Alexis’ Ferocious Right Hand Still Resonates 31 Years Later

By Christian Giudice on July 31, 2013
Alexis’ Ferocious Right Hand Still Resonates 31 Years Later
“It was a sensational right hand,” said Harold Lederman, who was ringside judging the bout.

“We are human. We know about psyche. He wanted me to know he can start fast too.” Pryor later stressed, “Aaron don’t stand still…”

The punch landed with the ferocity of a man aggressively seeking an end to the bout. Yet, it emanated from the right hand of a man merely patiently waiting for an opening. Once he found one, the fight was over.

When junior welterweight newcomer Alexis Argüello landed a straight right to the jaw of a game Kevin Rooney 31 years ago today, the punch proved to be the final link that solidified the memorable 140-pound battle between Argüello and Aaron Pryor. To that point Argüello had cultivated a reputation as one of the great punchers of his generation, but this one was different.

The punch transported Rooney into another place entirely.

Rooney, a native of Catskill, NY, went into the bout, which was held at Bally’s Park Place Casino in Atlantic City, NJ, with only a stoppage loss to eventual world champ Davey Moore a year earlier. Having fought hard to make the weight, Rooney was well aware of the force he was going up against. More importantly, he knew in boxing circles that he was merely thought of as a steppingstone to bigger paydays.

That didn’t matter to Rooney, who would later rise to fame as the trainer behind the indomitable, youthful version of Mike Tyson. Rooney was 19-1 (7 KOs) by the time he signed to face Argüello, who recently left the lightweight division for greener pastures.

The bout, which was televised nationally by CBS Sports Spectacular and picked up internationally in England, Italy, and throughout Latin America, represented Argüello’s initial foray into the 140-pound ranks. Since cleaning out the 135-pound weight class, Argüello recognized the implications of getting by Rooney: A $1.5 million meeting with the great, but erratic Pryor hung in the balance. Several dates for the blockbuster bout had already been mentioned for October or November in preliminary talks spearheaded by Bob Arum.

Despite the tantalizing payday and career-defining matchup in his sights, Argüello rarely overlooked an opponent. He dropped a non-title bout to the slippery lightweight Vilomar Fernandez earlier in his career, but as he searched for his record fourth-title in as many weight classes, he focused his gaze on Rooney.

Yet, there was even more incentive, as Pryor sat ringside watching the Nicaraguan’s every move.

On July 31, 1982 in Atlantic City, there would be no typical feeling-out process. Rooney’s bulldog mentality and occasional head movement served him well in the first round as he made Argüello miss and landed a few effective hooks of his own. He played the role of agitator, often disrupting the rhythm Argüello, a notorious slow starter, was hoping to establish.

Still in the first minute of the bout, Argüello managed a left hook lead later followed by a straight right, left hook combination, but there was no reason for concern in either corner. Bobbing and weaving in the Cus D’Amato mode, Rooney grazed Argüello with a hook nearly halfway through the round, but also absorbed short uppercuts on his way inside.

Being able to set the pace to his liking was an Argüello staple when he was fighting at 126 and 130 pounds, but Rooney must have felt the only way to hurt the three-time champ was by relentlessly pressuring him the way Andy Ganigan did several fights earlier. (Note: Ganigan stunned Argüello with a first-round knockdown.) What Rooney was forced to acknowledge was that even though the shotgun right hand whistled by his ear time and again, the jab or compact hook would find him instead.

Argüello edged Rooney in output and punches landed to win that first round, but he could no longer move effectively. Earlier in his career against boxer-punchers like Alfredo Escalera and Cornelius Boza-Edwards, Argüello was adept at setting up each punch through pivots or sidestepping his opponent. He never wasted movements, but he couldn’t rely on his legs anymore. There was no bounce left in them. Nearby, Pryor must have been salivating. Then came round two.

Argüello came out sharper in the second and final round. As he had done earlier, Rooney pressured Argüello from the opening bell. This time, there would be repercussions. First, Argüello stymied the incoming Rooney with a straight right that buckled Rooney’s legs. Pushed back to the ropes, Rooney tried to escape, but moved to his left and directly into another right hand and a left hook. Once content to crowd Argüello, Rooney reconsidered and looked to counterpunch. Before they reached the midpoint of the round, Rooney, in a crouching position, took one more Argüello right hand.

This was when Argüello was most dangerous. Often, Argüello waited until the later rounds to attack so voraciously, but now he saw that Rooney was ripe for the attack. Despite his punches no longer having a visible effect on Argüello, who was now more accurate and precise, Rooney managed to avoid receiving the brunt of those vicious right hands.

Seconds later it was over. Just like that.

With ten seconds remaining in the round, Argüello spun Rooney, setting him up for the final blow, feinted two jabs, and released the punch with three seconds remaining in the round. The punch, reminiscent of a shotgun blast, was thrown with such precision and power that Rooney would not remember the details in the dressing room.

Rooney fell backwards into the ropes, and instinctively put his left arm along the bottom rope to hold him up. Referee Larry Hazzard ran over to him, got to the count of nine, waved off the fight, and immediately called in for assistance. He cradled the fighter’s head and gently placed it on the canvas. Instead of celebrating his victory, Argüello ran over to his opponent having definitively answered his critics regarding his move up in weight.

“It was a sensational right hand,” said Harold Lederman, a judge in the bout. “Rooney threw a jab and Argüello shot that right hand directly over it. He was moving up in weight when he did it. It was one heck of a good punch, and it was clear that Alexis took his punching power with him.”

Not everyone was impressed by the punch.

“He was trying to impress me,” Pryor told a reporter. “We are human. We know about psyche. He wanted me to know he can start fast too.” Pryor later stressed, “Aaron don’t stand still.”

Asked to describe the punch, Argüello said, “At that moment when he dropped his left hand it happened. I was waiting for that moment.”

Four months later he would arrive at the moment he was truly waiting for.

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  1. Ted 05:15pm, 08/04/2013

    The one he used against Costello stopped Billy in his tracks, It also snatched victory from defeat. If only he had retired after that fight.

    The Rooney shot was one of those things that no serious boxing fan will ever forget.

  2. will 05:57am, 08/03/2013

    vilomar fernandez was a hell of a boxer , wow i havent heard that name in decades lol   ...great write man. thx

  3. Gajjers 11:09pm, 08/02/2013

    Oh no, raxman! Now you’ve got me salivating over a dish that’ll never be served! Hands of Stone on Hawk Time! Mouth watering indeed! The risk-vs-reward factor surely didn’t work in Pryor’s favor. By the way, do you have any idea why Pryor never became a crossover star? He certainly had the style & compelling story to become a marketing gem. Dunno who his promoter(s) was/were, but hell, he/they could have done a better job, I’d say. One tough buzz saw of a fighter, that guy…

  4. raxman 07:56pm, 08/02/2013

    gajjers - i hate to think what hearns & co would earn today, i recently read that 4 kings book and was astounded at the size of the purses they were splitting then. i’m not about to say that hearns was scared of pryor - i stop short of saying any fighters that reach that level are scared of anyone (i hate this claim that garcia is scared of matthysse - he’s an unbeaten 25yo with a left hook from hell, he’d be full of himself; thats not to say he shouldn’t be scared). i think the thing about pryor vs ray and pryor vs hearns not happening is the same as it is today for alot of match ups - its risk vs reward. AP just didn’t have the fan base for a super fight, and we know that those sort of event fights, at least at the lower weights started with the 4kings. if you only fight twice a year you have to pick the opponent that ticks the most boxes - and pryor probably didnt. if your tommy hearns and you’ve just won the wba 147 title do you fight wba 140 pound champ for peanuts or do you tread water for a year and fight the wbc 147 champ for millions.  its not fear per se but pryor was willing to travel north 7 pounds for both ray and tommy - ray in particular he chased hard - and both guys should’ve fought him. and duran to, jumped 40 to fight leonard - how good would duran vs pryor have been??

  5. Gajjers 07:09pm, 08/01/2013

    Yeah raxman, I knew you were alluding to Panama Lewis’ ‘black bottle’ comment between rounds, prior to Pryor’s (no pun intended) explosion in the 14th round. It’s just that I haven’t seen Pryor gassed out in any of his championship fights before or since - most of them were pretty early KOs, so maybe there wasn’t much chance of that happening. Hearns scared of Pryor at 147 and above? I seriously doubt it. I saw their amateur bout, when Hearns was more of a stick-and-move type of fighter, still developing his right-hand-from-hell. Damn! Now you’re getting me all nostalgic - those guys made for exciting fights on a regular basis. What would their purses have been today with those attributes (skill, style, guts etc.)? Spot on about Arguello, galvar - a class act from top to toe…

  6. galvar 06:57pm, 08/01/2013

    you don’t really have fighters like Arguello this generation.  it amazes me that the first thing he did after knocking rooney out was to walk over to check if he was ok.  he didn’t raise his hands in triumph, didn’t even get his gloves taken off until he was sure rooney was being taken care of.  great boxer.

  7. raxman 06:33pm, 08/01/2013

    Gajjers - oh yeah don’t get me wrong. pryor is a favourite of mine and the fighter I always site when people talk about the halcyon days of the 80’s when leonard and hearns etc didn’t duck. leonard and hearns (my all time favourite fighter) wanted nothing to do with the hawk. (the Hearns v Pryor as amateurs is one of the things that youtube should be blessed for) .
    Arguello was right on the edge of the downhill when they fought the first time. but it did seem to me that arguello was edging in front during that fight. I guess its hard to give Panama Lewis the benefit of any doubt. and the black bottle “the one that I made up” of Lewis’ was mostly likely laced with some sort of stimulant given how pryor’s second wind was extreme

  8. Gajjers 12:32am, 08/01/2013

    Good points as always, raxman. One question though - did the ‘dirty business’ you referred to include encasing Pryor’s jaw in Plaster of Paris? He took some hellacious right hands from Arguello, flush on the chin - any other fighter would have dropped like Rooney did. The second fight was an easier affair for Pryor - broken will assisted maybe?). Alexis Arguello remains one of the best technicians ever, may he RIP…

  9. raxman 07:18pm, 07/31/2013

    Such an amazing fighter. as the commentator says any aspiring fighters only need study the right hand. his left rip off the right hand was a beauty too - it didn’t look like much but the best body shots never do. but the right hand! the timing present in the ko punch here is a thing of beauty. does anyone here doubt that pryor (whom i’m also a fan of) used dirty business to get the win in their first fight?

  10. will 04:46pm, 07/31/2013

    i remember watching that fight between alexis and rooney, i can still see the shot in my mind,boom and down ..

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