Monday, April 21, 2014

Alexis Arguello: The Explosive Thin Man Remembered

By Peter Silkov

Alexis Arguello was one of the most formidable and exciting fighters of his era.  He was also one of the most popular as well.  Arguello was known as ‘The Explosive Thin Man’ due to his wiry 5' feet 10" inch frame and the knockout punch that he carried in both fists. In addition to his punching power, Arguello was also an excellent ring technician, with a good jab, and precise punches.  Known for his coolness and patience in the ring, Arguello would take his time to work out his opponents and wear them down, before striking suddenly for the finish. 

Alexis Arguello was born in Nicaragua on April 19, 1952, and started boxing at the age of 16.  For the first six years of his career, Arguello learned his trade and began to form the technique and style that would ultimately take him to three world titles.  It wasn’t long before Arguello marked himself out as a serious contender for the world title. 

On February 16, 1974, Arguello was out-pointed by the crafty Ernesto Marcel for the WBA World Featherweight title.  Marcel then retired following his win over Arguello, and on July 9, 1974, Mexican legend Ruben Olivares won the vacant crown when he knocked out Zensuke Utagawa in 7 rounds.  Four months later on November 23, Arguello knocked out Olivares in the 13th round of a classic contest, to take the WBA World Featherweight championship.  Arguello soon showed that he was to be a formidable champion, defending his title four times in the next two years; he was also gaining popularity with the fans and media alike, for his gentlemanly demeanor out side of the ring.  In time, it was a persona that would make Arguello one of the most popular boxers of his time.

In 1977, Arguello vacated his featherweight title and moved up to the junior lightweight division; his 5' feet 10" inch frame no longer able to get him down to 126 pounds.  On January 28, 1978, Arguello won his second world championship when he traveled to Bayamon Puerto Rico and stopped Alfredo Escalera in the 13th round, and won Escalera’s WBC World Junior Lightweight championship.  For the next three years, Arguello dominated the 130-pound division, defending the title eight times against fighters such as Rafael ’Bazooka’ Limon, Bobby Chacon, Artuo Leon, Rolando Navarrate, as well scoring non-title fight wins over Cornelius Boza Edwards, and Jose Luis Ramirez.  During this time, Arguello was seen by many as one of the best fighters in the world pound for pound.  During this time, his only defeat was a point’s loss in a non-title bout to slippery Vilomar Fernandez in 1978; a reverse that Arguello would avenge some years later.

On June 20, 1981, Alexis became only the 6th man to win world titles at three different weights, when he out-pointed the skillful southpaw Jim Watt, capturing the WBC World Lightweight crown.  Now, Arguello was seen as an all-time great and his reputation was assured, but he had one more ambition for his career, to become the first man to win four world championships. The division above Arguello’s lightweight division was the light-welterweight, as this was the era in which dual world champions had unfortunately became the norm, and Arguello had his choice of champions to challenge for his historic 4th world title. 

The WBC champion was a capable, but unremarkable Leroy Haley, while the WBA champion was Arron Pryor, a mercurial box-fighter, who had become a sensation since winning his title two years before, and was widely regarded by both the fans and media as the best light welterweight in the world.  Never a man to take the easy route, or duck a challenge, Arguello chose to challenge the unbeaten, rising superstar, Arron Pryor.

The two men clashed on November 12, 1982, in what proved, to be possibly the greatest fight of the 1980’s, with its mixture of speed, science, and pure savagery.  After 14 rounds, fought at a pace that left the spectators exhausted, Pryor emerged the winner when he koed Arguello in the 14th round, with a blistering shower of punches.

It was Arguello’s first defeat in a world title fight since his debut challenge against Ernesto Marcel in 1974.

This was a controversial fight, as between the 13th and 14th rounds, with the fight still evenly poised, Pryor’s trainer Panama Lewis was overheard on TV asking to be given a specific water bottle ’the one I mixed’.  Pryor then went out in the 14th, seemingly rejuvenated and overwhelmed Arguello with a bombardment of over thirty punches.
It was never proven that anything illegal was in the bottle given to Pryor before the 14th round, but the rumours have always persisted to this day.  Some years later, Lewis was found guilty of tampering with the gloves of his fighter Luis Resto, before his fight with Billy Collins Jr., and was banned from boxing for life.

After his loss to Pryor, Arguello could still have gone on, challenged the WBC champion, and more or less guaranteed himself a 4th world title. This is the kind of route that most fighters would have taken then, and even more so today, but Alexis Arguello was not like that, either as a man or a fighter.  More than just wanting a fourth world crown, Arguello wanted to redeem himself against his conqueror Pryor.

The rematch took place ten months after their first fight, on September 9, 1983.  It was another exciting contest, but this time, Pryor was always in control and in the 10th round Arguello was knocked down, and although conscious, stayed down in a sitting position as he was counted out.

Something had gone out of Arguello with his defeats to Pryor and he announced his retirement.  Like so many others, Alexis found post-boxing life far more complicated than fighting in the ring and over the next few years suffered various problems, from divorces, depression, substance abuse, to financial problems.

By the mid-80s, Arguello was in financial difficulties and made a comeback, beating Pat Jefferson in 1985 and Billy Costello in 1986.  However, Arguello knew he was not the same and retired again. There would be two more fights, the last being in 1995, when a 43-year-old Arguello was out-pointed by Scott Walker.

Fighter’s lives often seem to get ever more darker and dangerous when they can no longer perform in the ring, but Arguello seemed to have weathered the storm and figured things out, just as he would do during his fights in the ring.  He entered politics in his native Nicaragua, and seemed to have found a purpose again in his life.  He was still popular, successful, and looked upon by many as a hero. Then, on July 1, 2009, Arguello was found dead, with a bullet wound to the heart.  Although the official cause of death was given as suicide, rumours have persisted that Arguello met his death due to foul play.

Alexis Arguello’s final record was 88(70koes)-8.  He is the only triple world champion to never lose any of his three titles in the ring.

Aaron Pryor Vs. Alexis Arguello November 12, 1982:

Copyright © 2014 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to and

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