The new BMW glides through the Sunday afternoon affluence of King's Bay in South Miami, past trailered vee-hulls on the driveways, the swimming pools glimpsed beyond well-watered lawns. The young woman at the wheel steers sedately; beside her, her husband is bottle-feeding their year-old son.
An unremarkable sight, except that, even in this day and age, it is a touch disconcerting to see a mustachioed Latin boxeador—the WBC lightweight champion, with two other world titles behind him and the prospect of an unprecedented fourth before him—behave in such a suburban, contented, un-macho way. Even the mustache belies the stereotype. It's full but carefully trimmed, soldierly, disciplined, without the animal anarchy of the Roberto Duran model. And when the family dines at the King's Bay Country Club, one notices the man's pleasant courtesy toward the staff and his guests, with no hint of the imperial style of other champions. But though he is more serious than most 30-year-olds, he's playful enough to slip baby Roberto a lemon slice, the sourness of which makes the child frown—and then be swiftly chastised by Loretta, his wife.
Make no mistake, however. This civilized young suburbanite, Alexis Arguello—late of Managua, Nicaragua, now of King's Bay and its country club—is the most destructive puncher, the most accomplished boxer, in the world. He's also the most undeservedly neglected. Despite his 74-4-0 record, no one has seen fit to package him for the media, as Sugar Ray Leonard has been. He lacks the carefully orchestrated menace of Marvin Hagler, or even the juvenile, but quotable, conceit of Wilfred Benitez. He doesn't even have a nickname in the U.S., though in Managua they used to call him Flaco—Skinny. Nonetheless, now, in the slow word-of-mouth way by which a fine restaurant or a good play becomes known, the message is getting through.
Smith & Wollensky's restaurant on East 49th Street, New York City, Dec. 3, 1981: A crowd of boxing writers, promoters and savants has assembled to honor The Ring magazine's choice of the eight best current titleholders, and one by one the fighters come up to receive their awards. There is warm applause for Hagler, for Leonard, for Wilfredo Gomez. But when Arguello comes forward, the sophisticated audience rises to give him a standing ovation.
Matchmaker Teddy Brenner, before Arguello's third defense of his WBC lightweight title, Feb. 13, against Bubba Busceme: "Arguello is the greatest boxer in the world. He's ahead of Thomas Hearns and Ray Leonard in ring generalship and power. He has two great punching hands, and he's as dangerous in the 15th round as in the first. He's thinking all the time. He could lose six of the first eight rounds, but he has planned the fight and his recovery and it almost always ends in a KO. He's the complete professional."
Such tributes sound exaggerated, but statistics bear them out. Arguello, who had his first pro fight at 16 years of age, has 60 KOs among his 74 victories. Thirty-six of them came in the first three rounds. That he has held three world titles places him in the select company of Bob Fitzsimmons, Henry Armstrong, Barney Ross, Tony Canzoneri and Benitez. Of his 18 world-title fights, he lost only one, his first, when, as a 21-year-old, he left Managua for a fight for the first time and lost on a decision. He has never been knocked out.
"With Alexis, you have a choice," says Jimmy Jacobs, the manager of Benitez, the WBC junior middleweight champion. "You can go in the middle rounds, as he chose with Busceme, or you can go a little slower, when he boxes you to death over the distance, as he did Jim Watt."
Consider also that all his title fights, almost all of his important defenses, have been won in the teeth of baying crowds, some as far away as London and Tokyo.
"Alexis never had an easy fight," declares Don Kahn, the sprightly Puerto Rican who is Arguello's semipermanent houseguest and his trainer-in-residence, though Eddie Futch takes over close to a fight. "Always in the wrong hometown."
Los Angeles, where Arguello won the featherweight (126-pound) title from Mexico's Ruben Olivares in 1974, isn't in Mexico. But that Saturday night it might as well have been. When he went up to 130 pounds and beat WBC junior lightweight champion Alfredo Escalera in January 1978, it was before a hostile crowd of 17,000 of the latter's countrymen in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Last summer he challenged Watt of Scotland for his lightweight crown in London's Wembley Arena, where only nine months earlier the crowd had rioted after Hagler's defeat of England's Alan Minter.
Arguello is that rarest of birds, an old-fashioned sportsman who refrains from hype and from bad-mouthing opponents. And his style seems to affect his foes. When Arguello arrived in London for the Watt fight, he immediately inquired after Watt's family, and Watt returned the gesture, saying, "Alexis and myself are both proud professionals, and a world championship fight should be a dignified affair."
The bout was dignified, all right, and brutal. Watt and Arguello were both bloodied, and Arguello won a unanimous decision. "I have no complaints," Watt said at the conclusion. "I hope I went out like a man. The title is in good hands."
Arguello had the last word. "I promised Jim I defend the title for him with my blood and my heart," he said.
In the ring, which had been the target of bottle throwers after Hagler defeated Minter, Watt and Arguello embraced each other after the decision was announced, and the extra bobbies brought in to control the crowd filed out with the decorous fans.
Arguello was also applauded in San Juan after he put Escalera away. "In Puerto Rico, they love Alexis more than they love [WBC super bantamweight champion] Gomez right now," says Kahn, who ought to know. "They love Benitez, but they love more Alexis. He wins the people when he beats Escalera. The government gives him a certificate making him the guest of the nation."
When Arguello entered the ring in Beaumont, Texas to fight the local hero, Busceme, he got the predictable antagonistic reception from the home crowd. He swatted away Busceme's early, wild shots with unconcern and then, choosing his positions and his punches, knocked him out neatly in the sixth round—a rather simple chore, like mowing the front lawn back in King's Bay. As soon as the dazed Busceme was the right way up in his corner, Arguello took the challenger's head gently in his gloves and spoke urgently to him. "I told him," Arguello said in the dressing room after the fight, "that he was a man. I wanted him to feel strong again, and give him his pride back. I told him he fought like a man, just like Mancini."
Indeed, last October, in Atlantic City, N.J., Arguello spoke to Ray Mancini in equally warm and generous terms after he had defeated the challenger. With considerable grace, he referred to Mancini's father, a former pro fighter who had himself aspired to the lightweight title, and spoke of his sadness at the father's disappointment over his son's defeat. For those aware that the world of boxing is a long way from Camelot, these solicitous remarks might have had a whiff of stage management. But Arguello's rare, curiously old-fashioned chivalry was unrehearsed, and a national television audience, which viewed the fight on CBS, was charmed.
Mancini had taken the fight to Arguello and seemed to be ahead after six rounds. But then the champion asserted himself and methodically pummeled the 20-year-old challenger until he TKO'd him in the 14th round.
The fighters embraced, much as Arguello and Watt had in London, and Alexis spoke to Mancini, saying, "I love your father [whom he then gestured to in the audience]. That is the most beautiful thing you have...like I have with my father. Take good care of you. You're going to be a good, good fighter, and I promise if I can do something for you, let me know, please."
Mancini then talked about how disappointed he was to have lost his title bid, and Arguello assured him that his own first championship fight also had been a failure.
Arguello's strongly felt sense of what is gentlemanly can cut both ways. In 1978, just after he had won his junior lightweight title from Escalera, he came upon Roberto Duran in the lobby of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. There had been some vague talk that Don King was interested in promoting a match between them, and Arguello walked over to shake hands. According to Arguello, Duran ignored the proffered hand. "He screamed at me, 'You're a queer! Why don't you sign the contract?' It was just propaganda, maybe. I'd never seen a contract." At the time, Duran was having trouble making the 135-pound lightweight limit, and Arguello was coasting along in the junior lightweight division, so a match wasn't likely. Even so, Arguello was disgusted. He walked away from Duran and they never met in the ring. Arguello denies, however, that he would have turned Duran down. "I am a professional boxer and I am happy to fight with anyone," he says simply. "This is my job."
And in doing his job, he matches his considerable physical strength with equivalent brain power. Watch him in the early rounds of a fight, say his second bout with Escalera, in Rimini, Italy in February of 1979, which Arguello says was his toughest fight. He lashed out at the buzzing Escalera, but often his counterattack seemed ineffective, his punches falling short of the mark.
Arguello was drawing Escalera in, emboldening the challenger, allowing him to think, "Here's a fighter with no snap." "Alexis seems almost lackadaisical about his starts," says CBS boxing consultant Mort Sharnik. "Certainly he 'takes' a few punches in the early rounds." All the time, though, Arguello is feeding data into that computer of a mind, making judgments, figuring his man, pulling him into range.
And then in the fifth or sixth round, the same short punch suddenly has crunching power. Both Busceme and Mancini ended up reeling like drunken sailors—as did Escalera in that terrific fight in Italy. Arguello has a pulverizing left hook, but often it is the straight right over the top that he uses as a finisher. "If he ever gets Aaron Pryor [the WBA junior welterweight champion]," Sharnik says, "he'll overwhelm him."
Lately it has been Arguello who has been overwhelmed, by an obsession. Since July 1979, he has fought 11 times; No. 12, against Andy Ganigan, was scheduled for April 3 in Las Vegas but had to be postponed until May 22 (it will be telecast by CBS) because Arguello had inflamed sinuses. He says he will go on at this pace: "This year is going to be busy. The end of '83, I'm going to finish my career. I've got to make money fast—fight four or five times every year. I had four fights in '81, and I only took December off because I was moving from Coral Gables." He barely stops training. "After a fight I talk to my doctor to find out how my face is, my body, my muscles," Arguello says. "I take one week layoff and I am training again. Right now is the time for work. Later is the time for everything else."
This obsession isn't rooted in the ring or ring history, although the goal of becoming the first man to win four different titles is worth zealously pursuing. No, the obsession stems from something deeper than that: survival.
When Arguello came to New York to fight Rafael (Bazooka) Limon in July of 1979, Nicaragua was in a state of turmoil. The violent Sandinista revolt against the right-wing regime of Anastasio Somoza was nearing its successful conclusion. After Arguello knocked out Limon in 11 rounds on the night of July 8 at the Garden's Felt Forum, he started back to Managua by way of Miami.
"I didn't know how much things would be changed," Arguello says, "so I just took ordinary luggage when I left home six weeks before the fight. The full-scale civil war had started when I was in Mexico training for Limon, and when I got to Miami after the fight, Dr. [Eduardo] Roman, my manager, said there was a big problem getting back into Nicaragua, so I stayed for a while in Miami."
He's still there. After the revolutionary government took over, Arguello's house and that of his mother were confiscated as well as his boat, his cars, his chicken-raising business and his bank account. The Sandinistas were rough about it, turning his mother and his eldest sister into the street without time even to pack their clothes. His house, he was told, had been given over to Soviet diplomats and government men were driving around in his Mercedes. He still had about $200,000 in a U.S. bank, but the greater part of the capital—approximately $500,000 in money and properties—that he had earned in 67 fights during almost 11 years, was gone.
He was bewildered. Hadn't he sent money to the Sandinistas when their leaders were in exile in Mexico? Hadn't he gone into the ring against Limon in New York under the red and black Sandinista banner, for all to see? And hadn't his younger brother, Eduardo, been killed while fighting for the Sandinista cause only weeks earlier? Arguello's anger slowly grew, his resolution deepened. "When you have something hard to do, you must do it," he says, reflecting on these events. "I had to do it all again. I had everything, now I had to start again. If you have a lot of courage you can do it again."
Flying into Managua—a city of 398,514 in the small Central American nation of 2.74 million—one notices a stunning resemblance between the rubble still lying there from the 1972 earthquake and that caused when Somoza's planes attacked his own people's houses in 1979. Barrio Monse√±or Lezcano, where Arguello was born, on April 12, 1952, and raised, has the stigmata of poverty—lean dogs, the crouching unemployed, the patched, ill-hung doors, the roof split open to the sun.
The street on which Guillermo Arguello lives has been renamed, not in honor of his fourth son, Alexis, but of los combatientes Sandinista: A simple brass plate has been erected in memory of Eduardo Arguello, 12 October 1959—17 June 1979, and Yazmina C. Bustamente, of the Managua FSLN, the Sandinista National Liberation Front. For no apparent reason there are no dates for Yazmina, who was Eduardo's 18-year-old girl friend from across the street. They died in the same fire fight with Somoza's National Guard.
Even though the 60-year-old Guillermo's neighbors tell him it's foolishness, he goes frequently to look for the body of Eduardo, his youngest, which, as everyone in the barrio knows, was burned like many others on a stack of old tires. But he still searches, just as he did on the day of the fire fight.
Guillermo, known in Managua as Cebollón, or the Big Onion, isn't close to the most famous of his six sons, though he watches Alexis' fights on TV. A coolness developed between them when Guillermo left Alexis' mother, Zoila, who lives in South Miami, Fla. in a house Alexis bought her a year ago. In the outer room of Guillermo's house are his bed and his cobbler's workbench. Inside are a table and a fewrum bottles, which entitle the place to be called Cantina Lija. It's the neighborhood bar.
All his six boys boxed, Guillermo will tell you, and Orlando, his fifth son, four years younger than Alexis, represented Nicaragua in the Central American games and won five medals of various sorts as an amateur. Alexis was a clever boy, Guillermo remembers, and was offered a scholarship to a private school in Managua.
"I remember when I was estudiante," Alexis says, "my father got into money trouble. I wanted to be an engineer or a doctor and my father was a good worker, but he started drinking so I had to leave school. He told me with tears in his eyes that I had better start doing something to help the family. I was about 14 years old. I looked for a job but it was impossible to find one."
By the time Alexis was 15, he had a job in a dairy that paid him $70 a month and let him train for the ring part time—so long as he wore the company's name, La Perfecta, on the back of his robe whenever he fought. About this time he met an old fighter, Miguel Angel Rivas, whom he still reveres. Rivas worked with him until the second Escalera fight.
Rivas is called Pambelé in Central America and Colombia, where he was well known as a welterweight. (Antonio Cervantes, the Colombian junior welterweight who had the WBA title for eight years, took the ring name Kid Pambelé to honor Rivas.) "He's a good old man, a friend of mine, a great fighter 30 or 40 years ago," Arguello says. "We made a good relationship. I owe much of my career to him."
Pambelé is now 67 and finds details, especially of recent events, hard to remember, though he recalls vividly his own greatest victory, over a huge opponent, 40 pounds heavier than he, known as King Kong the Sailor. Arguello's two Escalera fights are dim in Pambelé's mind, but, sitting in his Managua home, he suddenly recalls how the teen-age Alexis came to him for permission to try cigarette smoking. On Pambelé's advice, Alexis didn't take it up. That memory triggers other things—how disciplined Alexis was, how obedient, always on time at the gym though he often had no bus fare and would have gone hungry after training if Pambelé hadn't bought bananas for him.
Even Pambelé might have failed to see Alexis through to his world-championship triumphs had the kid not met another Nicaraguan, the aforementioned Dr. Roman, who became and remains the greatest influence in Arguello's life. Roman, a wealthy Nicaraguan who had trained in the law and economics—his doctorate is in the latter—was vice-president of the national power and light company in Managua when he first met Arguello in 1970. Today he is an elegant, small-boned man of 44, with upswept graying hair. Like Arguello, he lives in exile in Miami.
In 1968, though, Roman was in the mainstream of Nicaraguan politics, no Somozan but a liberal who, as he puts it, "knew that many of the resources of my country were being wasted." He was intrigued when a friend told him there was a young fighter living in Managua who had a good punch and a great future. "I had never seen boxing before," Roman says. In Managua the facilities for boxing weren't good. The wooden arena was badly constructed; it had stands on only three sides—the ring was flush to the wall on the fourth side—and accommodated only 400 to 500 people.
"Even I could see that this boy had great potential, but I guessed that, like so many other things in my country, it would be wasted," Roman says. "I decided that it would be good for my country to have a champion, that it would be good for the people to know that it was not necessary to be born rich, that you could fight for things. We have had baseball in Nicaragua for many years, but we have never won any kind of championship. So I decided to try to make my people happy."
It was a genuinely altruistic act. First Roman got Arguello out of the dairy by guaranteeing him $200 a month—"Good money in my country," says Arguello. Then he hired a trainer for $650 a month. At this point, Roman, who wasn't planning to make any money on the young fighter, retired from the scene. But Arguello kept coming back to him for advice, and Roman recognized the inevitable. "I went to see Alexis' main promoter," he recalls, "a man named Roger Riguero, now dead. I asked him, 'Why don't you get some better fights for Alexis so he will then be able to fight ranked boxers and be ranked himself?' But he told me no, because he was making plenty of money on Alexis already—Alexis was a good attraction in Managua, a good puncher, but at the same time, cheap.
" 'All right,' I said to him, get better fighters. If you lose money, I'll make up the difference.' I did that, and I never took a cent from a purse. I also shipped trainer Pepe Morales down from Mexico to improve Alexis' skills. I got him a fight with José Legra, who was the twice-crowned WBC featherweight champion, and Alexis knocked him out in the first round. I was ready then; I went to Panama to see an old classmate of mine, Ruben Pareres, who was the chief of the army, and we made a fight with Ernesto Marcel for the WBA featherweight title."
It was Arguello's first and only championship defeat. Nine months later, in November 1974, Arguello caught Ruben Olivares, who had become featherweight champ after Marcel's retirement, with a left hook to the jaw in the 13th, and he was at the front, where he has stayed virtually ever since.
Virtually, because there's a curious gap in Arguello's ring record. He fought only three times in 1976, the last time in June in Los Angeles in defense of his featherweight title against Salvador Torres, whom he knocked out in the third round. Then eight months passed before he fought again, knocking out Godfrey Stevens in Managua in two.
Extraordinarily, this dedicated, disciplined fighter, obedient to his mentors, reared on self-help books like How to Win Friends and Influence People, provided by Roman, had a midcareer crisis that led him, in 1976, to announce his retirement from the ring.
Last month, in a Las Vegas hotel room, sniffling, wrapped in blankets, Arguello was pondering his just-canceled fight with Ganigan and waxing philosophical. "Did you know I was once a hippie?" he asked. His tone was so straight and confessional, you'd have thought he was declaring his membership in the Italian Red Brigade.
He explained that after his father told him he must leave school and after he had looked in vain for a job, he headed, improbably, to Canada, to a small town in Ontario where a relative lived. "I went to seek my fortune," he said unselfconsciously. But all he got was a brief and innocent flirtation with hippiedom and a tattoo on his upper left arm of a serpent making an unsuccessful attack on the Canadian flag, with an inscription in Chinese ideograms beneath. What does the inscription mean? "I couldn't say," Alex is said. "I was only 14 when I got it."
For a long time, that brief adventure represented Arguello's single mild rebellion. But a real one was in the offing, and to understand it one has to comprehend what it's like to be the only world-class athlete in a small country like Nicaragua. Leave home in the morning and there are paparazzi at the doorstep. Go to a disco and five columns of analysis appear in La Prensa the next morning. Even today, there are sportswriters in Managua who can give you a blow-by-blow of that rocky spell in Arguello's career.
"There was that fight in Mexicali against Jose Torres in February 1976," a Managua sportswriter recalls. "It was not a title fight, but he was playing poker until three, four in the morning. And there was a muchacha with him when he should have been concentrating on training in Managua. Even when he left for the fight he took the girl with him. Always, before, he used to go with Sylvia, but for Mexicali he took another girl. He won the decision, but he was knocked down for the second time in his life."
Sylvia was the classic girl-next-door-in-the-barrio, whom Alexis married when he was 17 and who bore him two children. Dumping her for a muchacha was something he might have gotten away with in Philadelphia, but not in Managua. "He was very innocent, really, about women," the sportswriter says. "The money came fast, he was taken up by the society people of Managua. Before, he was a good husband, always at home. Now he started staying out late in Plastic City [what Managuans call the garish entertainment district south of town] and that's where he met Patricia, dancing in a disco. She danced well and she was of the upper class. She was 16, maybe 17."
When the divorce came, the barrios and the press were solidly for Sylvia. Tales of their early poverty were recalled—how once, when they were badly strapped, Alexis had had to pry a coin worth about 25¢ from a souvenir ashtray they had at home; and how, when their house was damaged in the great Managua earthquake, they couldn't afford the $140 to repair the wooden structure and Roman had had to come up with the money. The divorce, working-class Managuans felt, meant that Alexis had betrayed his own people.
He responded with more and more ostentatious, out-of-character behavior. In 1976 he announced his retirement from the ring—to cut down on the money he would have to pay Sylvia, the press claimed. There followed allegations that he was wickedly hard on sparring partners, that he relied on local boys because he could get away with paying them a mere $2 per hour, that he was too ferocious with them, even hurting his own brother Orlando, that he lost control during training, as did Carlos Monzon, the longtime Argentinian middleweight champion who was noted for his hot temper. "Three thousand dollars for a watch for his wrist, two dollars to beat up a Nicaraguan," Managuans said.
To anyone who has known Arguello in recent years, that accusation borders on the incredible. It arose, no doubt, from the maliciousness of the local press and the bitterness in the barrios. But there's also no doubt that Alexis went well off the rails in this period, and that the cause was both media pressure and his second marriage. "The first time he defended his featherweight title, against Lionel Hernandez in Caracas," another reporter says, "his spending was unbelievable. Suits, solid gold bracelets. Just like Duran and Monzon." For the only time in his association with Arguello, Roman's influence was in eclipse. The same writer says, "One day a man from Costa Rica showed up with a Mercedes sports car. Alexis took him to the bank, drew 50,000 cordobas [about $7,000] in cash, added his own new Mercedes sedan, gave everything to the Costa Rican and drove away in the used car."
A scene in the lobby of New York's Statler Hilton hotel, across the street from Madison Square Garden, on the eve of Arguello's fight against Ezequiel Sanchez there in June 1977 was typical of his behavior during this period. As Roman, the press and Nicaraguan fans looked on, Patricia suddenly accosted Arguello. She was very angry and wanted money. She screamed, "I got married to you to get a good life, but you are giving me nothing!" Arguello, embarrassed, put his hand in his pocket and gave her money, but the incident signaled the end of their marriage.
Arguello is in more tranquil, far more secure waters in his present marriage, to Loretta, a handsome, wryly humorous Nicaraguan girl he met in Miami in 1978. And that domestic tranquillity is especially important to Arguello because the anarchy of his relationship with Patricia was followed by another trauma, his exile from Nicaragua.
Roman, though not a member of the Sandinista Front, wanted the overthrow of Somoza. Early in the revolution he was involved with an anti-Somoza underground paper, supplying it with money and materials and arranging for mimeographing. At one point he was forced to fly to Costa Rica to escape Somoza's National Guard. Previous to that, though, he had tried to attend to Arguello's political education. The night before he left Nicaragua to fight, Arguello would customarily dine at Roman's house. At one such dinner, before he headed for Italy and the second Escalera fight, Roman introduced Arguello to El Pensamiento Vivo de Sandino, a little book of the thoughts and life of Sandino, the Nicaraguan revolutionary hero of the early '30s, whose name had been taken by the new movement. Arguello was politically naive at this time and was impressed enough to send money to the revolutionaries.
"Somoza never gave him a penny," Roman says, "but he tried to take advantage of Alexis' position as world champion. He got him to take part in a presidential parade, riding on a horse. Then he presented him with a decoration of the Congress. I heard these things were going to happen and I said, 'Look, Alexis, don't make that mistake. They are trying to involve you in their politics, and that is terrible for you because you are the champion of the people of Nicaragua, not of the dictator Somoza.' "
Upon overthrowing Somoza in July of 1979, Sandinista officials discovered that Somoza had appointed Arguello an honorary lieutenant in his National Guard, the feared and hated army that had kept the dictator in power. Arguello was scarcely aware that he had been so "honored." He didn't even tell Roman. In fact, he didn't have room on his walls for all the unsolicited certificates that reached him. But this one sealed his fate. Or at least that of his property.
The Avenida del Campo runs through a lushly green residential area to the east of Managua. Americans might expect to pay $250,000 for one of the houses, which are still imposing, even though the lawns are unkempt and uncollected garbage litters the sidewalks. On the grass outside Roman's house are parked half a dozen vehicles belonging to the 17 Cuban communications experts who are—according to locals—now billeted there. Arguello's house, down the road, is screened by trees and reportedly inhabited by the Soviet diplomats.
Such changes are an inevitable part of a revolution and, weighed in the balance, are perhaps unimportant. And at least Arguello escaped the trauma of being physically expelled from his house. His eldest sister, Marina, now working as a seamstress in a small clothing factory in Managua, still recalls with horror how "Six soldiers came and Mama had the heart sickness and I am still afraid. And Alexis, do I miss him? ¬°Si, claro!"
The official line on the confiscation of Arguello's property is unyielding. It is put precisely by Edgard Tijerino, a member of the FSLN and a writer formerly on the independent La Prensa and now with Barricada, the official government daily. Until the revolution he was very close to Arguello—he met him in 1968 and wrote his biography. However, a later piece Tijerino wrote, entitled De Idolo a Títere ("From Idol to Puppet") ended their relationship.
"I speak now," he says, "as a Sandinista. Everybody saw Alexis in the ring with the party flag, but by the time he fought Limon, the Sandinistas were already in a winning position. Revolutionary leaders saw this as a piece of opportunism organized by Roman. Nobody knows if Alexis had the Sandinista flag in his heart. As for Eduardo, his brother who was killed—in a big family, there are many ways of thinking. If the father of Carlos Fonseca [the greatest hero of the revolution, who was killed in the mountains in 1976] came to Managua, he would be put in jail.
"When the revolutionaries were victorious, they had to control the country. There had to be a starting point. The majority of lands, farms and houses belonged to Somozans and had been obtained illegally. Individual cases of confiscation could not be discussed. There were a lot of errors. For me, the case of Alexis was one such."
There is no doubt that Tijerino was speaking officially. He's very close to the government. And he readily admits that Arguello is still a great hero in Managua. "When he won the lightweight title from Watt, all over the city there were firecrackers going off, car horns blowing," Tijerino says. "The nine comandantes of the National Party canceled all appointments to watch the fight. Barricada, which does not even have a sports section, ran the story on page one. Daniel Ortega, who is chief of the junta, came into my office when I was typing and grabbed my shoulder. 'How is Alexis?' he asked me. It was the first time he had ever mentioned sport to me."
The night of the Watt fight, something curious happened. A mere two hours before the bout was scheduled to begin, Mickey Duff, the British promoter, was approached by a Nicaraguan journalist. Managua, at the last moment, wanted the telecast of the fight. A certified check arrived from the Nicaraguan embassy in the nick of time. Arguello's third world-title triumph clearly altered the thinking in government circles. After he had beaten Watt, Arguello headed to Venezuela to talk with promoters, and at the Caracas Hilton he found a delegation composed of Tijerino and Samuel Santos, the mayor of Managua, waiting for him. Tijerino said later, "The government recognized its mistake."
The still smoldering Arguello has a different interpretation. "They send these persons to ask me to come back to my country," he says. "Then they tell me the reason they invite me—because they have the birthday of the revolution. They're going to make, like, a party. Teofilo Stevenson is coming from Cuba, they say. Muhammad Ali, Fidel Castro, communist people. They want to start making a new reputation for themselves. I told them, no."
Apart from other issues, Arguello is understandably parade-shy. "I told him he was not obligated to come to the parade," Tijerino says, "but Alexis misinterpreted the offer. He said, 'Have my property evaluated and send me a check in U.S. dollars.' He also said he might be attacked if he came to Managua. But the government had no interest in buying his property. It was there and he could have it." Checkmate.
But one thing is certain. If Arguello ever decides to go home, it will set off the biggest fiesta that Managua has seen in years. He seems unlikely to return, though. The new Alexis, the suburbanite from King's Bay, has few regrets beyond the comparative sterility of his new environment. "Here everybody is in his house, everybody say nothing," he says. "Sometimes hello, but not the same. I never go hunting here. The sea is here to fish, but I am working."
And between fights, mostly in the tropical heat and humidity of the Fifth Street Gym in Miami Beach, he works, works, works with Kahn. The wildness has been replaced by a steely, almost inhuman, dedication. "Look at that," Futch said in the dressing room before the Busceme fight. "Twenty-five minutes to bandage his own hands," Futch said, "and I could have done it in three."
But that's the way Arguello operates. "Everybody say he's a slow starter," Kahn says. "He takes two or three rounds to see what you got. Then"—Kahn's fingers click—"he starts to work on you. He's too smart to take a chance until he sees you are gone. He don't throw punches crazy until he see the open space. He is always calm. He don't go after a man throwing punches. He knows, in every three minutes all you must do is hit the guy two or three times good, so when you hit you hurt.
"To hurt somebody, he knows you have to hit the right place, that is all. The punch that finished Escalera the second time, it was a left hook from just there"—shoulder level. "I didn't see power in the punch, but it was to the right place, the side of the chin. Escalera couldn't stand up for about 15 minutes. They lifted him up and he fell down again twice."
Should all go well in the Ganigan defense, the 5'9½" Arguello hopes to move up to junior welterweight (140 pounds), which shouldn't prove difficult, for a shot at Pryor's title. The glory of four separate world titles could then be his. Possibly before that he could meet WBC featherweight champ Salvador Sanchez for a prize that has so far eluded Arguello: a $1 million purse.
That could lead to a match with Leonard and a $5 million purse. And if the comandantes don't arrange for that one to go on television, they may have another revolution on their hands.