“El Cubano Mexicano.” It took a number of years, however that’s what Mexican press got here to name him. Earlier than that, he was merely, “El Cubano.” José Nápoles, the celebrated former welterweight champion, died final 12 months in Mexico Metropolis following problems from diabetes and the early phases of Alzheimer’s illness.
As a fighter, Nápoles was really nice. From 1929 to 1936, seven welterweight champions couldn’t muster a single protection of the title between them. In six years and two title reigns, Nápoles made 13 title defenses in 4 nations. However, as an immigrant, he left behind a much more vital legacy—hope. As lots of the world’s greatest nations, together with the USA, have curtailed immigration and asylum claims, Nápoles’s reinforces the significance of compassion.
Leaving house to resettle out of the country is a tough factor to do, but that’s exactly what Nápoles did after Fidel Castro’s authorities outlawed skilled boxing in 1961. Nápoles had fought his technique to a 20-1 file and earned the nickname “Mantequilla”—or, butter, as in slick as—when he defected in 1962.
A product of the cruel, environment friendly newbie system Cuba is thought for, Nápoles fought with un estilo fino: a finer, extra scientific type. That didn’t trouble anybody in Havana. In Cuba’s capital, he’d turn out to be a neighborhood superstar. However Mexico is a rustic that produces and loves fighters with aggressive types. That stated, the truth that Mexican boxing followers embraced Nápoles, a dark-skinned Afro-Cubano with a refined aesthetic, is outstanding.
His carefree perspective and elegance, nonetheless, introduced larger issues than his pores and skin tone. Nápoles hated coaching a lot he as soon as waited till three days earlier than a combat to start out. And he wore sharp fits, sported a thick mustache, and beloved girls.
“Napoles derives pleasure from leaping onto the tail finish of buses within the firm of squealing schoolchildren in Mexico Metropolis,” stated Sports activities Illustrated in 1969. “And he displays a pointy eye for the señoritas, referring to himself as ‘the hawk who will get all of the chickens.’”
Nápoles’s supervisor, Carlos “Cuco” Conde, rescued at the least 5 notable fighters from Cuba—Luis Rodríguez, Florentino Fernández, Doug Vaillant, Sugar Ramos, and Nápoles—and introduced them to Mexico within the wake of Castro’s boxing ban. Rodríguez, Fernádez, and Vaillant have been all despatched to coach/supervisor Angelo Dundee in Miami, and Conde hung onto Ramos and Nápoles. Ramos additionally assimilated into Mexican boxing circles with out difficulty, primarily due to his rapid success in Mexico and Los Angeles.
When Ramos captured the featherweight title in 1963, tragically ending Davey Moore’s life within the course of, it grew to become the second time Ramos killed a person within the ring. Each ordeals deeply affected the Cuban, as he efficiently defended the title solely as soon as in his adopted homeland earlier than shedding it to Mexican Vicente Saldívar the next 12 months. He by no means returned to type.
Thankfully, Nápoles would face no such existential disaster, even when he was often drawn to the bottle, which had minimize Ramos’s profession quick. Nápoles, desirous to pay homage to his adopted homeland, acknowledged the prospect he’d been given.
When he confronted welterweight champion Curtis Cokes at The Discussion board in Inglewood, California, in 1969, El Cubano Mexicano insisted that the Mexican nationwide anthem be performed for him. And after Nápoles destroyed Cokes in entrance of almost sixteen thousand Mexican followers who shattered California’s indoor-gate file to help their man, Mexican president Gustavo Díaz Ordaz supplied his nation’s latest champion a automobile or a home.
Nápoles as an alternative requested to be granted Mexican citizenship. Díaz Ordaz eagerly acceded. This transfer additionally had penalties. Nápoles had a mom and 4 brothers nonetheless in Cuba that he may neither see nor embrace and requesting Mexican citizenship meant Nápoles would by no means be welcomed house. “The defining legacy of Cuba’s revolution is the damaged household,” says creator Brin-Jonathan Butler. “No household escaped unhurt or unscarred. Anybody who left was suffering from the life they left behind of their house simply as anybody who remained was haunted by the life they may have had.”
This grim reminder was no extra obvious than within the aftermath of Nápoles’s victories, when the champion was at his loneliest, celebrating with conditional mates and no household. “He normally calls his mom after a combat,” Conde advised the Los Angeles Instances in 1969. “I’ve seen him sit down and cry for a very long time after he calls her.”
Unable to ship cash to Cuba whereas in Mexico, Nápoles spent his pesos at racetracks. However finally he married a Mexican lady and moved to Guadalajara. Within the Nineteen Nineties, Nápoles moved to the border city of Juárez and made a selfless funding in Mexico’s future by coaching almost any child who stepped into Baños Roma health club and needed to study from a legend. And lots of did.
In Mexico, Nápoles wasn’t only a homeless refugee who fled Cuba when Castro’s authorities took away his future. He grew to become a Mexican. Informex, Mexico’s first-ever information company, set quite a few information requirements within the nation. Amongst them was one which referred to Nápoles as El Cubano Mexicano. No one argued. Everybody adopted swimsuit. When Nápoles died in Mexico Metropolis, that’s what he left as.