Arguello Dies from Gunshot Wound

By Boxing News - 07/04/2009 - Comments

arguello3By Ian S. Palmer: The boxing world was concerned several years ago as news bulletins out of Nicaragua reported that ex three-time world champion Alexis Arguello had gone missing in his homeland on Christmas Eve, just weeks prior to starting his newly-elected position as vice mayor of Managua. People who know the troubled history of “El Flaco Explosivo” (The Explosive Thin Man) were worried the personal problems he tackled years ago may have once again taken over his life.

Although details and confirmation were hard to come by, Arguello’s adviser William Aguirre later released a statement announcing Arguello was tired and busy, but fine and just needed some time off.

However, the news that broke on July 1st 2009 would have no happy ending. Arguello had been found dead of a single gunshot wound to the chest at his home in Managua, the city he had been voted mayor of in November 2008. Foul play hasn’t been ruled at the moment and neither has suicide. Whatever happened in the early morning hours of July 1st may never be known, but what is known, is that the boxing world lost one of its greatest ever ambassadors.

Although Arguello retired from boxing in 1995, in reality he never stopped fighting. His resume shows he’s one of the best ever to lace up a pair of gloves and includes an amateur record of 58-2, 48kos and a pro record of 82-8, 65kos. He faced 14 world champions, knocking out 10 of them, going 19-3 with 17kos in world title fights and became the first fighter to win titles in three different weight divisions and not lose any of them in the ring. As a fighter he had it all, height, reach, power, patience, precision, speed, and good chin along with Omar Sharif – matinee idol good looks. When his name is mentioned in boxing circles, though, the word usually associated with him was “class.”

In an often brutal sport, Arguello was one of boxing’s finest ambassadors, forever carrying himself with elegance, sportsmanship, politeness and dignity and was idolized by fans and fellow fighters alike. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992 and although he’s a ring legend, Arguello definitely faced the toughest battles of his life outside of the ring.

Arguello was born into poverty on Apr. 19, 1952 in Managua, and after having one too many street fights learned the art of boxing from his brother in law when he was 13. At 14, he left school with reportedly only a third grade level education and concentrated on perfecting his boxing skills. When he turned 16, he decided to turn pro and made his debut on Aug. 1st 1968. Arguello soon found out fighting in a ring was quite different than fighting in the street and was knocked out in the first round by Cachorro Amaya, who was also making his pro debut.

This didn’t discourage Arguello and three months later he was back in the ring, putting together three victories before losing again, this time on points. Many fighters might have packed it in right then and there and Arguello may have been thinking exactly that as he didn’t fight again for 15 months but the youngster stuck with it and ran off 20 straight wins and winning 33 of his next 34 fights. He was also developing some power as he won 28 of them by knockout.

It was towards the end of this streak that Arguello would suffer a taste of the hardships to follow as Nicaragua was hit with a massive earthquake, destroying most of Managua, killing about 10,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless, including Arguello.

Life went on and his career continued. He got his first title shot for the WBA featherweight crown against Ernesto Marcel in Panama City on Feb. 16, 1974. It was Arguello’s 40th bout and his first fight outside of Managua. Although he entered the ring with an impressive record of 36-3 it was a huge step up in class for Arguello as 20 of his first 39 opponents were making their pro debuts and 14 others entered the ring against him with less than eight fights under their belt.

Three of his opponents, however, had 324 previous fights between them, so it was an odd period of matchmaking as Arguello was fighting either novices or highly experienced boxers; only five of his 39 opponents had winning records though. Marcel entered the ring with a 41-4-2 record and it was another losing, but learning experience for Arguello as he lost a 15 round unanimous decision to the Panamanian, who retired after the fight.

Arguello headed back to Managua and fought four times in five months before being paired with the new WBA featherweight champ Ruben Olivares on Nov. 23rd at the Forum in Los Angeles. Olivares of Mexico was a former bantamweight champ with tremendous power and entered the ring with a record of 77-4-1. It was Arguello’s second shot at a world title in 1974 and this time he succeeded with a dramatic come from behind left hook knockout in the 13th round.

Boxing was a different sport at the time and although Arguello fought nine times in the 19 months after winning the belt only four of them were title defenses, all by KO, including a fifth round stoppage over Royal Kobayashi in Japan. It was common for champions to fight every two or three months, sometimes against lesser opponents as a way to stay sharp and in shape.

In mid 1976, Arguello was having difficulty making weight as a featherweight so he relinquished the title and moved up to junior lightweight, reeling off seven knockouts in a row before meeting WBC champ Alfredo Escalera in the rain in Puerto Rico on Jan. 28th, 1978. It was a brutal fight and the tide had turned in Escalera’a favor after Arguello started well by decking him in the second round, but Arguello regained the momentum once for all with another 13th round KO and was ahead on all the scorecards at the time.

As a junior lightweight, Arguello fought 11 times in the next two years, with eight of them being title defenses against the likes of Bazooka Limon, Bobby Chacon, Ruben Castillo, Rolando Navarrete and another 13th round KO in a rematch with Escalera. It was during this time though, that Arguello tasted defeat for the first time in 26 fights and four and a half years as he experimented at lightweight and lost a 10 round decision to Vilomar Fernandez in July, 1978.

Arguello suffered more personal tragedy in 1979 after a revolution took place in Nicaragua and following a brief civil war the Sandinista National Liberation Front ousted Anastasio Somoza from power and was now in control of the devastated country. During the fighting one of Arguello’s brothers was killed. Arguello, however, appeared to support the Sandinistas when they first ousted the dictator Somoza and in his 1979 defense against Bazooka Limon he could be seen holding a Sandinista flag in the ring. The Sandinistas soon seized Arguello’s houses, cars, property and other possessions and he fled to Miami where he gained the admiration of the city’s Cuban population by publicly opposing the Sandinista government. The Sandinistas, aware of Arguello’s popularity and power, banned the use of his name as often as they could in his homeland.

In mid 1980 Arguello gave up his Jr. lightweight title and moved up to lightweight with his first fight being an eighth round TKO over tough African Cornelius Boza Edwards. After a couple of more fights to get used to his new weight Arguello traveled to London, England, on June 20th, 1981 to challenge Jim Watt, the solid but unspectacular WBC champ, and with a solid but unspectacular unanimous decision Arguello left Britain with his third title in different weight classes and became just the second Latin American to accomplish the feat, barely a month after Wilfredo Benitez had become the first to do it.

His first defense came four months later against up and coming American, 20-0 Ray “Boom Boom” Mancici on national US television. It was a dramatic and entertaining bout with both men trading bombs and Mancici trying to win the title for his ailing father Lenny, a former lightweight contender in the 1940s. Mancini gave it his all but Arguello was ahead on all the scorecards and dropped Mancini with a right in the 12th and ended the bout with a beautiful combination in the 14th round. It was this fight and the television interview after it that started the boxing public’s love affair with Arguello, especially the American fans.

With the two fighters hugging in the ring and Mancini’s father watching in tears, Arguello, as usual, had nothing but praise for Mancini and said to him, “Ray, I hope I never have another fight this hard. There is no doubt in my mind you will become a champion. I know how bad you wanted to beat me and win the title for your father but you and he have nothing to be ashamed of. You fought like a champion because inside, you are one.” Seven months later Mancini was the WBA lightweight champion of the world and had this to say about Arguello. “He does everything with class. He moves with class. He is more of a champion than any man I’ve ever known or heard about, besides my father.”

With momentum on his side and a solid fan base in the US, Arguello went on to defend his title three more times on national TV before giving up yet his third belt and aiming to become the first boxer in history at the time to win titles in four weight divisions by challenging 31-0, Aaron Pryor, the WBA junior welterweight king. The fight took place in front of over 23,000 fanatics at the Orange Bowl in Miami on Nov. 12th, 1982 and was shown on closed circuit television around the world. In one of boxing’s all time classic bouts, Arguello and Pryor went toe to toe for 13 grueling rounds before it was finally stopped with Arguello laid out cold on the canvas in the 14th round. Pryor was ahead on two of the judges cards at the time.

The fight itself wasn’t controversial until a few weeks later when it was re shown on television. In the 12th round Arguello appeared to have Pryor ready to go and after the round Pryor’s trainer Panama Lewis could be seen on videotape giving Pryor a mysterious black bottle to drink from and called it the special bottle he had mixed. After drinking it Pryor came out like a house on fire and ended the fight a few minutes later. It’s highly unlikely that anything could have given Pryor such an immediate burst of energy but it became a highly debated issue and the WBA ordered a rematch.

Less than a year later Lewis was found guilty of removing most of the padding from his fighter Luis Resto’s gloves as Resto battered his opponent Billy Collins Jr. over 10 rounds causing serious damage to him. Collins eventually lost his eyesight and committed suicide soon after at the age of 22. Lewis spent a year in prison and was permanently banned from boxing in the US while Resto served two and a half years in prison and was also banned from boxing for life.

There were also rumors floating around that the Sandinistas wanted to kill Arguello before or during the Pryor bout and that an armed man rushed Arguello in his dressing room before the fight and he only avoided death when his handlers pushed him into the shower out of harm’s way. This incident has been reported on many creditable websites but has never been confirmed however.

To stay in shape before the Pryor rematch, Arguello avenged his loss to Vilomar Fernandez with a 10 round decision and KO’d Claude Noel in three. Arguello and Pryor fought another epic battle on Sept. 9th, 1983 in Las Vegas. Again it was an amazing fight with both men landing heavily and again Arguello was stopped, this time in the 10th round. His fans will never forget the famous image of him sitting dejectedly on the canvas as the referee stopped the fight. After the bout Arguello announced his retirement from boxing.

The loss affected Arguello deeply and he wandered aimlessly for the next two years, he picked up an M16 rifle in 1983 and briefly joined the contras, a counter revolutionary group, to fight the Sandinistas in the jungles of Nicaragua. He also started to take drugs and drink heavily but snapped out of his haze and returned to the ring in 1985 and showed he still had his boxing skills as he stopped Pat Jefferson in five rounds and former world champion Billy Costello in four. After the Costello fight Arguello retired again and didn’t return to the ring again until eight and a half years later at the age of 42. He fought and won on points in 1994 and lost a split decision on Jan. 21st, 1995, in his last fight ever, at least in the ring.

As with many boxers, Arguello had a tough time facing the fact his career was over and became addicted to alcohol, drugs and sex. His antics made many rock stars look like choirboys and the public was shocked to see such a classy individual dragged down by his dependencies. The drugs and alcohol were bad enough and Arguello realized they were killing him but he didn’t care as he seemed to have a death wish in the mid to late 1990s and often spoke about killing himself, which he once did on a syndicated radio boxing show. He also told a Nicaraguan reporter he wanted somebody to administer a lethal injection to him to put him out of his misery.

He suffered many bouts of depression and was deeply troubled over many matters, he accused the Sandinistas of personally keeping American money sent to aid Nicaragua, and was upset at not be able to fight anymore. He also missed the spotlight and the fan’s adoration, as it was the only life he knew. He also felt shame over his addictions and felt he had let his countrymen down as he knew he was looked up to by them. He was in trouble and many boxing people knew it and raised money to get him to check into the Betty Ford clinic in California but he refused the help and rehabilitation. Arguello’s family also became worried as he was selling off his possessions to fuel his habits.

One incident, however, suddenly brought Arguello back to reality when he was drinking and doing drugs at a party in Managua with his future wife Alicia. Arguello described the event to ESPN boxing writer Tim Graham, “I almost killed my lady. I choked her. We were dancing and having some drinks at a company party I had been invited to. We left, but I wanted to keep drinking, and she didn’t want me to. So I pushed her. And she came back at me mad, and I grabbed her by the throat. When that happened, I said that was it. I spent two weeks with sorrow in my heart for that. That scared the crap out of me. She went to the press, but I appreciated that because I realized that was not the thing to do.”

This woke Arguello up and shortly after he spent two months in rehab, where he also realized he was possibly addicted to sex, often cheating on his wives and girlfriends. Arguello said he had fought off all of his inner demons, but when he went missing at Christmas time several years ago it was feared they had come back to haunt him. But when his adviser William Aguirre stated to the press that Arguello was safe and sound he specified Arguello wasn’t drinking again.

Arguello led a turbulent life and it all seemed to come full circle when he moved back to Nicaragua where he ran a boxing gym. His daughter Dora Maria married boxer Ricardo Mayorga, he became the best of friends with the man who knocked him out twice, Aaron Pryor, and perhaps the strangest turn of all was Arguello once again publicly supported the Sandinistas, the same people who took his possessions and who he fought against in 1983.

The feats Arguello accomplished in the ring are part of boxing history and can never be taken away from him, but they paled in comparison with his fight to survive, and although he once lost his will to live, he realized he had to get up off the canvas and fight back before he became just another statistic, which sadly happened on July 1st.

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