Alexis Arguello: The Explosive Thin Man

Everybody knows I am no boxing expert yet I still enjoy watching good fights on TV. For some reason since this morning I’ve been feeling the sudden urge to write about a fellow Nicaraguan: the legendary boxer Alexis Argüello. I never had the pleasure to meet him in person but like every Nica I know exactly who he was. I always knew people said only but good things about him yet I was still moved by the messages of love and respect that many of his fans and friends have professed all over the internet, especially after his death.

He was born Andrés Alexis Argüello Bohórquez on April 19, 1952 in Managua, Nicaragua to parents Guillermo Argüello Bonilla and Zoila Rosa Bohórquez. His family was poor and they could not afford to pay his high school studies. Some say everything happens for a reason; being unable to study, at the age of 14 Alexis turned to boxing as his alternative for making something of himself.

His first trainer was Miguel Angel Rivas known as “Kid Pambele” who convinced Alexis that he would make it big. He started boxing at the amateur level in 1968 and even though his starts were very rough he reached a record of 58-2 with 48 KO; he then turned pro at the age of 16.

When he turned 21 he fought featherweight champion Ernesto Marcel in Panama. Marcel was a more experienced fighter who won the fight by unanimous decision. Although a bit sad for his loss Argüello continued to seek an opportunity for a world title. He had already accrued 4 wins in between fights. In 1974 he fought Mexican boxer Ruben Olivares in California. Olivares had won the WBA titled left by Marcel. Scorecards showed that by the 12th round Olivares was winning the fight. However the Explosive Thin Man came back in the 13th with a destructive left hook that made Olivares fall on the canvas. After the fight, out of sheer respect Argüello went to Olivares’ dressing room and got down on his knees and promised to defend the title with every drop of his own blood. He became the featherweight champion at age 22.

Argüello defended his title a few times until he decided to move up in weight division. He challenged Junior Lightweight champion Alfredo Escalera who had been very hyped up after the KO he performed to dethrone Kuniaki Shibata in just 2 rounds. They fought in Puerto Rico on January 28, 1978 and what a brutal fight it was. Escalera ended up with his ears, nose, and mouth busted out; Argüello finished him off in the 13th round. With 25 years of age, Argüello now held two world titles.

In 1981 he decided to challenge Lightweight champion Jim Watt. Argüello was able to win the fight by unanimous decision. Back then it was quite a feat to hold titles in 3 different weight classes and only a few fighters were able to achieve it. Some say that today this feat has been cheapened by the many weight divisions that have been created.

A year later Argüello tried to make history by becoming a champion in 4 world titles. He met young Aaron Pryor who stopped him from accomplishing such a goal. Pryor had been trying to get the attention he thought he deserved and was convinced that he wouldn’t let this opportunity walk away. Pryor started strong and even though the fight was marked as controversial due to a “mystery drink” that his trainer Panama Lewis gave him on the ring, Argüello never contested Pryor’s win. They fought a second time 10 months afterwards with Pryor winning again. Argüello went home very saddened by his losses and decided it was time for him to retire.

In 1992 Argüello was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. In 1996 Ring magazine rated him as the number one Junior Lightweight of all times and among the 20 best fighters of the last 80 years in 2002. In 2008 he was chosen to bear Nicaragua’s flag at the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing.

There was much more to Alexis Argüello than his boxing skills. It makes me feel great when I hear people stating that he was called “the ring’s gentleman” due to his respectful ways. He remained friends with Pryor after their fights. They would see each other several times a year.

After he fought and beat popular fighter Ray Mancini, Argüello went up to him to hug him and said “I love your father, that’s the most beautiful thing you have like I have my father; take good care of you, you’re going to be a good, good promise. And I promise if I can do something for you, let me know, please”. Argüello knew that Mancini’s father had his dreams of becoming a professional boxer shattered by an injury he suffered in WWII. He now had the hope that his son would live up to that dream.

Scotland’s fighter Jim Watt, who lost against Argüello in 1981, said the following about Argüello: “The hardest man I ever fought and one of the nicest men I ever met“. At an interview Watts also stated that Argüello always looked happy to see you, he always had a tremendous smile.

Argüello didn’t go back to Nicaragua for several years given that the Sandinistas seized all of his properties and assets when the revolution broke out. He made of Miami, FL his home for many years.

Even though Argüello had success and a family that loved him it seemed that there were times in life where he felt empty or perhaps with no purpose. A story published in 1985 by Sports Illustrated magazine reveals that Argüello had toyed with the idea of committing suicide in 1984. He sat on a boat with his son A.J. crying with a pistol next to him. His son begged him not to do it and he didn’t. He thought about the time in Managua when A.J. was just an infant, he felt an urge to sleep next to him. Minutes later an earthquake destroyed the capital city and the roof had collapsed on the empty bed. The whole story is available online, it’s 13 pages long but it’s definitely worth it to read it.

In recent years Argüello ironically became involved with the FSLN party which is directed by Nicaragua’s president Daniel Ortega. He was first elected vice-mayor of Managua and later in 2008 he won the mayoral election. Many say that he took the position because he wanted to be able to help the poor.

On July 1, 2009 Argüello was found dead in his home in Managua. Medical reports revealed that he had shot himself on the chest, the bullet penetrating his heart and killing him instantly. This came as surprise to Nicaragua and the world; a great human being had taken his own life. A lot of questions were made following his death and many hold theories of a murder conspiracy.

A memorial service was held for Argüello at the National Palace of Culture in Managua. The streets were flooded with cars and people who were trying to pay tribute to that great boxer of ours. His fellow friends and family flew to Nicaragua to give him the last good bye. His remains were later buried on July 3, 2009.

Bill Gallo, a cartoonist and newspaper columnist for the New York Daily News, was a very close friend of Argüello. He published a farewell to Argüello on the Daily News referring to him as “one of the greatest lightweights of all time [due to] his natural boxing talents, great punching power and his keen ability to adapt to any style of fighter he met.”

After learning about Argüello’s dead, Edward Brophy, Hall of Fame executive director stated “Alexis Argüello was a first-class fighter and a first-class gentleman. The Hall of Fame joins the boxing community in mourning the loss of a great champion and friend.”

Alexis Argüello was indeed a tremendous fighter with a heart of gold. Time will bring new fighters that will achieve new and perhaps better things, but let’s never forget the class, the spirit, and the humbleness that Argüello brought to this world.

Supporting sources: