Remembering Alexis Argüello

By Christian Giudice on April 20, 2012
Remembering Alexis Argüello
"He would stalk, stalk, stalk, and set traps," said Mancini. "And he knew when to turn it on."

“He was like a Swiss watch in everything he did. He was a chess player who was always two or three moves ahead of you…”

Alexis Argüello vs. Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini Revisited

Yesterday, Alexis Argüello would have turned 60. Instead, his absence is felt each day all over the world.

To many, yesterday should have been another day to celebrate what Alexis Argüello meant to boxing, his people, and his family. Another day to reminisce about the joy he brought so many people as a three-time world champ and mayor of Managua whose ultimate goal was to provide a voice for the poor people of Nicaragua. Another day to celebrate the man that he had become away from the ring.

Instead his people are forced to cling to memories. The memories always live on, and few can forget the good times when Argüello had reached the zenith of his sport. Although boxing critics and casual fans often recognize his bouts with Aaron Pryor as the fights which defined him, the one fight that helped secure both his legacy in and out of the ring was his title defense against a ferocious young lightweight from Youngstown, Ohio, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini (20-0). Mancini, 20, an immediate matinee idol and box-office hit, had it all: the looks, the indomitable straight-ahead boxing style, and the affable personality. When the WBC 135-pound title defense was confirmed for October 3, 1981, Mancini and manager Dave Wolf understood the ramifications: They were facing a legend.

Even casual boxing fans could recite the Hollywood storyline. Mancini was fighting for his father, Lenny Mancini, who missed his chance to fight for a world title; the touching narrative provided a unique backdrop. The pre-fight bluster was nonexistent. In typical Argüello style, the champ quickly disarmed Mancini during camp, and both fighters developed a mutual respect.

“When I watched his early fights I was impressed by his composure,” said Mancini. “He would go across the ring and shake the other guy’s hand and I had never seen that before, except for the old-timers. They were gentleman back then. He never got rattled, never. He always believed that he could weather the storm.

Moving forward and hurling punches, the exciting Mancini had become the new TV darling; Argüello, a veteran of 72 fights, was 15-1 in title fights, and gracefully closing out his Hall-of-Fame career. Supporters of the “Explosive Thin Man” realized that no puncher could beat Argüello over 15 rounds. Conversely, those who had seen Mancini take down Jose Luis Ramirez with ease felt the Ohio native could create problems for the WBC lightweight champ. In addition to the confidence Mancini gained from the win over Ramirez, he was buoyed by a strong training camp.

“You have to shape your training camp to match the style of your opponent. For my camp we brought in guys that were tall, had a long reach, just like Alexis,” Mancini recalled. “You know, guys with his physical style. We had a great training camp in the Catskills.”

At the height of his stardom, Argüello, who decisioned Jim Watt five months earlier for the 135-pound belt, didn’t take Mancini lightly. In fact, he recalled years later, “Even his look was hurting me. He was a tough kid. But I knew that after he passed 10 rounds, I had him in my pocket.”

Whatever Mancini did during camp worked, as he beat Argüello to the punch and opened a cut over the first 11 rounds. Despite losing rounds and falling behind on points, Argüello never panicked. He gave Mancini a look as if to say, “Son, I’ve been here so many times before.” Mancini knew it; anybody who knew Argüello acknowledged the inevitable. Mancini was a 12-round fighter; Argüello was a 15-round genius who precisely calculated each movement. Mancini rushed each punch and bombarded his opponent; Argüello carefully sapped your strength until he was ready to take you out. As a journalist later pointed out, “He was like a Swiss watch in everything he did. He was a chess player who was always two or three moves ahead of you.”

By the time the 14th round came around, Argüello settled into his comfort zone; at the same time Mancini came out of his.

“It was the perfect example of 15-round championship fights. If that was a 12-rounder, I would have won the fight,” said Mancini. “I was ahead on three cards going into the 13th round, and I would have fought that 12th round differently if that were the last round. In a 12-round fight, you have to pick up the pace a lot earlier. He would stalk, stalk, stalk, and set traps. And he knew when to turn it on.”

Mancini was ahead on one card (another judge had it even, one had it for Arguello) after 10 rounds. But then, as always, the “traps” had been set, and the real Argüello emerged. As his then-trainer Eddie Futch prophesied before the fight to a reporter, “It’s hard to hurry Alexis.” Less than four rounds later, it was over. Argüello stopped Mancini at 1:46 of the 14th round with a brutal barrage of punches. (At one point he pleaded with referee Tony Perez to stop the fight.)

Argüello went over, embraced the future champ and proceeded to remind him how much he appreciated the beautiful relationship he had with his father. The next day people remembered the gesture as much as they did the knockout. Years later, Mancini still talked about his opponent with that same reverence—and wouldn’t change a thing.

“Do I wish I waited to fight him later in my career? You can’t think like that…because I wouldn’t have learned what I did from that fight,” said Mancini. “It was a learning process and an honor to fight Alexis.”

Everyone who faced him felt the same way. An honor to fight him, a pleasure to have known him.

Christian Giudice is the author of “Beloved Warrior: The Rise and Fall of Alexis Argüello” and “Hands of Stone: The Life and Legend of Roberto Duran”

Twitter Account:!/chrisgiudice
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  1. bikermike 02:53am, 05/14/2014

    Alexis Arguello left us before his time…..he will be missed.  Most importantly…he will always be remembered as a man with class.

  2. Pablo E. Obregon 04:47pm, 05/03/2014

    It was at that fight when I met my countryman, and boxing idol, the great Alexis Arguello. I was only 14 years old, and lived in Maryland so I caught a ride with my boxing coach, Mr. Adran Davis who had Jeff Passero fighting on the under card. I saw Alexis, walked up to him, itroduced myself, told him I was from Nicaragua and that I wanted to see him fight, but I couldn’t afford the ticett Alexis then invited me to his table, asked me if I was hungry or if I wanted anything to eat. I was so exited to have met him i was numb, i was in what seemed like a dream, so I said no, I only wanted to meet you. Alexis asked his wife to let me have a ringside tickett and a yellow hooded sweatshirt with his logo on the back of it. then I shook his hand and wished good luck, thanks I’m going to need it he said. He also told me to come to any of his fights and to look him up and he would always have a tickett for me. I am telling you this to say that now that I am an adult I fully understand why he was called the classy, the gentleman, the suave, the great, Mr. Alexis Arguello. We need more like him.

  3. Eric Jorgensen 10:05am, 05/08/2013

    Great article, I could not agree more.  I remember watching that fight with my dad, pulling for Arguello even though I liked Mancini very much.  Two class acts, absolutely.

  4. MIKE SCHMIDT 02:33pm, 04/21/2012

    I salute you J.C. and whole hearted agree. Carlos Jr your Dad who helped train Alexis from the first day he entered the gym up unitl the Marcel fight may disagree but I think the Alexis 129-ish between 74-79 was the best—at lightweight a little less power and jack—and certainly with Pryor, Panama Lewis aside, lots of mileage, little older, and way over his weight—still gave Pryor one hell of a fight first time around.

  5. Jim Crue 02:20pm, 04/21/2012

    Thanks for remembering Alexis. What a complete fighter. He was a gentleman. When he fought Ray he was past his best but still formidable. He was one of the 3 or 4 best featherweights of all time.
    On another note, I think Bob Papa’s call of the fight was a voice over. Did not Gil Clancy and Tim Ryan call the fight on CBS. Never the less Jim Lampley and the hacks at Showtime should watch this and listen to Bob Papa call this fight. EXCELLENT job. He did not talk too much, Lampley never shuts up and the HBO guys talk over each other too often.
    I cannot watch the Arguello-Pryor fight in replay. It’s too sad. Alexis was way over his best weight and probably at about 85% of his top level. And there is no doubt Pryor was very juiced by Panama Lewis.

  6. Carlos 05:52pm, 04/20/2012

    Great article Christian the definition of a champion in the dictionary describe Alexis whom my family and I had the honor to meet before he was the great 3 times champion of the world, we miss him, and the boxing world miss him too thanks for the honest article you wrote. Regards.

  7. Don from Prov 12:16pm, 04/20/2012

    Excellent article about a fighter who I admired greatly, and what a pleasure to hear a fight called by someone who understands the sport and doesn’t (like Gus Johnson for one) try to force false excitement into (what can be) the most dramatic and exciting sport in the world.  Very good stuff.

  8. mikecasey 07:05am, 04/20/2012

    What a fabulous champion Alexis was. Nice guys do sometimes finish first!

  9. Pete The Sneak 04:44am, 04/20/2012

    Christian, thanks for giving us a reminder of the great boxer/person Alexis was. Incredible how he ended up becoming one of my top 3 Favorite fighters of all time. The fact that the Mancini/Arguello fight was on national television (CBS I believe), the whole country got to see both an exciting fight and an incredible touch of class afterwards when Arguello went to Ray and his father to console him and tell him how much he admired the relationship between the father and the son. You can see the overall sincerity in Arguello’s comments and the emotion on both Mancinis. It was something I never forgot. To this day, I have never ever seen a replay of the first Pryor/Arguello fight. I’m not ashamed to say that I did indeed shed some tears when he lost that fight in the manner in which he did. Have never felt like that for any other sports figure (except for when Clemente’s plane went down ironically in an effort to provide earthquake releif for Alexis native country, Nicaragua). Such was the power of this classy, silent respectful warrior who would most certainly be an enigma in today’s chest thumping sport’s society. Great stuff Christian. Peace.

  10. MIKE SCHMIDT 03:47am, 04/20/2012

    Great great figther in the ring—one of a kind, and great great man, class act out of the ring—one of a kind. When one looks at all the nonsense that goes on at press conferences and weigh-ins these days and all the trash talk and out of ring activities (spitting, slapping, choking, bumping head to head)—he is very much missed indeed as the man, as the fighter. Great book and great write up my friend.

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