HOOK TO THE BODY
By José Sulaimán
MANTEQUILLA NÁPOLES AND THE OLD MEXICO.
I traveled with a gentleman that knew as much or more about boxing than many that claim to be the Bible of boxing. He took my mind to the old Mexico, when Juan Zurita used to always defeat Joe Conde, but Conde beat Casanova three times, speaking to him in English, but Casanova beat Zurita in all of their fights; Raúl “Ratón” Macías used to fill all arenas and built the Arena México, just as Babe Ruth built Yankee Stadium because of their idolatry of the fans; Kid Rapidez being the last to leave the plane with Ultiminio Ramos at their arrival in Lagos, Nigeria, with a big wood cross and a red cap, as that would scare and send way the witches that he thought would be drawn to them; the hatred of many fans, especially those that liked tequila, because he always beat their idol, Toluco López. And we continued remembering with nostalgia those years of the bohemia in boxing. I had never had such a short flight – it felt like the landing came immediately after the take-off.
We talked about José “Mantequilla” Nápoles, one of the greatest welterweights of all time, who left Cuba and came to live and become a boxing hero in Mexico. He used to box with both gloves by his waist and get away from punches with only with a slight movement of his head, and had two fists like a a powerful bear. Nápoles was believed to have been much better as a lightweight, but he was the No. 1 for five years without an opportunity for the title, as it was in those days. Even the great Carlos Ortiz never accepted to fight him.
The great promoter George Parnassus, after seeing the impossibility at the light weights, went to see the world champion at the time, Curtis Cokes, and showed him a video of a terrible fight of Nápoles with L.C. Morgan and asked him, “Is this the fighter that you don’t want to fight?” After a good offer, Cokes signed the contract, but lost his title to a great Nápoles that night at the Forum in Los Angeles, where he also lost the rematch. Nápoles made a lot of money for those times - which would be multi-millions today - but he threw away all his money in gambling. One day I was told that he had lost $30,000 in one afternoon on the horses. Being his friend, I asked him why would he do such a stupid thing and he answered me: “I was a shoeshine boy in Cuba. I am a champion and a king today and I want to live as a king for as long as I can, even if I have to go back to a shoeshine guy again.”
Many years ago, before being elected president of the WBC, I went to Paris to supervise the highly publicized fight between the great Carlos Monzon and Nápoles, to be held in a Circus and promoted by the Latin lover Alain Delon and George Parnassus. I stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel, the site of the promotion, and one evening I walked through the lobby with my brother-in-law, Antonio, to celebrate my 15th wedding anniversary - with my wife being in Mexico - at the night club The Lido. Nápoles saw me and decided to join me, against my wishes, as he said that he was living on Mexico time, sleeping during the day and staying awake in the night. Once at the Lido, the manager came to our table to ask Nápoles to go to the stand to take a photo with the company. The following day the famous sports newspaper L’Equipe published on the front page a huge photo of Nápoles with one vedette on each arm, and all the Lido company surrounding him. L’Equipe headed the front page with, “MONZON TRAINS WHILE NAPOLES LIDOs.”
Napoles would have to pay about $75,000 dollars in taxes, so Alain Delon offered him that money to use the name of his magazine “LUI” (“Him” in French) and took the boxing trunks to him, to which he objected because he said that they would be touched by a witch. I finally convinced him to wear his trunks, and have someone saw the letters on them, but he only accepted his Godmother, who was coming from L.A. to do it as he wouldn’t trust anybody. The fight came with the Circus totally sold out, and a mess for Parnassus - being pickpocketed of his wallet with $5,000 in it - and I losing my cufflinks just bought in Paris off an Arab with a turban and precious stones. But to ruin it all, Napoles came into the ring with his Herculean body to take off his robe and show his boxing trunks with: LIU. How we did battle to get him his tax free fight !!
I could go on with many more anecdotes, just as there are thousands of all boxers, but I would like to end that Napoles had one of the greatest boxing careers when there were only two boxing organizations. I stand up and render to him a standing ovation. After boxing, he went almost back to shoeshine, but he would never admit it, nor did he ever asked for anything. He formed a small music group and became a trainer in a small gym in Ciudad Juarez, a man with dignity, indeed. That is why I profoundly admire Carlos Slim, as Nápoles is one of the 22 Mexican champions for whom he instituted a lifetime pension with hospital care included.
Thank you for reading my remembrances.