Gavilan and Arguello Two Champ in and Out of the Ring!

By Ken Hissner - 02/08/2024 - Comments

In my writing for the past 17 years, I have met some outstanding fight people, from heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali to featherweight champ Willie Pep, and have had pictures with most of them.

Two that stand out and are favorites with signed pictures from each are former welterweight champion from Cuba Kid “The Cuban Hawk” Gavilan and from Nicaragua three division world champion Alexis Arguello.

Gavilan was known for his famous “bolo” punch that he developed while working the sugar can fields of Cuba. A right uppercut second to none. His career record of 108-30-5 with 28 stoppages was from 1943 to 1958.

Gavilan was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. He twice lost decisions to the pound-for-pound greatest boxer, “Sugar” Ray Robinson, then 87-1-1, in 1948 and 1949. When Robinson vacated his welterweight title after winning the middleweight title, Gavilan won the vacant title, defeating Johnny Bratton, 44-16-2, for the NYSAC and NBA titles.

When Gavilan defeated Billy Graham, 91-6-6, on October 29, 1951 he received worldwide recognition as the new champion. In November of 1950 he had defeated Graham by split decision after having lost a split decision to him in February.

I first met Gavilan at Muhammad Ali’s Deer Lake, PA, training camp as he served as a greeter as he did for Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas, NV. I would later meet with him in Harrisburg, PA, at his hotel room. I asked what he was currently doing and he said “I’m writing about Blinky Palermo and Fidel Castro. I said, “I hope you live to write about them!”

I had a ring encyclopedia record book under my arm and asked Gavilan if he had a copy of his record and he said he didn’t. He asked if he could borrow it and I told him I couldn’t, but seconds later said “But I will give it to you!” It was a copy of the two I had. That’s when he gave me a signed picture.

Palermo managed Johnny Saxton, 44-2, and was a known gangster and rumors before Gavilan’s fight with Saxton circulated Gavilan would need a knockout to win. All though 20 out of 22 ringside writers scored the fight for Gavilan, the decision and the title went to Saxton.

Castro on the other hand took away all of Gavilan’s property in Cuba when he took over the country without any payment given back to Gavilan.

On April 2, 1954, Gavilan challenged Carl “Bobo” Olson, 60-6, for the world middleweight title and lost a majority decision. I rewatched this at the Cus D’Amato Catskill, New York, residence in the bedroom of the then 17 year-old amateur boxer Mike Tyson and we both felt Gavilan was robbed. Jim Jacobs supplied those films and would later manage Tyson as a pro.

Gavilan was 26-2 when he made his USA debut on November 1, 1946, defeating Johnny Ryan, 20-24-1 by stoppage in 5 rounds at Madison Square Garden on an undercard. All of his previous fights had been in Cuba with the exception of four in Mexico.

Gavilan had back-to-back wins over former lightweight champion Ike Williams, 98-10-4, at MSG.

In October of 1981, I met Arguello when he was defending against Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, 20-0, whom he stopped in 14 rounds in Atlantic City, NJ. He told me, “I sat like this (legs stretched out in a chair with a military jacket on), not saying a word, just looking at Mancini as he busted through a pair of doors with his entourage.”

Arguello won the WBA World Feather title, stopping “ko artist” Ruben Olivares, 78-4-1, at the Form Inglewood, CA, and made four defenses. In January of 1978, he won the WBC World Super Feather title, stopping Puerto Rico’s Alfredo Escalera, 40-7-2, in Puerto Rico. Again, he stopped Escalera in his third defense in Mexico in the same thirteenth round.

Arguello followed with title defense wins over Rafael Limon, 43-8-2, Bobby Chacon, 42-4-1, Ruben Castillo, 43-0, and Rolando Navarrete, 36-6-3.

A pair of non-title wins for Arguello followed, stopping Cornelius “Bazooka” Edwards, 27-1, and defeating Jose Louis Ramirez, 67-2.

In June of 1991, Arguello won the WBC World Lightweight title, traveling to the UK and defeating their champion Jim Watt, 38-7. The Mancini fight was next. Four defenses followed over all by stoppage over Roberto Elizondo, 23-1, James Busceme, 27-3, and Andy Ganigan, 34-3. Then a non-title win stopping Kevin Rooney.

In November of 1982, Arguello attempted to win a fourth world division title against WBA World Super Lightweight champ Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor, 33-0, with the decision split by the judges at the time going into the fourteenth round when the trainer of Pryor, Panama Lewis said to his assistant “give me that bottle, no the other one. It was later said matchmaker Don Elbaum had made the mixture inside that seemed to give the fading Pryor enough energy to stop Arguello in the next round. There was no investigation of the contents of that bottle afterward. Ring Magazine called it “the fight of the decade.”

In Arguello’s next fight, he reversed a loss to Vilomar Fernandez, 27-9-2. In September of 1983, he was stopped in the rematch with Pryor. In February of 1986, he stopped former super lightweight champ Billy Costello, 31-1. He retired only to come back nine years later and split in two fights, ending with a 77-8 with 62 stoppages record. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

On July 1, 2009, it was said he died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the chest. I was told years later by an WBC official it was the San Danista’s in Nicaragua who murdered him.

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