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Jose Napoles-Original Mantequilla

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  • Jose Napoles-Original Mantequilla

    His boxing style was so smooth it inspired the first use of the boxing nickname "Mantequilla (butter". He was a fantastic boxer but also had the punch. Jose Napoles was not only one of the best fighters of his era and ever, he was also probably the most accomplished professional Cuban fighter. He won the world titles twice and his second reign lasted for 4 years and he made 10 defenses during that time. He also challenged for the world middleweight title against the great Carlos Monzon, but was too small and got a beating, his first true beating ever. His last one was in his last fight, when he was stopped by the rising English contender John H Stracey. Let's take a look at this man's career.

    Jose Angel Napoles was born 13 April 1940 in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba's second largest city. Napoles had a marvelous amateur career which ended in a record of either 114-1 or 113-1. He turned pro 2 August 1958. Early on, it didn't seem likely that he would go that far. He lost already in his eight fight on points to Hilton Smith, an American. After the ban on professional boxing in Cuba was imposed in late 1961, Napoles relocated to Mexico, Ciudad Juarez, near the border with Texas. He lost two more fights on points before he started winning and knocking out opponents. On 1 March 1964 he fought in Japan and annihilated their fighter Taketeru Yashimoto in one round. He also avenged his third loss to Alfredo Urbina by TKO1 on 14 November that year. He decisioned former world champion Eddie Perkins in 10 rounds and stopped the multiple world title challenger Adolph Pruitt by TKO3 in 1965. Napoles had a tendency to cut however and he lost his first fight within the distance to LC Morgan thanks to a bad cut, in 4 rounds by TKO. He then stopped Morgan in one of their many matches, by TKO2. After 10 years as a pro, Napoles was finally given a chance to win the big prize against Curtis Cokes, the unified world welter champion. It was 18 April '69 at the Forum in Inglewood when Napoles entered history by stopping Cokes by corner retirement in 13, hammering him before he had to surrender with his eyes swollen. Cokes asked for a rematch, promising "You'll see a different Curtis Cokes in the rematch, I promise!", and he got it. But, no, the second time was even easier for Napoles, as he once again battered Cokes into submission, but this time in 10 rounds. This time, the fight was in Napoles' adopted homeland, Mexico City. "He's a very good fighter-sure as hell is a better fighter than Curtis Cokes", said Cokes afterwards. Napoles then defended for the second time against the legend Emile Griffith and even tho he had Griffith down in the third round, had to settle for a unanimous decision this time. "I figured it would be a tough fight. I never thought of going for a knockout. My object was to outbox, outclass and outpunch him." And that's what he did, once again cementing his claim as the best welterweight on the planet.

    His third defense was the tough and aggressive Ernie "Indian Red" Lopez, brother of Danny. Napoles put him down three times to stop him by TKO15 in another dominant performance. And just as it seemed like nothing could go wrong for him now, the upset came. He faced the unrated Billy Backus, the nephew of Carmen Basilio. The fight was held in Backus' hometown of Syracuse, NY, 3 December 1970. Although Backus had a record of 29-10, he was deceptively clever and able. He opened a bad gash over the left eye of the champion in the first round and then opened another cut later, so bad that the fight had to be stopped in round 4. Otherwise, it was a rather entertaining toe-to-toe fight before that. After the fight, Backus praised Napoles and said:"He is the toughest, smartest fighter I have faced and that is why he was a champion." Napoles for his part said of Backus:"He is a strong fighter and used his head well", thereby implying his cuts were caused by butts. The rematch was signed and held 4 June at Forum in Inglewood. Napoles avenged the loss by stopping Backus by TKO8, after knocking him down twice in the eight. He defended his title against Hedgemon Lewis with an UD, then he went to Wembley in London to knock out their favorite Ralph Charles in 7, before once again stopping Adolph Pruitt, this time in 2 rounds and then knocking out Ernie Lopez in the rematch in 7 rounds. He then decisioned the French champion Roger Menetrey in a one sided fight and the best Canadian welterweight Clyde Gray in a less one-sided fight, both by UD. He also put Gray down once. He then made a hubris and chose to challenge Carlos Monzon for his world middle title, despite never fighting at that weight before. Monzon stood at least 4 inches taller than the 5'7 Napoles (various sources have Monzon listed between 5'11 and 6'2). They faced off in Puteaux, near Paris, France, 9 February '74 and Napoles was just unable to do any damage. Monzon picked up the pace in the fifth round and pummeled Napoles in that and the next round, before Napoles retired in his corner. Phil Silver, cornerman of Napoles, claimed Monzon thumbed his fighter, as did Napoles himself. Napoles actually weighed under the light middleweight limit at 153 while Monzon weighed in at 160. This would be Mantequilla's only attempt at a middleweight title.

    He went back on track by stopping Hedgemon Lewis by TKO9 and then in 1975 he beat Armando Muniz twice, first by a technical decision in 12, and then a unanimous decision in 15. He gave up his WBA belt after being stripped for not fighting Angel Espada, their no,1 ranked contender. This was right before the second Muniz fight. Aged 35, Napoles finally met his end against the charming Englishman John H Stracey. Stracey, a hard-hitting and durable fighter, was 10 years younger when they met in the ring of Monumental Plaza de Toros in Mexico City, 6 December that 1975. Although Napoles opened well and put Stracey down in the first round, Stracey made a strong comeback in the second and gave Napoles a beating before the fight was stopped late in round 6 due to cuts. That was the end of Mantequilla and he retired with a record of 81 wins, with 54 ko's and 7 losses, 4 by ko. But he has never been actually knocked out, as in counted out. All his tko losses came on cut stoppages. It says something about his toughness. Napoles was the 1969 The Ring Fighter of the Year and was inducted into IBHOF in its' first year in 1990. He was named the fourth greatest welterweight of the 20th century by the Associated Press in 1999. Napoles lived the rest of his life in Mexico and was a hugely popular cult figure and a hero to the Mexican fight fans. He died 16 August this year, aged 79. There has hardly been a greater fighter than Jose Napoles, but he gets left out too often from top 10 lists when people rate the greatest fighters of all time. Here's to you, Mantequilla!


  • #2
    My old dad said Napoles was the best fighter he ever saw live and considering some of the greats he saw over 50 years that's quite a compliment.

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