On Oct. 17, 1969, at the Forum in Inglewood, California, Emile Griffith took on Jose Napoles in hopes of recapturing the welterweight title. A three-time welterweight champion and two-time middleweight champion, Griffith was 14-4 in world title fights but was a legend past his best years.
Jose Napoles, a refugee from Castro’s Cuba who settled in Mexico City at the age of 21, was making the second defense of the title he won with a dominating performance over Curtis Cokes. He was at the peak of his powers and showed his class in front of a packed house that included boxing royalty such as Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Graziano and Willie Pep.
Napoles started off the fight pumping his jab effectively and boxing Griffith in the center of the ring. Griffith quickly resorted to charging with power shots and was knocked down by a right uppercut in the third round when he left himself open.
It was fairly smooth sailing for Napoles for the remainder of the fight as he used his slick skills and fluid punching to show why he was so deserving of his nickname “Mantequilla.” He rocked Griffith numerous times and was never really in any danger. At the end, the judges scored the fight 11-4, 11-3-1, and 9-4-2 for the defending champion.
Griffith was a tough veteran and finished the fight with wind still left in him but outclassed. He was yet only 31 years old (two years older than Napoles), but he had been in numerous wars and his weight was also an issue. He came in at 144.5lbs – his lowest weight since his famous match with ill-fated Benny “Kid” Paret in 1962.
Napoles would go on to have a storied career. He retired in 1990 with a record of 81-7 (54 KOs) that included a 15-3 mark in welterweight title fights. He and Emile Griffith were both ushered into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the inaugural class of 1990. – KID HERSH contributed to this report.