AMERICAN headline news in 1970 was dominated by anti-Vietnam war demonstrations and the spread of race riots. Advances in aviation witnessed the maiden flight of the Boeing 747 and Concorde’s inaugural supersonic journey. The spectre and perilous frequency of international nuclear testing continued unabated. In music the Beatles announced their last ever recording session and Paul McCartney left the group. Meanwhile the world of boxing awaited the return from exile of Muhammad Ali. In absentia rival Joe Frazier became the top dog among the heavyweights and the fearsome Argentinian Carlos Monzon ruled the middleweights. On December 4, Syracuse, New York Billy Backus from nearby Canastota stopped the imperious Cuban-born Mexican Jose Napoles to capture the world welterweight title in a massive upset.
Napoles, a smooth ring mechanic armed with an explosive knockout punch entered the contest, an optional title defence, on the back of a four-year unbeaten winning streak and a record that included 44 stoppages out of 65 wins. He was right at the top of his game. In contrast Backus was a solid journeyman who had quit the ring for two years to focus on his construction job. Unemployment forced Backus to return. His record showed 10 losses but Backus never gave up and under the guidance of his legendary uncle Carmen Basilio he got into shape putting together a good string of results including a hard fought points’ win over number one contender Manny Gonzalez.
What the stocky, square-jawed southpaw bleeder lacked in finesse and refinement, he made up for in pluck, endeavour and persistent slugging. Still, he wasn’t expected to pose any problems for the champion reflected in the betting odds with Backus a 9-1 underdog. Spurred on by the 5,500 crowd at the Onondaga War Memorial Arena, Backus used the adrenaline rush of home advantage to take the fight to the champion. In an action-packed fight Napoles, who was prone to cuts, sustained a deep laceration of his left eyelid. His corner tried frantically to staunch the injury but their efforts came to nothing as the referee stopped the contest in the fourth round with an unsporting Napoles claiming the nasty cut was caused by a headbutt. It mattered not to Backus as the underdog was now sitting proudly on top of the world.
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