July 2, 2009

A MAN COULD DO A HECK OF A LOT WORSE...:

Alexis Arguello: Classy guest, man without a home: Ex-boxing champ Alexis Argüello found dead in Nicaragua (DAVID J. NEAL, 7/01/09, MiamiHerald.com)

For most of Alexis Argüello's life as a three-division world champion, ''home'' was a foreign concept. Yet few knew a classier guest, whether as a Nicaraguan exile living in Miami or as a boxer beating people up in places where ''hostile environment'' meant winning the fight only started the battle for survival.

That's the tidy summary. That covers much of what boxing fans in the 1970s and '80s knew of Argüello. Those Argüello memories spur today's coverage, including what you're reading now.

Few people are so two-dimensional. Almost by definition, such neatness falls incomplete when discussing a 57-year-old man who made and lost at least two fortunes; flip-flopped like a fish on the bottom of a hot canoe when it come to politics; had several marriages; and reportedly almost committed suicide in a 20-year span.

So, as it is with many athletes and entertainers whose public lives bleed over into the messy worlds of politics or crime, it comes down to if you separate or how you separate. What do you choose to remember best? Or do you remember it all and accept it for what it is?


It Was A Pryor Engagement (Pat Putnam, 11/22/82, SI)
Alexis Arguello's 38-foot yacht lay at its berth at the King's Bay Yacht Club near Miami, its name, The Champ, lettered in gold on its transom. Also in gold were three crowns painted beneath the name. "You notice how the crowns are centered," Bill Miller, Arguello's agent, pointed out last week. "There's room for two more, one on each side."

But last Friday night before 23,800 in Miami's Orange Bowl and a Home Box Office TV audience, WBA junior welterweight champion Aaron Pryor made sure there would be no more crowns for Arguello, at least not now. In one of the fiercest title fights in recent memory, he stopped Arguello's bid for the immortality of a fourth title at 1:06 of the 14th round with an attack so furious it left the 30-year-old WBC lightweight champ unconscious for four minutes.

In so doing, Pryor, a 27-year-old Cincinnatian, established a beachhead of respectability for himself. He has been something of a conundrum, a brooding, irascible man. Though he was 31-0 with 29 knockouts, Pryor felt he had been denied his full due.

In the meantime Arguello had become renowned for his boxing skills, his knockout punch and his gentlemanly behavior. Now he was trying to do what no one—not Henry Armstrong, Tony Canzoneri, Bob Fitzsimmons, Barney Ross or Wilfred Benitez—had done: attain the distinction of having won titles in four different weight classes. Of course, Armstrong had held the featherweight, lightweight and welterweight titles simultaneously. For that, Arguello, in exile from his native Nicaragua and living now in a Miami suburb, had dedicated this fight to the 69-year-old Armstrong, who was in the Miami crowd.

As planned, Arguello, who was getting $1.5 million to Pryor's $1.6 million, came out cool and composed, but like a snarling wolf Pryor was upon him. Stunned, Arguello did what he had warned himself not to do: He joined Pryor in the trenches. Early in the round Arguello caught Pryor coming in with a snapping straight right that met an iron chin. Slowed but for a moment, Pryor hammered Arguello with a flurry of rights. At the end of the first three minutes Pryor had thrown 130 punches, Arguello 108. It would prove to be Arguello's best round of the fight, and he had lost it.

There is an adage in boxing as familiar as the smell of liniment: When a puncher moves up in weight he can't bring his punch with him. Arguello had been devastating as a featherweight (126 pounds), a junior lightweight (130) and, of course, as a lightweight (135). But at 138� pounds to Pryor's 140, he may have made one jump too many. Time and again his right-hand rockets never fazed Pryor.

Moreover, Arguello was fighting Pryor's fight; his vaunted body attack was all but forgotten in his obsession with Pryor's head. Pryor's seemingly reckless style makes his head appear to be vulnerable, but he never stops bobbing and weaving. And his nonstop punching never permits his opponent to get set. If there's a better chin in the world than Pryor's, it has to be on Mount Rushmore. Twice Arguello caught him with crushing right hands in the second round. The first one caused Pryor to take a half-step back; the second, of the thunderbolt variety that had laid out so many of Arguello's 80 opponents, didn't even buy a blink. "That punch," Miller said later, "would have decapitated anybody else."

After the second round, Panama Lewis, Pryor's trainer, reached for one of two bottles in the corner and gave Pryor a slug. Later, Artie Curley, Pryor's cutman, would admit that the bottle contained peppermint schnapps.

"Aaron ate a big steak at 5:30," Curley said, "and then he took a nap. It made him burp all night. The schnapps was just to settle his stomach."


...than to be remembered for even his losing role in the Pryor/Arguello fight.


MORE:
Lowering The Boom Boom: Lightweight champ Alexis Arguello was too classy, too cunning and too much for 20-year-old Ray Mancini, who may have learned a valuable boxing lesson (E.M. Swift, 10/12/1981, SI)

Arguello is one of six men to have held world championships in three weight classes. At 29, he's at his peak: He's 16-1 in title fights—with 16 wins in a row—and has a 72-4 record. Still, last Saturday afternoon in an overcrowded ballroom in Bally's Park Place Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, Mancini gave Arguello all he could handle.

"I'm just glad it's over," Mancini said. "It takes a lot out of you—these championship fights." It had been a tense, emotional few days, and it showed. "The disappointment's going to hurt longer than these wounds. I wanted to win it for my father...." Mancini's voice cracked, and his eyes filled with tears. "I'm sorry I'm not acting like a professional," he said, trying to smile.

In a few minutes, Arguello arrived. He is a strikingly handsome man, a slim Omar Sharif, but now there was a cut on his left eyelid and a purple crescent beneath it. "It was the best fight so far this year, my friend," he said to Mancini. Then, to the press: "I think my heart is special. But his heart is bigger than I have."

Arguello is a gentleman as well as an estimable champion, and he knew Mancini's story well—how Mancini wanted to win the championship for his father, Lenny (Boom Boom) Mancini, who was drafted in 1942 before he could fight for the lightweight title and then sustained a shrapnel wound in WW II that ended any hope for a title. The elder Mancini attended Saturday's fight in a wheelchair because he was convalescing from a heart-bypass operation three weeks before. "After the fight I saw Mancini's father," Arguello said, "and I felt bad." Then, as if he needed to explain the thundering right hand that dropped Mancini and obliged Referee Tony Perez to stop the bout, Arguello added, "But it's my job." He sounded apologetic.

Shortly afterward, Mancini excused himself to be with his father, pausing to say, "This isn't the end of the story. This is the standard first chapter. I'll be back. I'm just sorry that...sorry for all the people...." His voice began to crack again.

Which was when the champion put an arm around Mancini and spoke to him as one would to a younger brother: "You don't have to be sorry. This is a better experience than any fight you've ever had. You'll be better for this." Mancini nodded, and with a roomful of eavesdroppers, Arguello told the kid about his first title fight, how he had lost by decision to Ernesto Marcel in February 1974 and had cried afterward, how he now drew on that experience and was a better boxer because of it. This took place about 15 minutes after Arguello had nearly taken Mancini's head off. When the champ was through, Mancini thanked him and everybody clapped. Quite a show.

Arguello was born in Nicaragua, but has lived in Coral Gables, Fla. the past three years because of political strife in his homeland. He held the WBA featherweight title from 1974 to 1976 and the WBC junior lightweight title from 1978 to 1980, and last June he won the WBC lightweight championship from Jim Watt of Scotland. He has designs on Aaron Pryor's WBA junior welterweight title, which would make him the first to win championships in four divisions. He has even talked about moving up two divisions to fight Sugar Ray Leonard for the welterweight crown. "I don't need $10 million or $20 million," he concedes. "Just one million." The $400,000 he made fighting Mancini was his largest purse. " Mancini's strengths are that he's in great shape, he throws a lot of punches, and he's very aggressive," said Eddie Futch, Arguello's trainer, before the fight. "He makes fighters hurry their punches. But it's hard to hurry Arguello. Mancini's never been hit by a fellow that hits as hard as this guy."

The key to the fight, according to both men, was whether Arguello's left jab could keep Mancini from moving inside, where he's most effective. Said Arguello: "I have the equipment to fight him any way he wants, but I know if I get close to him, I'm in trouble."

The other question was whether Mancini, who fights best at a whirlwind pace, would have the stamina to go 15 rounds. " Arguello has won most of his title fights in rounds 10 to 15," Mancini said before the bout. "I'm a 15-round fighter, he's a 10-round fighter," Arguello would explain after the fight. And to his great pain, Mancini was proof of that assertion.


His Pryorities Are In Order: Alexis Arguello KO'd Kevin Rooney and now has a date with Aaron Pryor (William Nack, 8/09/82)
The warning flags were out last Saturday afternoon, and no one in Atlantic City got the message more clearly than Aaron Pryor, the WBA junior welterweight champion. Pryor was at Bally's Park Place Casino Hotel because he has signed to defend his 140-pound title against WBC lightweight champion Alexis Arguello in late October or early November and wanted to study Arguello against Kevin Rooney.

Pryor got an eyeful as Arguello knocked out Rooney with a straight right hand so powerful that Rooney's head didn't clear until he got back to his hotel room almost an hour later. "What round?" Rooney asked his wife in the dressing room. "The second," she said.

"Better watch out for that right hand!" Roger Leonard, Sugar Ray's brother, called to Pryor after the fight.

"He better watch out for my right hand," Pryor said.

Teddy Brenner, who made this fight for Top Rank, said mischievously, "Aaron, you might have to train for this fight." Replied Pryor, "If I get hit with one of those right hands, I can forget it. But it'll be a challenge for him to make my bell ring."

Rooney was no challenge for the 135-pound champion, and for him the bell tolled loud and dolorously.


The Champion Of Confusion: WBA junior welterweight titleholder Aaron Pryor has everything in order in the ring, but outside of it, his life is a mess (Pat Putnam, 11/08/82, Sports Illustrated)
Pryor was born out of wedlock in Cincinnati on Oct. 20, 1955. Subsequently, his mother, Sarah Adams, married a man named Pryor, and Aaron took his stepfather's name. "Look," says Harold Weston, the Madison Square Garden matchmaker, "I've known Aaron a long time and he's a very warm, nice guy. But his whole world has always been right out there on the street corner. People look at Ray Leonard and say, 'Gee, he's got class.' But they look at Aaron Pryor and say, 'Christ, why does he act like that?' It's not his fault. It's the way he was brought up. He's reaching out for love and attention and so he does crazy things to get them."

Pryor would have you believe that his life began at age 13, the day he first walked into a gym. But at Great Gorge he cracked open the door to his earlier years. "I had four brothers and two sisters," he said, "but I had a different father from the others. I was the kid nobody paid any attention to. I was neglected and completely lost. Some nights I just said to hell with it and slept in a doorway somewhere. Wasn't anything at home for me anyway."

He was roaming the streets in 1968 when he wandered into a gym at the corner of 14th and Republic. Phil Smith, who trained amateur fighters, remembers, "He was just a scrawny little thing, but he said he wanted to be a boxer. I told Aaron to get in with a kid named John Howard. I wanted to see what Aaron had. Well, Howard knocked him out of the ring. But Aaron climbed back and took off after Howard. I knew I had something special.

"I never wanted him to knock anybody out. He was a beautiful boxer, beautiful moves, but he just couldn't help it, he kept knocking guys out. I told him, 'Aaron, if you keep knocking all these guys out you'll only get fights in the tournaments when they can't avoid you.' He was a great little kid, he really was. His only problems are girls and telling time."

Later Smith moved his boxers to Lincoln Center in downtown Cincinnati. "Our first night there some kid who had fought in the Golden Gloves the year before challenged Aaron," says Smith. "I told them, 'No, that's honky-tonk stuff. We don't need that in the gym.' So they went outside. Five minutes later Aaron came in. The supervisor came over and said, 'Hey, what's going on? One of your kids just beat up a guy outside.' So I told Aaron, 'Hey, cut that stuff out. You can go to jail for that.' Right then he quit street fighting altogether."

Frankie Sims was once Pryor's best friend, roommate and assistant trainer. "Aaron loves a challenge," Sims says. "I remember the time a girl where we lived was locked out of her apartment on the fourth floor, but she had left one of her windows open. To get up there you had to climb between two pillars and then swing over to reach a window. I went up but said there was no way I was going to let go of that pillar to swing to the window. So Aaron went up. I kept yelling for him to get down because if he fell he'd sure as hell break something. He yelled down, 'I'll be O.K. if you just let me alone.' Sure enough, he got in the window. It was just something he wanted to do because it was a challenge."

As Pryor's amateur career flourished, he was offered the challenge of international competition. His first trip was to Moscow. He had to lie about his age, change it from 16 to 17 to qualify. As an opponent he drew Valery Solomin, then rated No. 1 in the world at 132 pounds. The 29-year-old Solomin was considerably taller than the 5'6" Pryor and had had more than 300 fights with a 90% knockout ratio. During one round Solomin forced Pryor into a corner and fired a volley of 20 punches, all of which missed their bobbing and weaving target. The crowd stood and gave Pryor an ovation. He won the fight.

This is the contradiction in Pryor's life: erratic, antisocial behavior outside the ring and professionalism inside it. Rollie Schwartz, who supervised many of the U.S. teams' trips abroad, has followed Pryor's career almost from its start. "I've heard all the stories about him," says Schwartz. "But I have a great feeling for him because he represented the United States 21 times in international competition, always with honor and dignity. And he won all but one fight, and in that one he got shafted."

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 2, 2009 7:25 AM
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