Nicaraguan Alexis Arguello, world boxing legend, dies at 57

Alexis Arguello, 57, a three-time world champion boxer and national sports legend from Nicaragua, died July 1. Arguello was elected mayor of the country’s capital city of Managua last year from the current governing Sandinista Party. His sudden death is being investigated, but reports say it was a probable suicide. He was found in his home with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot to the chest.

Arguello became the featherweight world champion in 1974, later winning titles in the super featherweight and lightweight classes and eventually becoming just the sixth fighter in history to win titles in three weight divisions. Boxing fans worldwide admired him and his athletic brilliance made him a national hero in his native country. At his peak, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Arguello is remembered as one of the greatest boxers in the world. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992. He retired in 1995.

At his prime, he stood 5-foot-10, weighing in at 130 pounds. Nicknamed, “El Flaco Explosivo” (the Explosive Thin Man), in the ring he was a methodical tactician and fought with elegance and fury, many say.

His professional boxing career began at age 16. He won 82 fights (65 by knockout) and lost only eight. Arguello won 19 consecutive championship fights in eight years, including eight victories over former and future world champions.

Arguello is best remembered in one of the epic fights of his career against his nemesis Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor in 1982. Arguello was the reigning lightweight champion at 135 pounds and was attempting to win his fourth title against Pryor, an undefeated welterweight champion at 140 pounds.

During the fight Pryor had the upper hand early on, but Arguello endured and nearly knocked Pryor out in the 11th and 13th rounds. Pryor came back in the 14th with renewed energy pinning Arguello against the ropes, landing 23 unanswered punches before the fight was called. Arguello was unconscious for several minutes and lost the biggest battle of his career.

It was later revealed that Pryor’s trainer gave him some form of liquid from an unspecified bottle that escaped the view of boxing officials before the 14th round. Pryor’s trainer was later suspended for cheating in other fights.

Both Arguello and Pryor faced each other again in a 1983 rematch. Pryor dominated from the beginning, knocking Arguello down three times before the referee called the fight in the tenth round.

Over the years both Arguello and Pryor became close friends and often made trips together each June to the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Canastota, N.Y.

Arguello grew up on the streets of Managua where he quit school and started boxing at age 14.

“When I was poor, there was no way I could go to the university to be an engineer,” he said in 1981. “What was I supposed to do – be a bum? I had to box to help my family.”

Arguello’s 19-year-old brother was killed while serving with the Sandinista rebels in 1979. Soon after, the Sandinista revolution ousted dictator Anastasio Somoza and took control of the country. After the revolution, the victorious guerilla movement sweeping the country seized Arguello’s property and bank accounts.

Arguello moved to Miami and threw his support behind the U.S.-backed Contras against the revolution and did not return to Nicaragua until after the 1990 election and defeat of the Sandinista Party.

In 2005 Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista Party won the presidential elections. Ortega called Arguello and offered him a spot on the Party’s ticket as vice mayor of Managua. Arguello accepted and won. And in 2008 he was eventually elected Mayor of the city.

Although Arguello once bitterly opposed the Sandinista movement, he became a rising star in the current governing party. Last year he carried Nicaragua’s national flag in the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

Sources say Arguello publicly stated that he had struggled with depression and alcohol and drug use. It was in the boxing ring during the heat of battle where Arguello said he found his inner peace and solace. Arguello said he was a reincarnated gladiator.

A panel of experts assembled by the Associated Press voted Arguello the best junior lightweight of the 20th Century and sixth-best lightweight in 1999. He also ranked 20th on The Ring magazine’s list of the greatest punchers of all time.

Ed Brophy, executive director of the International Boxing Hall of Fame said to the Philadelphia Daily News, “Arguello 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 a friend.”

Bob Arum, the Top Rank founder who promoted many of Arguello’s bouts, added, “Alexis was one of the greatest fighters and world champions. He will be greatly missed.”