Sunday, December 6, 2015

40 Years Ago Today: John H. Stracey Defeats Jose Napoles To Capture the Welterweight World Title

 By Peter Silkov

When Tyson Fury sensationally captured the World heavyweight championship from Wladimir Klitschko last week, with a performance and victory that quite literally shook the boxing world, it was rather apt that he did so almost 40 years to the day that John H Stracey beat Jose Napoles for the Welterweight championship of the world.  It was a victory, which still ranks alongside the greatest performances by a British boxer abroad.

The date was December 6, 1975, when Stracey separated Napoles from his beloved welterweight crown.  Stracey made his challenge in the Monumental Plaza De Toros, in Mexico City, Mexico. The match was in a Mexican bullring that housed 40,000 people, and was so full and fiery, that it looked as if at any moment that the crowd was about to rush forward, and swallow up the ring.

Napoles was already a ring legend, who had dominated the welterweight division for over 6 years, and was considered one of the greatest boxers ever to hold the 147-pound title. He had been a number one contender for many years, at lightweight, and then light welterweight, before finally receiving his title shot at welterweight. Born in Cuba, Napoles had fled to Mexico in the early 60s, when Castro outlawed professional boxing, and was soon gladly adopted by the Mexican boxing fans as one of their own. Napoles’ nickname was ’Mantequilla’, which in Spanish means butter, a description that alluded to Napoles’ smooth effortless boxing style. He was a masterful technician, yet beneath the silky skills, Napoles was also a devastating puncher when he chose to be.  With such ability, it was hardly surprising that it took Napoles so long to secure a world title shot.

By the time he defended his title against England’s Stracey, ’Mantequilla’ was 35 years of age, although some guessed that he might be at least 5 years older. Whatever his age there was no denying that the old maestro was not quite the fighter that he had been when he first won his world crown. The speed and reflexes had become dulled by age, and years of making the 147-pound limit, while the legs were no longer the nimble tools they had once been, and above both eyes there was the scar tissue of almost 20 years of ring warfare. 

When he stepped into the Mexican bulling ring that day, Stracey was a well-respected boxer, the reigning British and European Welterweight champion, but no one expected him to unseat the legendary Napoles.

Despite his age and ring-wear, Napoles had produced an impressive display in his most recent title defence, to outwork, and outbox arch rival Armando Muniz. 

Although his speed and skills may had diminished with age, it was generally agreed in boxing circles that Napoles would have too much for the likeable Stracey, who was a good boxer, with a decent punch, but didn’t seem equipped to beat a legend of Napoles caliber.  After all, Napoles had just beaten his number one challenger Muniz, just five months earlier.

The fight began with both men showing that they meant business. Stracey, known usually as a slow starter, was coming forward, using his solid jabs, seemingly determined to set the kind of fast pace, which the 35 year old Napoles would not enjoy. Meanwhile, the champion was setting a high-pace of his own as he swung away with both hands, looking for an early stoppage victory. Mid way through the 1st round it looked as if an early victory was within the champion’s grasp, as a dynamite combination of punches, which showed just why Napoles was known as ‘Mantequilla’, put Stracey onto the deck. As the crowd howled and cheered with premature jubilation, Stracey beat the count, and weathered the storm of leather that Napoles then through at him in a desperate attempt to land a finishing blow. By the end of the round the challenger was fighting back, and there was already a weariness about Napoles when he returned to his corner at the bell. 

In the 2nd round Stracey continued to put intelligent pressure onto the champion, working mainly behind his excellent jab, while also looking to land his damaging right hand. Napoles was seeking to control matters with his combinations, and jabs of his own, yet there was a glimmer of panic in the champion’s fighting, and a suspicion that he had already shot his bolt in that 1st round.

In the 3rd round, it became clear that the 40,000 plus fans, weighing down the bullring that night, were watching the crumbling of their champion and idol. The fight was still being fought at a frenetic pace, but while Stracey was growing in confidence and strength with every passing minute, Napoles, was beginning to look like a wound up toy that was suddenly slowing down. Although he continued to valiantly fight back, Napoles couldn’t get away from Stracey’s precise punches, especially that pole like left jab. Napoles was already cut over the right eye and his left eye was swelling.

The beginning of the end was signaled near the end of the 3rd round, when Napoles briefly hit the canvas after taking a Stracey left hook. Although he beat the count, amid cushions being thrown into the ring by the suddenly stricken Mexican crowd, Napoles fate had been set. Stracey would not be denied on this night. For the ensuring rounds, Napoles was no longer trying to defend his title, he was simply trying to survive, as Stracey landed upon him at will, only the courage, and guile of a great champion was keeping Napoles standing.

By the 6th round the fight had become a massacre, with Napoles’ face now a mask of swollen flesh and blood. Unable to see the punches coming at him from his inspired challenger, Napoles tried to bob and weave as he had done so often in the past, but instead resembled a drunk staggering down a rain soaked street. As Napoles teetered on unsteady legs, Stracey stepped up his attack, raining blows upon the wilting champion, and driving him about the ring. Finally the referee had seen enough, and stepped between Stracey and Napoles, while signaling the end of the fight. It was a merciful stoppage that saved Napoles the indignity of being beaten into an even more devastating defeat. Napoles went out like the great champion he was, bloodied and battered almost beyond recognition, but still on his feet.

John H. Stracy was the new Welterweight champion of the world. His celebrations with his corner, which included his father, were jubilant, while a wave of sadness and despair swept over the beaten champion and his corner men. The Mexican crowd stood on its feet, not quite sure what to do as they looked on in a mixture of shock and horror at what had happened to their treasured ’Mantequilla.’

Yet, there was respect too for the Englishman who had come over and beaten the champion into defeat. Stracey was Britain’s first World welterweight champion since Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis, and one of the few British fighters to win a world title abroad.

Even today, with a multitude of world titles available for a diluted supply of contenders, very few British fighters win their world titles abroad, let alone somewhere as hostile as a Mexican bullring.

John H. Stracey’s victory over Jose Napoles still stands as one of British boxing’s greatest nights.  The night when a boxer from Bethnal Green beat a Cuban born, Mexican legend.

Copyright © 2015 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to

Watch the fight here:

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