Monday, December 05, 2022  |



The best of all time A to Z: Napoles


This is the 14th in a 26-part series in which endeavors to name the best boxers of all time based on last name – A to Z. We’ll post one letter each day for 26 days. Our criteria in making the selections were fairly simple: Accomplishments in the ring, with heavy emphasis on strength of opposition, as well as impact on the sport. This wasn’t easy, as our first installment — the letter “A” (Armstrong vs. Ali) — demonstrates. However, we’re confident that our choices are arguably the best. We also are including five more fighters for each letter to indicate others that were considered. Also, noted author and boxing historian Bert Sugar — who provided input — tells us where he ranks our choices among the greatest fighters pound-for-pound and gives us a thought on each selection. And, finally, we’d love to get your thoughts on the project. Here goes ÔǪ today’s letter: “N.”

Lifespan: 1940 –
Hometown: Juarez, Mexico (from Santiago de Cuba, Cuba)
Record: 81-7 (55 KOs)
Active: 1958-75
Weight class: Featherweight through middleweight
Titles: Welterweight
Sugar’s ranking: No. 33
The thought process: “Mantequilla” was a man with two countries and an abundance of talent. Napoles’ moniker means “butter,” as in he was as smooth as butter. He also was fierce and powerful, which made for a hell of fighter when all that was packaged together. We might never have known him if Fidel Castro had his way, though. Napoles, who reportedly had an amateur record of 114-1, turned professional only four months before Castro seized control of Napoles’ native Cuba. Two years after that, Castro outlawed professional boxing and Napoles had to make a decision. He fled to Mexico, where he ultimately became a national hero. Napoles had some setbacks early in his career but was nearly untouchable for the decade between the mid-1960s and mid-’70s, in which he had one streak of 32-1. The only loss was the result of a cut against Billy Backus in New York, a setback he avenged six months later at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. (where he fought 10 times). Along the way, Napoles beat such fighters as Curtis Cokes (to win the welterweight championship), Emile Griffith, Ernie “Indian Red” Lopez and Hedgemon Lewis. He made 13 successful defenses of his 147-pound title. Napoles moved up to the middleweight division in attempt to wrest the title from the great Carlos Monzon in 1973 but proved to be too small and, after taking a beating, failed to come out for the eighth round. He lost his welterweight title to John Stracey the following year – again because of a bad cut – and never fought again. Napoles left us with the memory of a fighter with a dominating combination of skill and passion who became arguably the most-accomplished Cuban-born fighter ever. Castro’s loss was our gain.
Five more (alphabetical order): Battling Nelson, Azumah Nelson, Kid Norfolk, Terry Norris and Ken Norton.
Sugar quote: “He was exactly his nickname, Mantequilla, slick and smooth as butter. Was he the greatest Cuban fighter ever? Him and Kid Chocolate.”

A: Armstrong:

B: Burley:

C: Charles:

D: Duran:

E: Elorde:

F: Foreman:

G: Greb:

H: Hagler:

I: Ibeabuchi:

J: Johnson:

K: Ketchel:

L: Louis:

M: Moore: