Welterweight legend Napoles dies at age 79

Jose Napoles, one of the greatest welterweight world champions in boxing history, died Friday, the WBC announced. He was 79.

Nicknamed "Mantequilla" -- Spanish for "Butter" -- for his smooth boxing style, Napoles was a two-time welterweight world champion who boxed from 1958 until 1975. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

"It is with profound sorrow that we report that Jose Angel 'Mantequilla' Napoles died today, and with his the passing, a golden era of the world welterweight championship closes full circle," the WBC said in a statement. "Typical of the man, who was the bravest, most courageous of fighters, that although he had been affected by various illnesses for some time, he bravely battled on, attending WBC events, always smiling and being greeted by his many friends and fans who admired him as a fighter and as a man. Today that struggle came to an end with his children and grandchildren at his bedside in Mexico City.

"The World Boxing Council is in deep mourning with the departure of one of the very greatest welterweight champions of all time and one of the most beloved people in this sport. A fierce competitor in the ring, he was a kind gentleman outside of it. Rest in peace dear champion."

Born in Cuba in 1940, Napoles compiled a record of 113-1 (or 114-1, depending on the source) as an amateur and fought in his native country in the early years of his pro career as a featherweight and lightweight.

In 1962, Napoles fled Fidel Castro's Communist regime, which had banned boxing in 1961, and settled in Mexico City, where he became a Mexican citizen. Eventually, Napoles became a boxing legend and made 13 title defenses over two welterweight world title reigns.

Although Napoles (81-7, 54 KOs) never got a shot at a lightweight or junior welterweight world title, he defeated top opponents such as Alfredo Urbina, Carlos Hernandez, Eddie Perkins and Johnny Santos.

He moved up to welterweight in 1967 and got a shot at fellow future Hall of Famer Curtis Cokes. They met on April 18, 1969, at The Forum in Inglewood, California, where Napoles delivered a beating to Cokes, who was bleeding from his nose and had swelling around his eyes when the fight was stopped after the 13th round as Napoles claimed the unified WBC/WBA title.

Napoles and Cokes met in an immediate rematch two months later in Mexico City, and Napoles dominated again, stopping Cokes in the 10th round. Napoles followed that victory with defenses against future Hall of Famer Emile Griffith, whom he outpointed over 15 rounds, and Ernie "Indian Red" Lopez, whom he stopped in the 15th round.

Napoles met Billy Backus in his fourth defense in December 1970 on Backus' turf in Syracuse, New York, and lost the title by fourth-round stoppage due to bad cuts over his eyes. Six months later, in June 1971, they met in a rematch at The Forum, and Napoles regained the title by fourth-round knockout.

Napoles would go on to defend the title 10 times in his second reign -- though he was eventually stripped of the WBA belt -- notching victories against top contenders such as Hedgemon Lewis (twice), Adolph Pruitt, Lopez in a rematch and Clyde Gray.

In 1974, during his second welterweight title run, Napoles moved up to middleweight for a shot at world champion and future Hall of Famer Carlos Monzon but suffered a sixth-round knockout loss.

From there, Napoles continued to defend the welterweight title until losing by sixth-round knockout to John H. Stracey in December 1975, after which Napoles retired.

Trained by the Hall of Famer Angelo Dundee, Napoles was named the 1969 fighter of the year by Ring magazine. He was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1984, and the Associated Press named him the fourth-greatest welterweight of the 20th century in 1999.