The Secretariat of trial horses

By Pete Ehrmann on April 20, 2016
The Secretariat of trial horses
His most satisfying fight was against undefeated Joe Frazier at the Olympic Auditorium.

“When they saw ‘Scrap Fighting Tonight’ in the paper, they didn’t care if I win, lose or draw. They just knew I’d put on a good show…”

Belated news of the April 9 death of George “Scrapiron” Johnson sent me searching for notes from my interview with the great 1960s-‘70s heavyweight trial horse for a story in The Ring magazine 20 years ago. Scrapiron was 56 then, and training boxers and giving rubdowns at the Hoover Street Gym in Los Angeles where he’d once made $500 a week sparring with Sonny Liston, George Foreman and other fearsome punchers nobody else wanted anything to do with. “Scrappy was the only one who made them back down,” recalled Joe Orbillo, another popular ‘60s heavyweight in LA.

The native of Oklahoma City was just 5’9”, but Scrapiron’s willingness and ability to stand in there with giants made him hugely popular after he moved to Los Angeles in 1965.

“When they saw ‘Scrap Fighting Tonight’ in the paper, they didn’t care if I win, lose or draw,” he told me. “They just knew I’d put on a good show.”

Good enough for Scrapiron to enter the California Boxing Hall of Fame a few years back, notwithstanding his record of 20-21-4.

His most satisfying fight was against undefeated future heavyweight champion Joe Frazier at the Olympic Auditorium on May 4, 1967. Frazier’s booming left hook had knocked out 15 of his 16 opponents, and the odds were 10-1 that it would also rock Scrapiron to sleep.

But Scrapiron devised a way to keep his head attached to his neck after Smokin’ Joe hit it with that deadly hook. He found a 40-pound chunk of cement — “You know when you sink a pole in the ground and then pour that concrete around it and it dries? It was like that.” Then he fashioned a large sling, put in the chunk of cement, and wore the sling around his forehead when he did roadwork every morning in Griffith Park.

The referee gave Scrapiron only three of the 10 rounds, one judge gave him two, and the other judge said Johnson hadn’t won a single round. But before the unanimous decision for Frazier was even announced, Johnson danced around the ring, pumping his fists and celebrating like he’d just won the heavyweight title.

“We all looked at each other,” remembered Joe Orbillo, “and wondered, What’s with him?

The answer came four days later when Scrapiron rolled up to the Hoover Street Gym in a brand new Cadillac, wearing a shiny new suit and derby hat, with a fat cigar in his mouth.

He’d been guaranteed a purse of $8,000 for the Frazier fight.

“I took two grand,” Scrapiron told the jaw droppers at the gym, “and laid it on me to go the distance.”

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  1. Bob Mladinich 08:09pm, 04/20/2016

    Wonderful anecdote. Thanks for the nice tribute.

  2. Gordon Analla 03:04pm, 04/20/2016

    “He was a colorful character to be sure.  There is no denying he fought some big names in the division.  I saw the Frazier fight on television.  Couldn’t believe he could withstand the assault.  But he was in there throwing bombs himself.  Now he and Joe can reunite and discuss the fight.  RIP both of you.

  3. Cryin' Ted 12:25pm, 04/20/2016

    Not to be confused with George “Scrap Iron” Gadaski.

  4. Eric 09:48am, 04/20/2016

    Had no idea that Scrap Iron died recently. RIP Mr. Johnson. Someone should have wrote a book about this guy before he passed. It would have been interesting to read about Scrap Iron’s take on Lyle, Liston, Foreman, Frazier and all the other elite fighters he fought. Scrap Iron might not be remembered as an elite heavyweight but his quality of opposition tops nearly all of the legendary heavyweights with the exception of Ali. How would Marciano have fared had he taken on the list of fighters that Johnson fought? Louis? Dempsey? Iron Mike? No doubt that Scrap Iron is as tough as they come but the 40lb slab of concrete attached to his forehead by a sling while running sounds like pure caca. Maybe he MIGHT have done neck exercises with the 40lb stone attached to his forehead but roadwork??? Anyone who has ever wore a weighted vest while running, even one that weighs as little as 20-25lbs, can tell you that the jarring of the vest bouncing against your chest and back takes its toll on your lower back.

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