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Jose Napoles By Rick Farris
Jose Napoles Part 1
By Rick Farris
As posted on Cox's Corner
Throughout boxing history the welterweight division has been blessed with exceptional prizefighters. Names such as Walker, Ross, McLarnin, Armstrong, Robinson, Griffith and Leonard are just a few of the greats that come to mind. However, another name cannot be overlooked when considering great 147 pounders, Jose Napoles.
Napoles' nickname "Mantequilla" is the Spanish word for butter and anybody who had the pleasure of watching this brilliant boxer perform understands that Napoles’ style was as smooth as butter. It was a style that combined great boxing skill, devastating punching power and cool control of the ring. It was a style that created trouble for any opponent he faced. I'd have to say the best way to describe Napoles’ style is "timeless". It was a style that could unravel the old timers and the new breed as well.
I had the opportunity to watch this great welterweight's career evolve into a world championship during the years I was boxing. Napoles started out as a lightweight, but had to take on the best junior welterweights and welterweights in the world in order to get fights. Napoles beat them all in convincing fashion until finally, with the help of a great promoter, a champion finally gave him a title shot.
I'll give a brief run down of Napoles early career, however, my story begins in 1968, about a year before he won the title. Although I never boxed with Napoles, I know three men who challenged Mantequilla for the title. Ironically, all three of these welterweight contenders challenged Napoles for the crown twice. Much of my opinion of Napoles is based on the words of these three men who know him far better than those of us who saw him from ringside or watched him train in the gym. You get to know exactly how great a fighter is, or is not, after banging it out with him for fifteen rounds.
The three contenders whom I am referring to are Ernie "Indian Red" Lopez, Hedgeman Lewis and Armando Muniz. All three were talented and tough welterweights during the 60's and 70's, and all three agree that they never fought anybody better than Jose Napoles.
Jose Napoles was born in Cuba on April 13, 1940. He made his pro boxing debut in 1958, at the age of 18, and fought the first four years of his professional career in Cuba. Between 1958 and 1961, Napoles put together a record of 17-1 (8 KO's) before fleeing the regime of Fidel Castro and making his home in Mexico. Without the perils of living in a communist country, Napoles would now have a chance to make a name for himself in the world of boxing.
Mexico was almost perfect for Napoles, a Spanish speaking culture and rich in boxing talent. Many of the world's best boxers under 147 pounds hailed from Mexico and the Cuban lightweight would have the opposition necessary to take him to the next level. Of course, it wouldn't be easy. Napoles wasn't a Mexican.
After sixteen months of inactivity, Napoles resumed his boxing career in Mexico in July of 1962. Napoles quickly scored three straight knockouts before winning a ten round decision over Tony Perez. In a rematch, Perez was awarded a controversial decision over Napoles. Napoles scored two more victories including a decision over the highly regarded Baby Vasquez before losing again, this time in a ten rounder to Alfredo Urbina, one of the greatest lightweights Mexico ever produced.
After losing to Urbina, Napoles went on a rampage and won 18 straight with 17 knockouts, including KO's over Urbina and Perez in rematches. He also defeated Junior Welterweight champs Carlos Hernandez and Eddie Perkins, Adolph Pruitt and scored two knockouts over L.C. Morgan. After losing on a cut to Morgan in their third fight, Napoles KO'd Morgan for the third time. From there, Napoles put together a string of victories that would lead right up to a shot at the welterweight championship.
In 1968, the legendary George Parnassus became the boxing promoter for the newly built "Forum" in Inglewood, California. Parnassus had promoted boxing for years in the Los Angeles area, as well as in Mexico. Parnassus had a connection that would allow him to bring the very best talent up from below the border to Los Angeles. He would feature the very best Mexican stars at the Forum and it was here that many would become world champions. Champions such as Ruben Olivares, Chucho Castillo and Carlos Zarate won world titles in Parnassus promotions at the Forum, and so did Jose "Mantequilla" Napoles.
Napoles made his U.S. debut at the Forum in Parnassus' initial promotion that featured bantamweight contenders Jesus Pimentel and Chucho Castillo. I was anxious to see Napoles and was at the Forum that night. However, Mantequilla didn't give us a long look. He KO'ed Lloyd Marshall half way thru the opening round.
A few months later I got a little longer look at the future welterweight king when I saw him flatten Ireland's Des Rea in five rounds on the undercard of a featherweight main event featuring Dwight Hawkins and Frankie Crawford at the Forum.
Hawkins was the number one rated featherweight at the time and helped train me for manager Johnny Flores. I had heard Flores and Hawkins talk about how great a fighter this Napoles was and after seeing him in person at the Forum and in the gym I had to agree. Anybody amazed by the talent of Roy Jones Jr. would be a lot less impressed had they seen Jose Napoles up close.
In April of 1969, Jose Napoles would finally get a shot at World Welterweight Champion Curtis Cokes. Napoles was 29-years-old and had been fighting professionally and defeating the best for 11 years when he stepped into the ring at the Forum before a sellout crowd of more than 18,000. Many of the spectators had come up from Mexico in buses that Parnassus had chartered and the sound of mariachis filled the arena. Mexico had adopted the transplanted Cuban as one of their own and when Napoles climbed thru the ropes the Forum exploded with excitement.
Napoles had his way with Cokes and battered the champion at well. After 13 rounds referee Dick young stopped the fight to save Cokes from further punishment. Jose Napoles had escaped communism, defeated the best in three divisions and now, after 11 difficult years was the Welterweight Champion of the world.
Less than three months after winning the title, Napoles gave Cokes a rematch and again stopped the former champion in the 13th round. Like most champions of the era, Napoles didn't sit on the title between title defenses and stayed sharp with several non-title fights, which he won by knockout. Mantequilla finished out 1969 with a unanimous fifteen round decision over former welterweight and middleweight champ Emile Griffith in his second defense of the title.
In 1970, Napoles KO'd number one rated Ernie "Indian Red" Lopez in fifteen rounds and scored two more knockouts in non-title matches. Napoles closed out 1970 with his fourth title defense in Syracuse, New York against Billy Backus, the nephew of former champ Carmen Basilio.
Backus was given little chance of beating Napoles. However, after opening a cut over the champion's eye with a head butt in the 4th round, the bout was stopped and awarded to Backus.