By David Martinez / dmboxing.com
On August 16, 2019 the boxing world lost one of their finest. Jose Napoles, passed away at the age of 79. He was born in Santiago de Cuba, Oriente, Cuba on April 13, 1940.
Napoles earned the nick-name “Mantequilla”, Spanish for butter, because of his smooth style in the ring.
As an amateur Napoles was trained by his uncles and compiled an incredible record of 114 wins against only 1 loss! He turned professional in 1958 and in the early years campaigned as a featherweight (126), junior lightweight (130), lightweight (135) and junior welterweight (140).
After Fidel Castro banned professional boxing in 1961, Napoles fled Cuba the next year to continue his boxing career in Mexico City. Later he became a Mexican citizen.
In 1968, he officially moved up to welterweight (147) and it wasn’t long before he would earn a shot at the world welterweight championship.
That came on April 18, 1968, in a bout that I attended at the Inglewood Forum in Los Angeles. I witnessed his complete domination of Curtis Cokes, for 13 rounds, to win the WBC title. In their rematch, two months later in Mexico City, Napoles knocked out Cokes in the tenth round.
Napoles defended his title three times, winning a decision over Emile Griffith, a knockout over Ernie Lopez, then losing to Billy Backus, on a TKO in Syracuse, New York in December 1970. The fight was stopped in round eight due to serious cuts around Napoles eyes. Boxing historians will note: Billy Backus is the nephew of the legendary welterweight and middleweight champion Carmen Basillio. Six months later on June 4, 1971 in Los Angeles, Napoles regained the title winning their rematch with a sixth-round stoppage. With a few non-title fights in between, over the course of the next two years, Napoles successfully defended his title against Hedgemon Lewis, Ralph Charles, Adolph Pruitt, Ernie Lopez, Roger Menetrey, and Clyde Gray.
On February 9, 1974 Napoles moved up to middleweight (160) to challenge one of the greatest boxers of all time, Carlos Monzon, for the middleweight title. Monzon, regarded by most as the greatest middleweight of all time, came into the ring with only three losses in ninety-three professional fights. Monzon stopped him in round seven of their scheduled 15 round title fight.
Still welterweight champion, Napoles successfully defended his title four more times, all in Mexico, against Hedgemon Lewis, Horacio Saldano, and Armando Muniz (twice). Then, on December 6, 1975, he lost his welterweight crown to John Stracey of England by TKO in round six.
Napoles retired after the Stracey fight with 88 fights in a career that spanned 17 years. His record stands at an impressive 81 wins with only 7 losses, and 54 by knockout.
Legendary boxing historian Bert Sugar rates Napoles the #46 greatest boxer of all time, with my ranking to be #33 greatest of all time. In his prime, I rank him to be the #4 greatest welterweight of all time, right behind Sugar Ray Robinson, Henry Armstrong, and Barney Ross. I have him ranked ahead of Jack Britton, Joe Walcott, Charley Burley, Sugar Ray Leonard, Kid Ted Lewis, and Young Corbett III.
He was honorably inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1984, the Ring Boxing Hall of Fame in 1985, and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
May his soul rest peacefully in heaven with the Lord.