The Tragic Life of Alexis Arguello

Alexis LOS ANGELES (July 2, 2009) - by Dan Hunter - Photo: Courtesy WBC - I learned last night of the death of boxing legend Alexis Arguello. Coming as it has in the wake of the equally tragic deaths of pop icon Micheal Jackson and TV and film star Farah Fawcett, it is an uneasy and sad time for anyone who lived through and enjoyed the amazing decade that was the Eighties.

I am in my forties, and these three people were a part of my life, for very different reasons.

I remember Farah Fawcett, not just for the iconic Charlies Angels poster that apparently sold 12 million copies, but mainly because she surprised everyone who had dismissed her as talentless by proving she was actually a hell of an actress, first in the TV movie The Burning Bed, and then in the film Extremities, the latter earning her a Golden Globe best actress nomination.

Micheal Jackson was simply THE music phenomenon of my lifetime. And I´m a hard rock fan!

I was too young to remember the impact of The Beatles and Elvis, but I was very much aware of Jackson's all encompassing, record breaking achievements.

I know its a something of a cliché to say it, but some of his songs were genuinely soundtracks to parts of my life, as I would think they were to millions of others.

And then there was Alexis Arguello. ´´El Flaco Explosivo. `` The explosive thin man.

What a fighter. What a gentleman. His two wars with Aaron Pryor were cornerstones of Eighties boxing; just unbelievable intense, incredibly exciting bouts.

The Eighties was the most exciting decade of boxing that I have experienced as a fight fan so far in my lifetime.

Names like Leonard, Duran, Hearns, Hagler, Tyson, Holmes, Sanchez, Gomez, Saad Muhammad, Pryor all spring to mind. Alexis Arguello was of that ilk. He was a genuine superstar in boxing´s golden decade.

To any fight fan of the Eighties with intellectual delusions, Alexis Arguello was the fighter we wanted to be. He was pure class, both inside and outside the ring. He was intelligent and articulate. His boxing style was almost European with his upright stance, high defense, and steady jab. Not for him the bobbing, rock-em sock-em style favored by the South Americans and Mexicans that were his contemporaries. He was like a chess player in the ring. Alexis´ style was almost dull in comparison. I say almost, because Alexis Arguello had something else in his repertoire – he punched like a mule kicked. He could end a fight at any moment, with his vicious straight right, or with his lethal left hook.

He became a three time world champion at feather, junior-light and lightweight. The list of fighters he defeated reads like a who´s who of the great 70´s and 80´s little men.

Legra, Olivares, Escalera, Limon, Chacon, Boza-Edwards, Watt, Mancini, to name just a few. The bout with American Ray ´´Boom Boom`` Mancini was an exciting brawl that broke Arguello in the United States. American audiences saw first hand the Nicaraguan´s ruthless skills in the ring, and also his tremendous heart and compassion after his victory, when he embraced the battered Mancini and wished him all the best for the future, and all in perfect English.

Overnight, a superstar was born.

Ironically, he will be always best remembered for a defeat. His first fight with WBA junior-welterweight champion Aaron Pryor in 1982 was a huge event. Arguello was on course for a record breaking fourth title in four separate weight classes. The bout was the biggest in the history of the junior-welterweight division at that time. The pair split a purse of over three million dollars, a division record.

And what a fight it turned out to be. Pryor set a frenetic pace, and Arguello had to fight out of his comfort zone just to survive. The early rounds were all Pryor, but by the half way stage, Arguello was right back in the fight. Pryor had only boxed beyond ten rounds once before, but Arguello had done so ten times. In the thirteenth, Arguello hit Pryor with the punch of the fight, a booming straight right that rocked Pryor´s head so far back, for a split-second he was staring straight up at the ring lights. And yet Pryor still stayed on his feet.

Before the fourteenth round, Pryor´s trainer, Panama Lewis, did something that has gone down in the annals of the great ring controversies. Rejecting the usual water bottle he had been using on his fighter, he ordered his second to ´´give me the other one! The one I made up!``

And thus was born the great ´´black bottle`` theory, which is right up there with Roswell and the Grassy Knoll as conspiracies go.

Whatever was in that bottle, Pryor appeared suddenly energized, and stormed out of his corner to wage war. And just over one minute later, an unanswered volley of 24 punches to the head of Arguello left the referee with no alternative but to stop the contest.

Arguello had finished on his feet, but now slumped to the floor. If ever a man had given his very last ounce for the cause, it was Alexis Arguello that night.

He never really got over that loss, both as a boxer and as a man. There was a rematch with Pryor a year later, and once again it was a huge, action packed fight, this time ending in a tenth round defeat. Once again he had come up short in his quest for his fourth title. Once again he had lost to Pryor. There were two comeback attempts, the first a couple of years later, the second when he was in his forties.

When he turned his back on boxing, he had compiled an 82-8 record with 65 ko´s. He had held three world titles, and probably should held have held four.

To fight fans of the Eighties, Arguello was the epitome of class. He was solid, respectable. Above reproach. But like Micheal Jackson and Farah Fawcett, despite gaining the respect of his peers and the adulation of his fans, his life was beginning to unravel.

When he first quit boxing in the mid-eighties, he left Miami and returned to his native Nicaragua. Arguello took up arms and fought for the US backed Contra´s against the Sandinista s. Later, he switched sides and joined the Sandinista´s.

Disillusioned with retirement, he appears to have sought solace in booze, cocaine and women. There have been many, many stories that have appeared over the last twenty years of Arguello and his constant battle against his demons; many may be lies, but no doubt some were true. What always made it so hard to read was knowing what a classy human being he had been, and deep inside, still was. He appears to have battled depression for many years. As long ago as 1985 he told a Sports Illustrated reporter that he had contemplated suicide. Indeed, in the same interview he described how his father had been an alcoholic who had attempted suicide.

Amazingly, he turned his life around. He regained his self respect, and then the respect of others, so much so that late last year he was elected Major of his nation´s capitol, Managua.

For a man who was on the skids just a few years earlier, this should have been all the vindication he would need to see out the rest of his days.

But no.

The demons that had haunted him for most of his life hadn't really left him at all. They were merely sleeping.

And last night, they came to visit him one more time.

Alexis Arguello 1952 - 2009 R.I.P

Article posted on 02.07.2009

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