is saying something.

Archie Moore once described Marciano as “a bull with gloves.” Perhaps the same could be said of Mederos. Yes, he could be endearing. Delighted with his first encounter with snow, for instance, he wondered if it was “good to eat.” Nevertheless, according to a wire story of March 22, 1955, shortly before his bout with Bob Baker, “Mederos throws bombs. Those who have seen him claim that he is one of the most explosive punchers of recent times.”

Mederos, unfortunately, never lived up to the article’s optimism, understandably based on his deboning LaStarza like a chicken. In addition to losing to Baker by unanimous decision at Madison Square Garden three days after the news story appeared, Mederos wound up with a knockout record of only 33%.

A pro from 1951 to 1958 (co-managed by Jake LaMotta, at least in 1955, and trained by Luis Sarria), the Cuban, who’d been an outstanding amateur, finished his career with a tally of 21 wins, 14 by knockout, 19 losses, four by knockout, and three draws, an average of about six fights a year.

In addition to LaStarza and Baker, Mederos fought Bob Satterfield at the Auditorium in Miami Beach on May 11, 1954, losing by second-round KO (“Nobody ever hit me that hard before,” said Mederos on coming to. “I didn’t know any man could hit that hard”), at the Arena in Milwaukee on February 4, 1957, losing by unanimous decision, and at the New Frontier Sportsdrome in Vegas that June 3, winning on points; Harold Johnson at the Auditorium on December 7, 1954, losing by unanimous decision, and at the Arena in Philly on May 6, 1955, winning by second-round TKO (a controversial fight, as Johnson collapsed seemingly without cause. He claimed to have been drugged. Either that, or he threw the fight. Pennsylvania suspected the latter and suspended him); John Holman, who won by unanimous decision at the Auditorium that January 4; Harold Carter, who won by unanimous decision that June 28 and August 23, both times at the Auditorium; Wayne Bethea, who won by unanimous decision at the Auditorium that November 1; Eddie Machen, who won by unanimous decision at San Francisco Gardens on February 22, 1956, and again by unanimous decision at the Auditorium in Portland, Oregon, that September 4; Tommy “Hurricane” Jackson, who won by unanimous decision at the Arena in Milwaukee that December 27; Alex Miteff, who retired him in the seventh at the Capitol Arena in DC on July 26, 1957; George Chuvalo, who won by unanimous decision at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto on January 27, 1958 (in the second-to-last fight reffed by Jimmy Braddock. The last was between Carlos Ortiz and Doug Vaillant at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan on April 7, 1963, Ortiz successfully defending his WBA and WBC World lightweight titles by 13th-round TKO); and Sonny Liston (in his first nationally televised bout), who retired him in the second at Chicago Stadium that May 14, his last fight, though only 25. Did he return to work as a stevedore? Unknown.

The record is clear. However tough, Mederos was never more than a fringe contender. Did he give it his all? He once stayed in bed till late morning, telling A.J. Liebling that he didn’t want to be “overtrained” for a sparring session with Floyd Patterson, who was preparing to defend his heavyweight championship against Brian London at the Fairgrounds Coliseum in Indianapolis on May 1, 1959 (a bout Patterson would win by 11th-round KO, his last victory before losing the title to Ingemar Johansson by third-round TKO at Yankee Stadium that June 26). “A beefy type,” Mederos “looked to be in no danger” of “overtraining,” noted the notoriously wry Liebling. Still, when it came to LaStarza, Mederos did out-Marciano Marciano. For that reason alone, he’s well worth knowing.

Julio Mederos: On the fringes, yes, but never on the ropes.

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  1. Clarence George 02:03pm, 07/25/2016

    If memory serves, Micah only fell off the wagon once, when he was scared to death (though I never really understood why) of bespectacled Ansel Bain.

    Didn’t know that about Willie Nelson’s sons.  Can’t be a coincidence.  Never cared for him, but that’s a point in his favor.

  2. Lucas McCain 01:34pm, 07/25/2016

    A fine lad, indeed, and Micah is still sober!  By the way, did you notice that Willie Nelson’s musician sons—now on the road with Neil Young—are named “Lukas” and “Micah”?!  Why the spelling of Lucas is with a K is not clear to me, but it shows, perhaps,  Willie’s smoky inspiration at work.

  3. Clarence George 01:55pm, 07/24/2016

    Glad you liked it, Mr. McCain.  Hope Mark is well.  A fine lad.

    Johnson may have been drugged, as he claimed (though, if so, he should have reported it), but apparently not via the orange.  If I remember correctly, it was tested and found to be “clean.”  Sounds like a job for Marshal Micah Torrance.  Or, better yet…

    Paul Drake

  4. Lucas McCain 01:32pm, 07/24/2016

    Thanks for the vivid story about Mederos.  I never saw him fight (I started my fandom in ‘59), and knew his name only through the Harold Johnson controversy.  I believe this was the “poisoned orange” debacle, and Johnson was suspended for not reporting he felt ill before the bout.  If true, Harold didn’t have the right connections.

  5. Clarence George 07:57am, 07/23/2016

    Beaujack is alive and well, Irish, though he apparently no longer has any interest in commenting.  A pity.

    What you say reminds me of what James Ellroy wrote about Harry Cohn in “Perfidia”:  “His desk resembled Pharaoh’s tomb.  A perch permitted starlets to kneel and blow him.”  On the one hand, Cohn was noted for that sort of thing; on the other, Ellroy just loves that you can’t libel the dead.

  6. Clarence George 07:40am, 07/23/2016

    Very kind words, Irish, and I always enjoy your observations.

    To each his own, but it’s my policy that anyone who takes the time and makes the effort to comment on something I’ve written deserves the courtesy of a response.  That includes those who are critical (though my inclination is to ignore those who come across as having been brought up by death row inmates).

    What it could come down to with Mederos is poor management.

  7. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:37am, 07/23/2016

    Clarence George-Which reminds me….where the heck is beau jack, I hope he is OK. Looks like Roger Ailes had a casting couch in his office like the studio bosses of old. With his girth it probably was more like a customized boinkin’ chair like one of the royal princes of antiquity, whose name escapes me, employed to get his fancy tickled.

  8. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:17am, 07/23/2016

    Clarence George-I am very appreciative of the fact that you take the time to respond to those like myself who comment on your first rate, thought provoking, and most importantly for me, very entertaining articles. I was aware that black fighters of yore, especially during Jim Crow and up to the War years were consigned to fighting endless Round Robins with each other, but Mederos was campaigning as a heavyweight in the Fifties.

  9. Clarence George 02:25am, 07/23/2016

    Apologies, Irish!  Something was niggling at the back of my mind, so I reread your post and saw that I totally flubbed it.  You were indeed referring to Mederos, and are quite right that there’s a certain incoherence to his career.  You’re also right that La Starza was the “high water mark,” despite Liebling’s contention that he was a “fading headliner” at the time of the Mederos KO.  Truer of Satterfield, who was certainly at the tail end of things when Mederos outpointed him.

  10. Clarence George 01:52am, 07/22/2016

    Permit me to also add that the two times Mincey went the distance was when he fought LaStarza.

  11. Clarence George 01:45am, 07/22/2016

    What I should have made clearer is that that was George’s one and only fight.  No relation, let me tell youse.

  12. Clarence George 01:37am, 07/22/2016

    Thankee kindly, Irish.  I think you mean Mederos, rather than LaStarza, because I don’t think the latter ever sparred with Patterson.  LaStarza did fight a few guys a couple of times each, including Dan Bucceroni and Ted Lowry, as well as Marciano.  He also fought a Matt Mincey, who lost all 11 of his bouts, nine by stoppage, and a Teddy George, who fought and got knocked out by LaStarza…and never fought again.

  13. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:04pm, 07/21/2016

    Clarence George-Nice one! Looks like LaStarza was the high water mark. Did you notice that he kept fighting the same guys over and over and over again, multiple bouts with at least a dozen fighters…..not just return bouts but some guys three and four times. The more you look at his record the curiouser and curiouser it gets, kinda like he was everybody’s sparring partner not just Floyd Patterson’s.

  14. Clarence George 07:18pm, 07/21/2016

    My guess, Peter (and that’s all it is), is that he’s better remembered by his fellow Cubans for his amateur, rather than pro, career…if remembered at all.

  15. peter 05:41pm, 07/21/2016

    Clarence, thanks for this interesting, rather detailed, article on a “fringe” heavyweight of the 1950s. I’d like to know if he is remembered, or even known, in Cuba, his home country.

  16. Clarence George 03:50pm, 07/21/2016

    Ha!  Much, much too kind, Walter, me auld warrior.  “The beefy, sleepy Mederos”—I like that.

    Thanks very much indeed, Mr. Picerni.  Mederos was one of many tough (but today neglected) 1950s heavyweights—Reuben Vargas was another one, for example.

    Best,

    Alex D’Arcy

  17. Paul Picerni 02:13pm, 07/21/2016

    Mederos sounds like one tough cat. To “debone” the crafty and clever LaStarza was no easy feat. Mederos sounds like quite a crowd pleaser, as is this fine story. Always heard the name Mederos, but glad to now know his story. Very interesting indeed.

  18. Walter Wojtowicz 01:40pm, 07/21/2016

    Clarence, If there ever was a man worth knowing it is you Sir!  Thanks for re-introducing the world to the beefy, sleepy Mederos.  Great way to look at it.. out Marciano-ing Marciano is a heck of an accomplishment.  But make no mistake my friend there are those who might out Marciano Marciano but no man will ever out George George!

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