Jose Urtain: The Picturesque Puncher

By Mike Casey on September 10, 2012
Jose Urtain: The Picturesque Puncher
He was a game man and a thrilling puncher, but was never the next superman of boxing.

He was pictured lifting up cars, holding enormous rocks over his head and casually draping goats around his shoulders…

Whatever the era, it’s always the same pattern with heavyweight prospects. Nothing happens for ages and then—like the legendary London bus—three or four come along at the same time.

Is Seth Mitchell the man to topple one or both of the Klitschko brothers? How far will David Price and Tyson Fury progress? Will the 31-0 Denis Boytsov finally do something daring before hair starts growing out of his ears?

Back in 1970, we were all getting excited by a couple of bombers who were destroying opponents as ruthlessly as Lee Marvin destroyed tequila.

Mac Foster, out of Fresno, California, and Jose Urtain, from the Basque region of Spain, began to tingle the blood of fight writers and fans alike. Both men had a suitable air of mystery and menace about them, but it was Urtain who captured the imagination of American scribes who had heard colorful tales of a super strong man lurking in the Spanish hills, waiting to burst onto the world stage.

The memories of Ingemar Johansson’s decimation of Floyd Patterson were still vivid. Would this slugger Urtain come to America and put a stick of dynamite under world champion Joe Frazier?

Everything bubbled up very nicely. Urtain made the cover of The Ring’s July 1970 issue and was hailed as the strongest man in boxing. It was mischievously suggested that he might even be a superman. He was pictured lifting up cars, holding enormous rocks over his head and casually draping goats around his shoulders. Even Oscar Bonavena and George Foreman couldn’t do that kind of stuff.

However, Ring editor Nat Fleischer cautioned us not to jump the gun until we had seen more of the Spanish sensation. For now, said Nat, the stone-lifting publicity was fun enough to be going on with. “It is singular and picturesque,” he wrote soberly.

Urtain piled up 27 consecutive knockout victories over tame opposition before his seemingly impregnable suit of armor suddenly began to rust and fall apart. He knocked out Germany’s Peter Weiland to win the European title, but the rather messy victory was no garden party for the Spanish puncher.

Weiland was a character but he was nobody’s pushover. He would sometimes wear his favorite hairpiece into the ring, said to weigh all of four or five pounds, which sat atop his head with all the grace of a cowpat. Peter was sufficiently weighty without add-ons, scaling just over 232 lbs. for Urtain and putting up brave resistance before going under in the seventh round.

But Jose had been found wanting and he seemed to tire very quickly. One could almost hear a collective murmur of “Ah-hah!” from those observers who knew their stuff. The move up in class against an opponent not afraid to hit back had not been the quick massacre for Urtain that many had predicted.

The tipping point had been reached. A desperate 15-round struggle followed against another German, Juergen Blin, who decked Urtain before Jose scraped home on a razor thin and debatable decision. Urtain showed courage and improved stamina, but the cat was out of the bag. He was struggling to beat fellow Europeans who, in the fiercely competive furnace of the seventies, were light years behind America’s elite.

World Boxing magazine reported, “The muscular Spaniard started in typical Urtain style; overpowering Blin and trying for a quick knockout. Blin reeled under the shattering impact of Urtain’s blows, but he was smart enough and cool enough under extreme fire not only to ride out the storm, but to drop Urtain for the first time in his career – in the eighth round, with a tremendous right to the jaw.

“Urtain’s eyes rolled like lemons on a slot machine as he took an eight count.”


Jose’s frustration was then compounded by an embarrassing third round disqualification defeat against modest Alfredo Vogrig, and worse was to come. A certain Henry Cooper was Urtain’s next challenger for the European championship in old London town.

It was time to cut through the hype and calm things down. After the close call against Blin,  World Boxing ran an article in which it asked a timely question of Urtain: Can he really fight. “Sooner or later,” wrote the author, “every European heavyweight worth his salt has got to be tested by ‘Ol ‘Enry. And if the Spanish Lion could get past Cooper, well, then we’ll stamp him, ‘Approved’. But not until then!”

Urtain didn’t get past 36-year old Cooper. The Spaniard was constantly tormented and bashed by a slamming left jab that former challenger Billy Walker described as having the accuracy of a Greenwich Time signal. Jose came up for the ninth round, but his handlers pulled him out before another punch could be thrown. His right eye was shut and his nose was badly damaged.

After ‘Enry finally retired from the game, Urtain came again and regained the crown by stopping Jack Bodell in two rounds, but was then dethroned by old tormentor Juergen Blin.

Urtain was a game man and a thrilling puncher, but he was never the next superman of boxing. Nor was Mac Foster. Five months before Urtain was mauled by Cooper, Mac travelled from California to New York with a gleaming record of 24 knockout wins in as many fights to face his first acid test against Jerry Quarry. Chilling tales followed in Mac’s wake, such as the time he knocked Sonny Liston cold in a sparring session.

Quarry, it seemed, was the right opponent at the right time. He was glamorous, world ranked at number four, a box office smash, but perceived as “damaged goods” after his disappointing loss to Jimmy Ellis in the WBA knockout tournament. Ah, the best laid plans! It was big Mac who got damaged and badly so. Jerry wrecked him in six rounds.

“It has become the vogue to build fighters on weak stilts,” wrote ringside reporter, Dan Daniel.

Mac Foster and Jose Urtain gave us plenty of thrills for as long as the lasted, but they never disturbed the sleep of champion Joe Frazier. Now, sadly, all three men are sleeping. Jose died on July 21st, 1992 at just 49; Mac passed on July 19th, 2010, at 68; and Smokin’Joe, bless his glorious fighting soul, left us on November 7th last year at 67.

Mike Casey is the Founder & Editor of ALL TIME BOXING at He is a freelance journalist and boxing historian and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO).

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Jose Manuel Urtain Vs Peter Weiland.avi

Jose Manuel Urtain vs Jurgen Blin .avi

Henry Cooper vs Josè Manuel Urtain.mp4

Jose Manuel Urtain vs Gregorio Peralta.avi

Jose Manuel Urtain vs Jack Bodell.avi

Jose Manuel Urtain vs Juergen Blin ll

Jerry Quarry -VS- Mac Foster 1970 part 1

Jerry Quarry -VS- Mac Foster 1970 part 2

Jerry Quarry -VS- Mac Foster 1970 part 3

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  1. John 01:31pm, 12/04/2014

    Urtain and Bonavena would have been a good one. Better yet, Quarry vs. Bonavena. That one never quite came off. Ron Stander on a good night, in shape would have given Urtain all he could handle. Ask Earnie Shavers, whom Stander kayoed.

  2. NYIrish 10:50am, 09/14/2012

    Urtain ! Casey you really dig deep. The name rang a bell but I never saw him.
    I remember Foster though. He was a big strong guy that could fight. He was unfortunate enough to catch Quarry on a good night and got stopped. I saw Quarry stop Shavers in the first in The Garden. Quarry got hit and hurt first and then came back and pummeled Shavers to end it.
    Also saw Quarry outpoint Lyle in the Garden. He had Lyle on the ropes a few times but couldn’t get rid of him. Lyle had a hard head and a big heart.
    Thanks for the uncommon depth of history.
    Next time you want to dig off the beaten path how about something on Jimmy Slattery?

  3. peter 05:04pm, 09/13/2012

    Jose Urtain was quite a sensation. Boone Kirkman was yet another sensation. Kirkman vs Urtain would’ve been a great fight. I’d like to think Kirkman wins that one.

  4. Mike Casey 05:44am, 09/11/2012

    They were all that, pal!

  5. the thresher 05:43am, 09/11/2012

    Mike, in my view, they were woody poppers!

  6. the thresher 05:42am, 09/11/2012

    Magomed “Mago” Abdusalamov could fit this bill. He was semi-exposed by Jameel “Fossil” McCline and is a KO artist waiting to be KO’d.  Not so sure about Wilder, however.

  7. Mike Casey 05:41am, 09/11/2012

    Oh yes, Ted,  Jerry was wonderful to watch when he was in the right frame of mind. The taking apart of Foster, the masterclass against Lyle, the blow-out of Shavers - terrific!

  8. the thresher 05:39am, 09/11/2012

    “Lee Marvin destroyed tequila” I’ll steal that one, count on it!

  9. the thresher 05:38am, 09/11/2012

    Quarry did ruin Mac I believe. Quarry was a killer when he had his man hurt.

  10. Mike Casey 04:11am, 09/11/2012

    Yes, Nick, Foster was a class above Urtain. Thanks for the memory!

  11. nick 09:44pm, 09/10/2012

    I remember when I picked up The Ring magazine with Urtain on the front cover as I was on my way to Germany. I remember when I was there, I asked one of the German boy scouts who I was camping with on Corsica what they thought of Urtain. He told me that Urtain had already fought Blin, and that he was not all that impressed with Urtain. I remember when Mac Foster lost to Jerry Quarry. However, after having rewatched it on YouTube, he was a very good boxer, and perhaps was somewhat ruined by the Quarry loss. Certainly more credible than Urtain.

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