by Fox Doucette
Irresistible Force vs. Immovable Object is the oldest and greatest rivalry in sports and in life. Sometimes the irresistible force wins, like the Germans against France in the first part of World War II and the combined Soviet and Allied armies in the second part. Sometimes the immovable object wins, like the trench warfare of World War I. Other times, nobody knows quite what’s going to happen and it depends on the battlefield—like the American Civil War.
All this is by way of saying that the irresistible force of Jose Napoles, who racked up 54 knockout wins in 81 pro victories and didn’t lose his power when he stepped up to the championship level as the 1970s dawned, faces the immovable object of Kid Gavilan, who was never stopped in his career despite 30 pro losses. By the same token, Gavilan, who was never a big puncher, counting only 22 KOs among his 101 wins, faces a guy who lost four times via the knockout route out of his seven defeats.
In the co-feature, we’ve got a wild style matchup between O’Neil Bell, who put together a 27-4 mark with 25 KOs and who was throughout 2006 the undisputed cruiserweight champ, and Orlin Norris, whose wide, looping punches were thrown with such force that he was a far better cruiser than he is given credit for by people who remember him mainly as a mediocre journeyman heavyweight who got wrecked by Mike Tyson in a fight that ended in a no-contest after Iron Mike hit him after the bell.
It’s a great show tonight, so place your bets.
From the Historical Fight Night Arena Presented By You, If You Donate On Patreon, in San Dimas, California, these fights are scheduled for 12 rounds using the Unified Rules of the Association of Boxing Commissions. Scoring is on the 10-point must system, there is no three knockdown rule, no standing eight count, only the referee can stop the fight, and a fighter cannot be saved by the bell in any round including the twelfth and final round.
Now, for the thousands in attendance and the millions watching from around the world…
Let’s Make History.
O’Neil Bell (1/7/2006, 26-1-1, 24 KOs) vs. Orlin Norris (7/2/1994, 41-3, 23 KOs)
Norris stopped Arthur Williams in three rounds in defense of his WBA cruiserweight championship belt after winning a close split decision (notwithstanding Patricia Morse Jarman’s “were you drunk?” 118-110 score) in the previous fight between the two men. Norris was an undersized guy, coming in at 5’11” but with Duran-like short arms that limited his reach to 70 inches.
Norris enjoys a five-inch reach advantage here tonight, as he comes in off a demolition of Jean-Marc Mormeck where from the fifth round on, Bell broke down his opponent en route to a tenth-round stoppage. Norris puts punches together very well, and his unorthodox style can drive opponents buggy if they’re not prepared to attack it.
Bell began by popping out the jab, fighting on the outside, and making the shorter Norris come to him. Even though the height difference was only an inch, this was for practical purposes a fight between a guy 6’3” and a guy 5’10” rather than six feet and 5’11”. Bell took full advantage, fighting tall and using the jab and the left hook to keep Norris from being able to work his way in.
The first round was one-sided, as Norris kept getting tagged, and by the round’s end, he had slowed down his attack to a good degree.
Norris started throwing wider shots as he came in, trying to put leather on a guy who could deftly stay out of his way, and he found himself frequently out of position. He would lunge in, Bell would sidestep him, then the bigger man from Jamaica would pop in a quick flurry of three or four punches, tie up, and repeat after the break.
The smaller man was perfectly willing to let himself be tied up; his looping shots were of minimal value to him on the inside, and the beatdown continued until the bell again rang to spare Norris the punishment. This was getting ugly.
Finally, what had begun to seem inevitable came to pass. Norris charged in, trying to get into punching range, and an overhand right caught him right on the point of the chin. Norris staggered back, desperately trying to stay on his feet, and Bell pounced, pouring on the punishment as a helpless Norris stayed on the ropes. There was some dispute as to whether Bell hit Norris with a few rabbit punches in the midst of the exchange—Bell tended to pull his opponent down with the left and deliver the overhand right in that fashion—but it ultimately didn’t matter. Referee Mills Lane had seen enough, and he called a halt to the contest at 1:17 of the third round for your winner, by technical knockout…
RESULT: BELL TKO3 NORRIS.
Kid Gavilan (2/11/1953, 90-12-4, 26 KOs) vs. Jose Napoles (2/28/1973, 75-5, 52 KOs)
It’s always a challenge to try and project these old-time fighters into modern times, in part because guys used to do things in the ring that you’d never see guys do today. Tony Zale actually left his feet to leap in and throw a punch at Rocky Graziano more than once during their trilogy; any competent counter puncher would time him and lay him out flat if he did that today. Marcel Cerdan threw his punches from so far wide of the target that anyone with even a semblance of a modern jab would pop him right in the kisser with it and interrupt his attack before it even started. Wild haymakers were just part of boxing.
Gavilan, while occasionally prone to throwing those looping hooks, was generally more of a polished fighter. His punches, in a distinctly Cuban style that the Santiago de Cuba-born Napoles clearly had as an influence as he came up through the Cuban ranks after Gavilan retired, featured something a lot closer to a style that would be familiar at both ends of the time machine journey. So what you have here is a straight-up boxing match between two guys with much better fundamentals than you see out of old-time guys.
That said, the first thing you notice between these guys is the jab. Gavilan tended to paw with his and use it as a rangefinder and a keepaway tool. Napoles snapped his out and occasionally put a hook behind it. Napoles also loved to set up the right uppercut behind the jab, throwing it once in awhile in the second fight with Ernie Lopez not necessarily with any intention of getting it to the target but almost out of pure habit learned in the gym.
Speaking of time machine fights, Gavilan comes into this one fresh off a knockout of Chuck Davey in which his normally unimpressive power overwhelmed the previously-unbeaten fellow from Detroit, marking the beginning of the end of Davey’s career. Gavilan had a little extra mustard on his left hook, and the chopping right hand worked to tremendous effect.
Not that any of this was particularly on display in the first round, as both men spent the frame sizing each other up and looking for openings with the jab, not doing much else.
Gavilan was the taller fighter, at 5’11”; Napoles was 5’8”. However, Napoles had the longer arms; he enjoyed a 72 to 71-inch reach advantage, not that a single inch was going to do much good.
The more important thing here is that Napoles was the more compact fighter, and in the second round, he began to use that difference in physiology in order to work his way inside and attack the body of Gavilan.
It was a stratagem of double-edged use; on the one hand, Napoles was able to bang down low on his opponent, but on the other hand, Gavilan made him pay dearly for the real estate on the way in, using the opportunity to put the left hook over the top. As Napoles had to protect himself coming in, he wasn’t able to put near as much snap on the shots to the body, but the exchange made for an exceptionally hard-to-score round. Some folks had Napoles up 20-18 based on the clearer jab advantage in the first round; others saw it as a chance to level the scores.
The fight came back outside in the third, as Gavilan had one other weakness the Napoles camp hoped to exploit. When the Kid got crossed up by too much pressure or lateral movement from his opponent, particularly to his right, he would go briefly southpaw as if he thought he was going to do a better job cutting off that movement with a shorter right hook rather than an overhand chopping punch.
Napoles had trained for it, and for the next two rounds, he moved beautifully to Gavilan’s right, pawing with the left hand to keep Gavilan from punching back, stopping to put the right hand behind the occasional hook when the Kid put his guard up to stop the incoming lead power punch, and finally achieving his aim of forcing Gavilan into the southpaw stance. Once Gavilan went southpaw, Napoles loaded up on the right hand and put it over the top of a man who was not in his natural position.
For three rounds it was brilliant, and Napoles began to take control of the fight.
For three straight rounds, Gavilan’s corner implored him to stop letting Napoles dictate what he did in there. When Napoles moved to his right, they told him, move with him, throw the hook, cut off his escape, and force him back to his left.
Gavilan followed the advice in the sixth. He kept frustrating the pursuit, refusing to let Napoles change his attack, and throwing a bit wider right cross while staying in the orthodox position. One of those rights caught Napoles flush, stunning Mantequilla and forcing him straight backward.
Gavilan pursued, unleashing a fury of overhand rights one after the other, leading the left uppercut behind it to keep Napoles from escaping out the side door, and taking complete control. Napoles finally went down to one knee just to stop the onslaught, get an eight count, and sacrifice a point on the scorecard for a chance to regroup and meet Gavilan once again in the center of the ring where Kid would not be able to tee off on him.
Referee Benjy Esteves reached the count of eight, and the fight continued until the bell rang and Napoles went back to his corner, his recovery already well underway before his rear end hit the stool, and the fight entered its second half with new life breathed into it by the man from the Bautista era.
With Napoles deprived his angle of attack and Gavilan back in the orthodox stance, the fight returned to a more conventional style for the next three rounds. Napoles got the jab there faster, but Gavilan learned to apply pressure and not simply catch one punch only to get smacked with the second. There were some hot exchanges; Napoles caught Gavilan with a sharp right uppercut in the eighth that briefly stunned the Kid, while Gavilan had Napoles up against the ropes in the ninth, but none of the right hands he tried to apply hit their mark; this time, a healthy Napoles had his defense on full display.
The scores could have gone either way; on press row after the ninth, Napoles led one card 86-84, while the other two press row scorers had it even at 85. The knockout was the difference, as the count of rounds was either 6-3 or 5-4 in favor of Mantequilla.
Gavilan was near impossible to bring down; the man was so durable that even the hardest shots did not faze him in the slightest. This did not, however, mean that he was hard to hit, and Mantequilla’s corner told him, translated from the Spanish, roughly “put your punches together and let’s bring this one home.”
Napoles obliged. He shot out a few singular left hooks, each of them deftly blocked by Gavilan. They were, however, simply decoys, intended to lull Gavilan into a defensive style and keep him from opening up. With a minute gone in the round, Napoles continued to throw those hooks, but every one had a surprise in the box; a right hand thrown from a different angle each time.
First, Napoles followed the hook with an uppercut to the body. Next, an uppercut to the head. After that, a looping right cross that disrupted the timing of Gavilan and landed on the cheekbone. Finally, an overhand right that surprised Gavilan, who had been expecting another uppercut and crouched slightly; the overhand right hit him right on the top of the head, stunning him and forcing him back.
Napoles pursued, and for the rest of the round, it was all Napoles as he took the frame on the scorecards with a relentless assault that kept Gavilan from being able to move his hands in retaliation.
Napoles punched himself out a bit in the tenth; that, or he was saving his strength for the end. Whatever the intent, Gavilan took the opportunity, coming forward, throwing hooks and overhand rights of his own. Napoles stayed defensive, but some of those shots got through, and Mantequilla was unwilling or unable to punch back effectively, resorting to a jab that was thrown almost grudgingly.
Did Gavilan think he needed a knockout? Was Napoles done or was he simply conserving his energy? As the twelfth round dawned, just such speculation was the talk of the commentary table and the fans alike.
Turned out Napoles was just reloading his guns. The twelfth round went exactly like the tenth, with Napoles playing the right-handed guessing game and leaving Gavilan utterly flummoxed as to what was coming next. Gavilan turned southpaw. That didn’t work. He got square and tried to bull Napoles, but Mantequilla refused to yield, hitting Gavilan with an uppercut for his trouble and staggering him when he did not set his feet. Gavilan went back to orthodox and tried to trade shots, only to find himself getting the worse of the exchange from the faster hands of Napoles.
The twelfth was decisive. Napoles clearly won two of the last three. With twelve rounds complete, we go to the judges’ scorecards.
Judge Harold Lederman sees the bout 114-113. Judge Steve Weisfeld sees the bout 116-111. And judge Dave Moretti has it 115-112, all for your winner, by unanimous decision…
RESULT: NAPOLES UD12 GAVILAN.
How do we follow up a welterweight thrill ride like this? We go from old-school to more recent fighters, as Erik Morales enters the time machine for a crack at Wilfredo Gomez in a junior featherweight showdown. In the co-feature, Marco Antonio Barrera, the nemesis of Morales, this time fights on the same card, taking on Juan Manuel Lopez, also at junior featherweight.
Get ready for a 122-pound can of whoop-ass to be opened in San Dimas next week, and in the meantime, please do pop over to Patreon, where your support helps make Historical Fight Night possible.
Thanks for reading, and see you next week, at 6 PM Eastern, 3 PM Pacific!