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Uncrowned World Champion Series: Armando ‘The Man’ Muniz

David A. Avila

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Uncrowned World Champion Series: Armando ‘The Man’ Muniz

Belts, belts, everybody has a belt.

Until the 1980s there were only two world title belts in each division. It was extremely difficult to become a world champion.

Control of the world title was even more politically charged than it is today.

It was during this period on March 29, 1975, that Armando Muniz ventured to Acapulco, Mexico to face Jose “Mantequilla” Napoles and discovered that beating a world champion to a bloody pulp was not enough. In befuddlement he walked out of that battle without the WBC and WBA welterweight titles. Fans who later saw the fight on television were angered by the outcome.

Despite public outcry the WBC refused to overturn the egregious decision.

That fight remained the closest Muniz ever came to being the actual world champion though he fought several times for the WBC belt. He was not the first and definitely not the last to become an uncrowned world champion.

It gnawed at Muniz for many years who later met with WBC president Jose Sulaiman in Los Angeles to discuss it.

“We had a conference at an office in Van Nuys. And he told me ‘You don’t understand. Napoles was my friend.’ So I said, oh really. What was I,” said Muniz. “I knew he felt bad about it. But the damage was done.”

During his fighting days Muniz could fill those seats at the Olympic Auditorium. All that was necessary was to put his name on the large marquee outside of the building on the corner of 18th Street and Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles and fans would buy tickets.

“I guess I kind of had the style people like to see,” Muniz says.

Muniz was a go-getter type of personality who after serving the U.S. Army went directly into prizefighting with a pressure boxing style that could bend steel. He quickly climbed up the welterweight ladder into contention. Quickly. He was 24 years old.

Aside from diving into prizefighting, Muniz also enrolled at Cal State University of Los Angeles and attended classes to obtain a Bachelor’s degree. He was a go-getter.

1968 Mexico City Olympics

Born in Mexico but raised in Los Angeles, the Muniz family moved around and while at Artesia High School the future prizefighter met friends who helped guide him toward his eventual career as a professional boxer.

While in the US Army, Muniz had represented the US Boxing team in the 1968 Olympics at Mexico City. Though he did not medal he was there to witness George Foreman win the heavyweight gold medal. He was also witness to the Black Power salute by Black athletes Tommy Smith, John Carlos and Lee Evans. During these Olympic Games student demonstrations were taking place throughout the city and were violently put down by the Mexican government. Many lives were lost.

Boxing had provided Muniz with options while in the U.S. Army and as soon as he departed he looked for a place to continue in the boxing world. He found a gym at the Teamsters Gym in downtown L.A. and also found a manager and trainer there.

“I told him I would fight anyone,” said Muniz of his manager Louie Jauregui. “If I can’t beat them than why am I fighting?”

That became Muniz’s mantra.

“I remember my first fight against Joey Adams I knocked him out in the third round,” said Muniz of his pro debut that took place July 1970 at the Olympic Auditorium. “I made $200 and $100 went to me.”

His fierce fighting style and come-forward aggression quickly gained him fans. In his mere fifth pro fight he was asked to face a Philadelphia fighter named Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts. It was the same fighter that later famously battled with future middleweight champion Marvin Hagler in the famous “Phillie Wars.”

Muniz defeated Watts after six angry rounds at the Olympic Auditorium. After only two more six-round bouts he was headlining 10-round main events at the famous fight arena headed by Aileen Eaton.

He picked up a nickname that suited him well. Muniz became known as “the Man” or “El Hombre.” Every time he fought, fans expected a good fight and he delivered.

“My favorite fight was probably with Oscar “Shotgun” Albarado. I wasn’t supposed to win. He could hit hard with both hands,” said Muniz of the fight that took place on May 6, 1971 at the Olympic Auditorium. It was a 10-round welterweight fight that ended in a split draw. “We filled the seats.”

Crowds continued to fill the seats as Muniz faced top competition wherever he fought against Gil King, Clyde Gray, Emile Griffith and Adolph Pruitt in places like Long Beach, California and Anaheim. He also fought in Las Vegas, Denver and Tucson.

A win over the talented Hedgemon Lewis on December 1974 at the Inglewood Forum set Muniz up for the world title challenge against Napoles three months later. The Los Angeles-based fighter was a 10-1 underdog.

Mexican hospitality

Though Muniz was born in Chihuahua, Mexico he was not treated fondly by Mexicans when he arrived at the press conference in Acapulco. Despite having Mexican blood the Mexican fans preferred Cuba-born Napoles who had adopted Mexico City as his home after the Cuban Revolution in 1960.

For many, Muniz was the Chicano from California brought to be a punching bag for the great Mantequilla.

The term “Chicano” was used to describe those of Mexican blood who lived or were born in the U.S. Some adopt the term and some abhor it. Many in Mexico still use the term Chicano or other words to describe Mexicans living in the U.S.

Muniz never cared what others thought, he always believed in himself.

“I knew I was always in tremendous shape,” said Muniz who credits his wife as a major reason for his ability to concentrate on training.

Right from the opening bell Muniz showed no timidity as the slick fighting Napoles seemed puzzled by constant pressure. In the second round Napoles began using various tricks including head butts to stave off Muniz’s attacks. Cuts opened up on the world champion by the third round.

Round after round Muniz pressured intelligently and despite various Napoles fouls the Mexican referee only admonished the Californian. By the 10th round the champion slowed down visibly and Muniz began busting up Napoles with big solid blows. A few staggered the Cuba-born fighter and the end was near.

Blood was everywhere including on Muniz’s trunks. The referee seemed worried and from outside of the ring WBC head Jose Sulaiman can be seen shouting instructions to the referee Ramon Berumen. During the 12th round the fight was stopped. Napoles was declared the winner and the Mexican audience cheered Napoles who looked more like the victim of an East L.A. mugging.

“I was looking at my dad. He said it was incredible that we lost the fight. It was just a bad decision. I think I’m naturally a nice guy. I didn’t rebel. They robbed me and I didn’t make a big stink about it,” said Muniz. “Ninety percent of the people thought I won.”

Despite public outcry throughout California the decision was not overturned.

“I think Jose Sulaiman said this was his decision. So I lost the fight,” said Muniz of the decision in Mexico. “Napoles could do no wrong. He was like a God down there. Even in the town I was born they adored the guy.”

Final count

Muniz would fight three more times for the world title including a rematch with Napoles. All ended in losses for the fighter known as “the Man.”

Knowing he should have won the world title that night in Acapulco could have destroyed Muniz. But he later used his earnings to move to Riverside. He made $15,000 for his fight with Napoles and would later make $30,000 for his last fight against Sugar Ray Leonard. It was the most he ever earned from a prize fight.

“I owe a lot to my wife,” said Muniz who is often guided by his wife to make the right decision including to become a high school teacher. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Muniz lives in a Spanish style house near picturesque hills in Riverside, California. He’s been retired for many years as an educator. One special note was when he fought Carlos Palomino for the WBC welterweight world title in 1978, both were college graduates. It was the first time ever two college graduates fought for a world title.

Armando Muniz at Casa Muniz

A few years back an old friend named Dub Harris received a WBC world title belt from Mauricio Sulaiman who succeeded his late father Jose Sulaiman as the head of the WBC organization. Harris was told to give it to Muniz.

Now the green WBC belt hangs on display at the Muniz home in Riverside.

“Once a guy asked me why I was given the WBC belt,” said Muniz puzzled by the question from the person. I looked at him and said “because I won it.”

Photos credit: Al Applerose

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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt hammered his way to a decisive knockout victory over fellow Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title light fight on Saturday.

After nearly nine months off, WBC super featherweight titlist Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) unraveled a withering body attack including numerous low blows but Valenzuela remained upright in front of a sparse TV studio audience until he could take it no longer.

Berchelt used a seven-punch combination to knock the senses out of the very tough Valenzuela who hails from Sinaloa. The referee saw enough and stopped the fight with Valenzuela leaning against the ropes with a dazed look.

The champion from Cancun used a triple left hook in the first round to floor Valenzuela and it looked like the fight would not last more than two rounds. But Valenzuela, a sturdy veteran, bored into Berchelt to keep him off balance and was able to stop the momentum.

It did not last.

A vicious attack to the body sapped the energy from Valenzuela who has fought many elite fighters in the past, but none like Berchelt. He was able to batter the veteran round after round.

Valenzuela sought to reverse the momentum with some combinations of his own. Berchelt opened up with some combinations from the outside and cracked his foe with some skull-numbing blows that clearly affected Valenzuela’s senses. The referee wisely stopped the fight at 1:03 of the sixth round to give the win to Berchelt by knockout.

The victory opens the door to a potential clash with featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez of Nogales, Mexico who has a fight of his own planned next month. Both champions are promoted by Top Rank.

Other Bouts       

Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) bushwacked veteran Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs) within a minute of the first round to win by technical knockout. A barrage of blows by Ensenada’s Aguilar opened up the fight and a four-punch combination forced the referee to stop the super lightweight fight with Mexico City’s Jardon against the ropes.

A battle between super bantamweights saw the taller Alan Picasso (14-1) out-hustle Florentino Perez (14-6-2) in an eight round clash between Mexican fighters. Mexico City’s Picasso fought effectively inside against the shorter Perez of Monterrey and was able to maintain a consistent pace. Neither fighter approved the use of a jab but Picasso was more effective inside with body shots and uppercuts and dominated the last half of the fight.  The six judges scored in favor of Picasso.

The WBC instituted the extra judges as a means of tabulating score cards efficiently. Three judges scored from the television studios and another three judges scored from the USA. It was the second time WBC judges officiated remotely and all six scorecards were official.

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Big Baby Miller, Roberto Duran and More

Arne K. Lang

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Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller just can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar. It was announced today (Saturday, June 27) that the jumbo-sized heavyweight from Brooklyn tested positive for a banned substance, forcing him out of a July 9 fight at the MGM Grand “Bubble” against Jerry Forrest. The story was broken by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic who breaks more hard news stories than any other boxing writer.

Miller, needless to say is a repeat offender. He failed three different PED tests in a span of three days for three different banned substances leading into his planned June 2019 match at Madison Square Garden with WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That cost him the fight and a reported $5 million-plus payday. Andy Ruiz filled the void and scored an historic upset.

When the first test came back positive, Miller wailed that he was the victim of a faulty test. “My team and I stand for integrity, decency and honesty and will fight this with everything we have,” he said in a prepared statement. He later changed his tune. “I messed up,” he said.

In a story that appeared on these pages, Thomas Hauser noted that Big Baby had a history of PED use dating to 2014. In that year, he was slapped with a nine-month suspension by the California Athletic Commission following a kickboxing event in Los Angeles.

Counting this latest revelation, it’s five strikes for Big Baby. He’s taking quite a roasting right now on social media. Some of the harshest criticism is coming from his fellow boxers.

Assuming that Top Rank can’t find a replacement for Miller, this is another tough break for Jerry Forrest, a 32-year-old southpaw from Virginia with a 26-3 (20) record. Forrest was scheduled to fight hot prospect Filip Hrgovic on April 17 on a card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a show swept away by the coronavirus outbreak. Forrest has been matched very soft throughout his career, but he acquitted himself well in his lone previous TV appearance, losing a split decision to undefeated Jermaine Franklin on “Showtime: The New Generation.” The decision was controversial.

There’s talk now that Carlos Takam is angling to replace Big Baby. The French-Cameroonian, a former world title challenger who turns 40 in December, was billed out of Henderson, Nevada, in his last ring appearance that saw him winning a unanimous decision over fellow greybeard Fabio Maldonado in Huntington, NY.

—-

When it comes to Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”), there’s no sport quite like boxing. Just ask Bob Arum. The most mouth-watering matchup in his ESPN “summer series” fell out this week when Eleider Alvarez suffered a shoulder injury in training, forcing a postponement of his July 16 date with Joe Smith Jr. The match between Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) would have been a 12-rounder with the winner guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, a diadem that Alvarez previously owned.

Joe Smith Jr, a Long Island construction worker once dismissed as nothing more than a club fighter, won legions of new fans in his last start, a one-sided (to everyone except one myopic judge) win over Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Cancelled matches have become a recurrent theme in ESPN’s semi-weekly boxing series. The very first card in the series lost what shaped up as its most competitive fight when Mikaela Mayer tested positive for COVID-19, scuttling her bout with Helen Joseph. In subsequent weeks, the manager of Mikkel Les Pierre tested positive for COVID-19 as did WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. Those bad test results forced the postponement of two main events. Then earlier this week, hot lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno was lopped off Tuesday’s card after feeling sick after coming in overweight at the previous day’s weigh-in.

The undercards of the Tuesday/Thursday ESPN fights have left something to be desired, but that’s understandable. As Bob Arum noted in a conversation with veteran boxing scribe Keith Idec, Top Rank’s matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad “Abdul” Goodman have had a hard time fleshing out the cards because with so many gyms closed there’s a shortage of boxers who are in shape to fight on short notice. Then there are the COVID-19 travel restrictions and (something Arum did not acknowledge) budgetary restrictions more severe than an ordinary Top Rank card. Most of the undercard fighters have come from neighboring states such as Utah, saving Top Rank the cost of air fare. Fighters from faraway places, with some exceptions, were already training in Las Vegas.

Kudos to the entire Top Rank staff for keeping boxing alive during these challenging times.

It’s old news now, but Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, 69, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized in Panama City with a viral infection. There’s been no update on his condition but his son Robin Duran wrote on Instagram that his father is not having any symptoms beyond those associated with a common cold. We will update you when new details become available.

Duran’s hospitalization came just a few days after the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in what would say was Duran’s finest hour. They met on June 20, 1980 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Duran won a unanimous decision. Converting the “10-point must” system into rounds, Duran prevailed by scores of 3-2-10, 6-5-4, and 6-4-5. As Yogi would have said, you could look it up.

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Fast Results from the Bubble: Jason Moloney TKOs Baez

Arne K. Lang

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Top Rank was back inside the MGM Grand “Bubble” tonight for chapter six of their semi-weekly ESPN summer series. Jason Moloney, one-half of Australia’s Moloney twins, accomplished what his brother Andrew Moloney was unable to accomplish in this ring on Tuesday night, adding a “W” to his ledger and looking good doing it. It came at the expense of Mexicali’s Leonardo Baez.

It was Jason Moloney’s second start on U.S. soil after coming up just a tad short in a bid for the vacant IBF world bantamweight title at Orlando in October of 2018. Against Baez, he fought a smart tactical fight, blunting the Mexican’s superior reach by fighting him at close quarters. Baez fought from the third round on with a cut over his right eye and then suffered a cut over his left eye in the seventh round. By then the fight was becoming increasingly one-sided and Baez’s corner did not let him come out for round eight.

Jason Moloney improved to 21-1 with his 18th knockout. Leonardo Baez, who took the fight on short notice after Maloney’s original opponent Oscar Negrete was forced to withdraw with a detached retina, slumped to 18-3.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Abraham Nova advanced to 19-0 with a unanimous decision over Philadelphia’s Avery Sparrow but won no new fans with a lackadaisical performance. Nova, born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic and raised in Albany, NY, showed little but his jab through the first seven rounds until hurting Sparrow with a big right hand in the eighth. The judges had it 96-94, 97-93, and 99-91.

Sparrow (10-2), whose lone previous loss was by disqualification, was making his first start in 15 months. He was slated to fight Ryan Garcia in Los Angeles last Sept. 14 but never made it to the weigh-in after being arrested by U.S. marshals on a charge of threatening a woman with a gun after she threw his clothes out the window…

Other Bouts

In an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Orlando Gonzalez advanced to 15-0 with a unanimous decision over Ecuador’s Luis Porozo (15-3). The scores were 76-74 and 77-73 twice.

Gonzalez wasn’t particularly impressive although he did score two knockdowns. He decked Porozo near the end of round two with a left hook following a straight left and decked him again near the end of round seven with a left uppercut to the body.

In a rather ho-hum fight, welterweight Vlad Panin improved to 8-1 with 6-round majority decision over San Antonio’s 36-year-old Benjamin Whitaker (13-4). Panin, a Belarusian who grew up in Las Vegas and earned a BA in English from UCLA, has a good back story but seemingly a limited upside in the fight game.

In an entertaining 6-round welterweight clash, Filipino campaigner Reymond Yanon improved to 11-5-1 with a split decision (59-55, 58-56, 56-58) over Clay Burns. A 33-year-old ex-Marine from Fort Worth, Burns declined to 9-8-2.

The opener, a heavyweight bout slated for six rounds, matched two Phoenix-based fighters in a rematch. Kingsley Ibeh, a former standout defensive lineman for the Washburn College Ichabods, avenged his lone defeat and improved to 4-1 with a fourth-round stoppage of Waldo Cortes (5-3). Ibeh, who at 286 had a 39-pound weight advantage, softened Cortes up with a series of uppercuts and Cortes was on his way down when he was tagged with a glancing left hand. He got to his feet, but referee Vic Drakulich waived it off. The official time was 1:41.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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