Last week, the boxing world lost one of its greatest ambassadors in Alexis Arguello. In a sport mired in corruption and cruelty, Arguello always stood out as a gentle soul who positively touched the lives of anyone he came in contact with. In this weeks column, I take a look back at the legendary career and life of The Explosive Thin Man, Alexis Arguello.
Like many fighters from Latin America, Alexis Arguello was thrown to the wolves early and forced to learn the sweet science on the job. After turning pro at a mere 16 years old in 1968, he was promptly blasted out in one round in his professional debut. 3 fights later, Arguello was again on the losing end, dropping a 6 round points decision.
But the young pugilist remained diligent, and racked off a record of 33-1 over the next 6 years, which earned Arguello his first title shot against WBA featherweight champ Ernesto Marcel in February 1974. The aged champ proved too wily for the still learning Arguello, who was outfoxed to a unanimous decision loss. Undaunted, Alexis went right back to work and scored 4 wins (3 by knockout) in the same year, which earned him another shot in November for the WBA title, as Marcel had retired.
The man standing in his way this time was Ruben Olivares, a featherweight warrior and future hall of famer with a record of 77-4-1. Arguello again looked to be in trouble as Olivares jumped out to an early lead behind his hard counterpunching on the inside. However, Arguello never wavered in stalking Olivares, and ended the Mexicans night with 2 knockdowns courtesy of a crushing left hook and right uppercut in the 13th round. For the first time, Alexis Arguello was now a world champion.
The Champ Is Here
From 1974-1977, Alexis Arguello lived up to his nickname of El Flaco Explosivo (The Explosive Thin Man). He defended his featherweight title 4 times, winning all by knockout. Additionally, he went 12-0 in exhibition bouts.
By 1978, Arguello had outgrown featherweight, and moved up to super featherweight (130 lbs) to challenge dangerous WBC champ Alfredo Escalera.
The fight was highly anticipated, particularly in Latin America, as Arguello and Escalera were Nicaraguan and Puerto Rican respectively. The bout was held in Escaleras backyard (Bayamon, PR), and would go on to be nicknamed The Bloody Battle of Bayamon.
The first half of the bout was competitive, with both men stunning each other with combinations. But Arguello proved to be the harder puncher, and was taking a heavier physical toll from Escalera when the two combatants went to war. After 10 career-shortening rounds, Escalera had a broken nose, and severe, dripping cuts in his mouth and over his eyes. The battered champ staged a comeback in the 11th and 12th, but was ultimately TKOd after the referee stopped the bout due to Escaleras injuries.
At 130, Arguello solidified himself as one of the top 3 fighters all time at that weight. Among his KO victims were Bobby Chacon, Rafael Bazooka Limon, and Alfredo Escalera in a bruising rematch, where Arguello scored the knockout after receiving face lacerations that required plastic surgery.
In 1981, Alexis moved up to his 3rd weight class to challenge Jim Watt for the WBC lightweight title. Arguello took the crown by a rare 15 round decision, and became the 2nd Latin American and 6th overall fighter to win world titles in 3 weight classes. With Roberto Duran gone from the division, Arguello struggled to find elite, high profile opponents to test his skills.
But in his first defense, the Nicaraguan had a memorable battle with well-known, undefeated American prospect Ray Boom Boom Mancini. The fight was a war from the opening bell. Although he was clearly outgunned, Mancini refused to give up until a crushing straight right separated him from his senses in round 14. The post-fight interview was one of Arguellos defining moments, as the world witnessed him consoling a heartbroken Mancini and promising to do everything in his power to help his career going forward.
After making 3 more defenses, Alexis Arguello again focused on achieving history by ascending to a higher weight class in junior welterweight, and becoming the first man to win world titles in 4 weight classes. But there was one man who stood in his way Aaron Pryor.
Waging War With Pryor
Since Aaron Pryor only held the WBA version of the 140 pound championship, Arguello couldve easily selected a safe opponent to win another belt. But the Explosive Thin Man recognized that Pryor was considered the man in that division, and wanted to achieve history against the best fighter possible.
The two met in 1982 at the Orange Bowl in Miami. The aggressive Pryor immediately pounced on Arguello, bullying the challenger around and abusing him with an endless barrage of punches. Arguello fired back, but in his 4th weight class, he found his normal firepower only made Pryor angrier, and prompted the underrated champ to apply even more pressure.
By the championship rounds, a bloody and fading Arguello was behind on the scorecards. It looked bleak until Arugello viciously snapped back Pryors head with his trademark straight right. For the first time, Pryor was visibly stunned and slowed down his assault. The crowd erupted even louder for Arguello, the sentimental favorite. The round ended before Arguello could adequately capitalize, and it appeared that the Nicaraguan had a shot to the take the bout in the final 2 rounds.
However, Pryor trainer Panama Lewis was seen asking his corner team to give him a black bottle that was mixed with an unknown substance. Corners are only allowed to use water, and the bottles substance reinvigorated Pryor, who blazed out at the start of the 14th the same way he did in round 1. A startled Arugello was hurt badly early in the round, and was rendered helpless against the ropes as Pryor rained down flush shot after flush shot until the referee stopped the contest. The classic bout was mired by the black bottle controversy, and both men agreed to a rematch the following year.
Having fought in over 70 bouts and competing in his 4th weight class, Alexis Arguello was no match for a prime Aaron Pryor. The rematch was much more lopsided although Arguello had his moments. In the 10th, Arguello was again hurt against the ropes and decided to stay down after a knockdown.
He would fight just 4 more fights over the next 12 years before retiring for good in 1995.
The Final Round
Starting in the 80s, Arguello became involved in the politics of his native Nicaragua. He first fought in the guerrilla war against the Sandinista National Liberation Front before joining them in 2004 to run for vice-mayor of Managua. He won the election, and just last year became mayor of Managua after securing 51% of the vote.
Despite the appearance of an easy going man, Alexis Arguello struggled with drug addiction and depression. In a candid Sports Illustrated interview, the boxing legend verified that he contemplated suicide. Reports would occasionally come out of Nicaragua of Arguello disappearing for weeks on end, and various occurrences of drug relapse.
Recently, there had been questions about Arguellos close mayoral win, with some accusing there was a corruption scandal. While Arguello remained extremely popular in his homeland, he struggled to deal with the pressures of politics and his own personal demons.
On July 1, 2009, Alexis Arguello shot himself through the heart. He was 57 years old.
The tragic news shocked the boxing world. Friends such as Roberto Duran just sobbed at the news, reflecting the bond he shared with his fellow all time great.
Although the end was filled with pain and sorrow, Alexis Arguello made millions of people happy throughout his tenured career as a boxer. In death, he remains a revered figure in his homeland, and an example of class and dignity to upcoming fighters.
Rest in peace, champ.
Alexis Arguello (1952-2009)
Member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame
3 Time World Champion at Featherweight, Super Featherweight, and Lightweight
Ranked #20 on RING Magazine's Top 100 Punchers of All Time
Final Record 82-8, 65 KOs
Weekend TV Fight Pick
Vic Darchinyan (32-1-1, 26 Kos) vs. Joseph Agbeko (26-1, 22 KOs), IBF Bantamweight Title (Showtime Network)
Prediction: Darchinyan TKO 10