Sunday, November 22, 2015

When Greatness Collides: Ruben Olivares vs. Alexis Arguello

By Peter Silkov

“I was caught cold with that first shot. No, I have no excuses. I thought I was winning the fight, but things are never over until the final bell. I don’t know what else I can say.” Ruben Olivares.

“I was fighting for my life. Olivares hurt me in the 8th, 9th and 10th rounds. I felt like I might go down in the 10th. This is a very happy and proud day for my country and myself.” Alexis Arguello.

When Alexis Arguello 35-4-0 challenged Ruben Olivares 78-4-1 for his WBA world featherweight championship on November 23, 1974, it was a clash of two boxing greats at opposite ends of their careers. Mexican Olivares at age 27 was already a legendary figure, having been an outstanding World bantamweight champion before moving up to capture the featherweight crown. The colourful Olivares lived fast, both in and outside the ring, with a rock and roll all-action fighting style, which at his best, had made him seemingly invincible for a time. Although he was the reigning WBA world featherweight champion, it was generally considered that Olivares was already a little past his best, the aura of invincibility that he had carried early on in his title reign at bantamweight, had been punctured by defeats to Chucho Castillo, Rafael Herrera and Art Hafey. The invincibility that had taken Olivares to a record of 61-0-1 before his first career defeat had become coloured by an unpredictability, which ironically, had only added to his popularity with the fans.

Despite Olivares’ vulnerability, he was still an extremely formidable fighter and his opponent, Arguello, entered the ring at the Inglewood Forum, a clear underdog. Arguello was 22 years old, and had battled his way into title contention since turning professional at the age of 16 in 1968. Arguello had the reputation of being a rangy box-puncher, and had lost a previous bid for the WBA world title when he had been out-pointed by Ernesto Marcel nine months previously. No one knew that Alexis Arguello was destined for a greatness of his own. This fight with Olivares would prove to be Arguello’s first step to ring immortality.

The match was given an extra intrigue as both men had previously sparred together in 1971. Olivares must have remembered those sparring sessions as he entered this fight in good shape and taking his young challenger very seriously.

The match started off with both men boxing cautiously, each aware of the ability of the other. Arguello shaded the first two rounds with his long left, but Olivares was boxing well himself, and showing his often underrated boxing skills as he looked for openings. In the third round, the action heated up as the champion began going for Arguello’s thin body, and the two started to engage in some thrilling punch for punch exchanges. By the middle rounds, Olivares had gained the upper hand and seemed to be in control of the action, as he used some good movement to move in and out of range, and launched two-fisted attacks at the challenger’s head and body. However, Arguello was still in the match and made every round close as he sought to counter Olivares attacks, but the Mexican’s punches seemed to be too many and too varied for the Nicaraguan challenger to overcome. Ruben had especially good rounds in the 8th to 10th rounds, as he seemed on the verge of overpowering his young challenger. Yet, in a preview of the ability that would make him a triple weight world champion over the next 6 years, Arguello kept his boxing together under Olivares’ attacks, and continued to counter with well-timed punches of his own.

By the 11th round, Olivares was displaying some signs of slowing down, wearying from his own frenetic pace and the youth and pinpoint counters of his challenger.

In the 12th round, a right hand from Olivares seemed to stagger Arguello and drive him into the ropes. The champion responded by launching a furious two-fisted assault upon Arguello, designed to end the contest then and there. Instead of finally folding up, Arguello lashed back with punches of his own, so that by the end of the round it seemed to be Olivares who was in trouble rather than Arguello.

This became clear in the 13th round. As the boxers resumed the action, Arguello dropped the champion with a left uppercut, which only traveled a short way, but had a big impact. Olivares dropped heavily to the canvas, but managed to beat the count, and after a slight delay to have his gum-shield replaced, was ready to continue. Some fighters might have sought to hold for dear life at this point, and ride out the storm until their head had cleared, and some fighters may have choose to retreat until the rescuing chimes of the bell ending the round. Not Ruben Olivares, he just headed straight back into battle with Arguello, and an explosive combination from “El Flaco Explosivo” (The Explosive Thin Man) dropped Olivares once more. This time his eyes were bleary, and he shook his head repeatedly as he got himself up to his knees, and then staggered to his feet, just after the referee had counted to ten.

It was a dramatic conclusion to what had been a tense and stirring battle from start to finish. As great fights go, this tends to be one of the more overlooked classic fights.

There were still some more nights of greatness to come for Olivares, just seven months later he would win the WBC world featherweight championship by beating Bobby Chacon in 2 rounds. For Arguello, it was the start of a long period of success that would see him reign unbeaten in three divisions, until finally Arron Pryor would beat him in 1982 when trying for a record 4th world’s championship. By then Arguello’s own greatness was already well and truly sealed.

Ruben Olivares and Alexis Arguello’s 1974 clash is a fascinating example of two great fighters meeting each other at opposing periods of their careers, and putting together a fight to remember.

Watch the fight:

Copyright © 2015 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to

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