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KO Magazine 1986: Alexis Arguello – The guts and the ability are still there

Photo by The Ring Magazine/ Getty Images
Fighters Network

This Q&A originally appeared in the January 1986 of KO Magazine. It was conducted before Arguello had his first comeback fight against Pat Jefferson.

By Steve Farhood

MORE THAN TWO years ago, we watched in a depressed silence as Alexis Arguello was again humbled by Aaron Pryor. After the final knockdown in their WBA junior welterweight title fight rematch, Arguello sat on the canvas with hands on his knees. The look of sad resignation was unmistakable. For the legendary Alexis, it was the end of something much more than the fight.

Predictably, Arguello retired after that knockout loss. His post-boxing endeavors included a Lite beer commercial with Billy Martin, a journey to his war-torn homeland of Nicaragua to battle the Sandanista government, and a brief spell of heavy partying in Miami that Arguello now apologizes for. None of it was enough, and now the former triple-crown champion is back, seeking to become the first fighter in boxing history to win four different world titles.

The 33-year-old Arguello, 78-6 (63), has experienced financial troubles, but he insists his comeback is to make history, not to settle debts. Following the second loss to Pryor, Arguello split with his longtime manager Dr. Eduardo Roman. He is now managed by former agent Bill Miller.

“I was having lunch in Miami with Alexis, and we were talking about some bouts,” Miller said. “And suddenly he said to me, ‘I think I can win that fourth title. I told him to do roadwork for a week and the feeling would go away. But it didn’t. He was willing to pay the price.”

Arguello travelled to Miller’s home in New Hampshire and, over the course of six weeks, underwent a complete physical and psychological evaluation. Brain scans. Eye-hand coordination drills. Stress tests. Biomechanical exercises. “He came out like a 17-year-old,” Miller reported. Both the fighter and manager were satisfied, and all was go.

Arguello has signed a promotional agreement with Sam Glass and Tiffany Promotions and, as we went to press, was scheduled to face once beaten Andy Nance in his return bout. While in New York City to announce his date with Nance, Arguello spoke with Senior Writer Steve Farhood. Farhood’s report:

“It’s difficult not to like Arguello because he’s so very human. He admits his mistakes, admits his weaknesses, and sometimes you have to remind yourself that you’re talking to one of the greatest and most accomplished fighters in boxing history. Most observers believe much of Arguello’s current motivation is financial, but he believes he can win that fourth title, or at least he’s convinced himself that he can do it. And, considering the lack of overall strength at 140 pounds, if Aaron Pryor isn’t there to stop him, Arguello just might pull it off. Whether he does or now, a whole lot of people will be pulling for him along the way.

KO Magazine: Alexis, some fighters say that boxing is like an addictive drug. Once you start doing it, it gets into your blood like a drug and it’s hard to shake. Is it like that for you now?

Alexis Arguello: Maybe, but it’s not really like a drug, it’s just that it’s the only thing we learn how to do. Especially in my case. I started boxing when I was 14 years old. That’s the only thing I know how to do. I didn’t have what it took, money-wise, to go to school. Now boxing is the thing that I do best.

KO: You don’t feel that you’re addicted to boxing?

AA: No. It’s just a good way to make a living. A decent way. My opinion of boxing is that the sport really is apart from other sports. It’s a challenge. You’re dealing with a human being that is the same weight as you, with the same brain. The same ability, different ability, quality. Different skills. For you to be a winner you have to dedicate yourself all the time.

Arguello mixing it with Ray Mancini in their 1981 lightweight title bout. Photo by: The Ring Magazine/Getty Images

KO: You’ve taken a lot of physical tests, for your body, for your coordination. How do you feel about your body right now?

AA: It’s in 100-percent good condition. I have no doubt about it. I went through brain exams, blood exams, liver exams. All the tests that a human being could think of. And everything tested normal.

KO: Were you surprised that everything came out all right?

AA: I knew before the layoff. Right after the Pryor fight, I wanted to make sure my body was functioning all right. I went down to Miami for an exam and my brain was normal. Like a 20-year-old boy’s. It was the same way when I started training.

KO: Does it concern you that so many fighters who fought for many years, like you, get a little punch drunk when they’re older?

AA: I don’t think so. It really depends because we’re all different men. Every man has his own life. I think the main thing is because they didn’t do the right thing the right way. But in this case, I made sure that everything was done the right way, because I’m really concerned about it. I’m a good human being. I like my family, I want to spend time with them. But this time I have a goal as a fighter, to do something nobody has ever done. You have to ask yourself, “Can you do it or not? Are you willing to pay the price?” I think I’m willing. It’s a hard question to ask yourself. I did it for 16 years.

KO: Compare these three fighters for me: Alexis Arguello who knocked out Ruben Olivares, Alexis Arguello who beat Alfredo Escalera, and Alexis Arguello who beat Jim Watt. What’s the difference between them?

AA: I think I’m in a better situation now than I was then. I know what I’m doing.

KO: When you beat Olivares, how good were you?

AA: Well, I was a boy. I was 19 years old. I didn’t know what I know now. I didn’t have the knowledge that I have now. I didn’t know what I was doing, because I was just a kid. But I did want the title the same way then like I want the fourth title now. It’s something to make history. The guts and the ability are still there.

KO: With Escalera, was that more of a professional Arguello, or were you still very young?

AA: I was a solid fighter by then and knew what I was doing. I won my first title in the 126-pound division, which was light for my height. I was sacrificing myself to make the weight. Then I went on. I was at this weight 147, 148, for two years. To make 140 pounds will be a piece of cake. I’m a 33-year-old man, a solid man that knows what he’s doing, knows what he wants.

KO: You fought for the title in four different weight divisions. In which division was Alexis Arguello best?

AA: In each of them. In the first Pryor fight, it was my body, but it wasn’t my mind. I’ll tell you with all my heart. The only time I cheated myself was in the first Pryor fight. I don’t want to take anything away from Pryor’s quality, he’s a great champion, but I think it could have been a different story if I’d prepared myself the way I used to.

Arguello’s epic first showdown with Aaron Pryor was  The Ring’s selection as Fight of the Decade (1980s). Photo by The Ring/ Getty Images

KO: So, in one division you were not necessarily better than you were in another one?

AA: No. But in the junior welterweight division, I wasn’t the same guy, especially when I fought Pryor. It’s hard to accept the truth, but it’s the truth. I made the mistake. I thought that just being who I was I could accomplish what I wanted. But you have to pay your dues. You have to come up with something. I can say that I’m the guy who really won the Pryor fight. If I’d won then I’d have been in a big problem now. Some people don’t know how to handle themselves in that type of situation. I lost the fight, but I learned that I could never do it that way. That’s important.

KO: Why did you feel that you weren’t 100 percent before that fight?

AA: Because I didn’t do the right thing.

KO: You didn’t discipline yourself before that fight?

AA: No. That’s what killed me. Especially after that fight. I almost went crazy. I felt so bad. I felt ashamed of myself because I let down my friends. I could not explain to them right afterwards. I had to ask myself, “What happened, what’s the reason?” As a human being, I have the right to confuse myself. All my people just waited for the result, but they knew there was something wrong with me. And the only one who didn’t realize it was me.

KO: The junior welterweight division doesn’t look that strong right now. There’s Pryor, who may not be the same fighter he was when he fought you. And there’s two new champions, Lonnie Smith and Ubaldo Sacco. What do you think about the junior welterweight division right now?

AA: Well, boxing itself is suffering from a big problem. All the divisions. Right now, the junior welterweight division is in the hands of capable guys. And the fighters make the difference. Every weight division has their different qualities, different fighters. The world itself has different kinds of fighters. I’m one of them, and there are others. I cannot give you an opinion about it. The only thing I can tell you is that the whole boxing industry is really in bad shape. There’s a lot of controversy, but I don’t want to be part of the controversy. I want to do the right thing. I don’t want to harm boxing’s image.

KO: Do you think three champions in every division hurts the image?

AA: No, it’s better. That way it gives more accessibility to the promoters. That’s my opinion. I think it commercializes boxing more, and that’s good. But we fighters have to make the difference. Now, in my situation, I can tell you what the problem is. Boxers make mistakes. You make mistakes, and I make mistakes, and I made my mistake. I had to pay. I get a little offended about it. In my case, it’s different. Even though I lost, my people still love me. But I felt ashamed of myself, because I didn’t give 100-percent of myself, like I used to And I want to prove that I can still do it. I know what I want, I know what I’m doing. And I do what I want to do. Can I rise to the task, make the difference, and give what my profession asks me for? Dedication? Yes, I can.

Photo by The Ring/ Getty Images

KO: When you decided to fight Pryor the first time, you were looking to make history then, being the first fighter to ever win four titles.  You could have looked for an easier way. You could have fought the lesser champion – the WBC title was a hot potato then – but you didn’t, you fought the best. Do you have any regrets about not going after the easier targets?

AA: No, on the contrary. I wouldn’t have proved as much had I beaten one of the easier champions.

KO: It wouldn’t mean much winning four titles unless you beat the best?

AA: I think that’s the real issue. People respect me so much for my performance. I put in a performance that wasn’t my best, and look how far I went. In a better situation, I could do better. That’s the thing I’m so ashamed of myself about.

KO: Now you’re going for the fourth title again. Do you still want to go for the best?

AA: Sure. But there’s a couple of things that I have to accept. Before I go after the title, I have to go through three or four opponents. That will be no piece of cake.. They’re all going to want to make a name for themselves by beating me. I don’t blame them. I will make sure the people will be pleased because I’m going to be in top shape. You’re never going to see Alexis Arguello hurt. I will do my best, the people will see Alexis Arguello give 100 percent. My brain and my heart will perform at their best for the people.

KO: You think you’ll be ready for a title shot in three or four fights?

AA: Yes, and I want my performances to be impressive. I want people to say, “You look good Alexis.” That’s important.

KO: What happened to you and Dr. Roman?

AA: Nothing, He’s doing his own business, and I think out relationship came to an end. I still love him.

KO: How long were you with him?

AA: From the early part of my career. I was fighting 10 rounders when I met him and he became my manager. We became good friends. After the Pryor fight, well, that’s when it ended. That’s the way it is. He asked me if I wanted to fight anymore and I said “No.” Then he went to the Dominican Republic to do some business, and he later settled in Miami. Then about six months ago, I made up my mind to fight again. I made that decision by myself. I sat down and told him I wanted to do it. He said, “I think you can do it, but remember the last two years you were complaining that the training was too hard and that you needed a rest.”

KO: Did you ever consider bringing him back as your manager?

AA: Oh, sure. That’s a possibility, but it all depends on what he’s doing. What business he’s doing.

KO: You had financial problems with him?

AA:  No, not at all. Everything was nice, there wasn’t any problem at all.

KO: On a nationally televised interview, you said you became involved in drugs and women during your retirement.

AA: Yeah, but I’m pleased about what happened to me. I’m still a good guy. I could’ve turned into a bad guy. But thank God I didn’t, because I’m stronger and more respectable now. I would never do anything wrong.

KO: How long was this period in Miami when you had your troubles?

AA: Five or six months. It wasn’t that long because I really didn’t feel good about it. I’m happy, because when you go through that kind of trouble you learn. And I learned that what I did is nothing good. And I can hold my hand on my heart and say it will never happen to me again.

KO: Could you understand why some young fighters get involved with drugs?

AA: Yes. We’re human beings. It’s normal in human behavior to get crazy. There’s nothing wrong with it. But you have to ask yourself if you can come back from there.

KO: What made you say, “No more drugs?”

AA: There wasn’t really a lot of drugs. But I didn’t like to spend my nights awake doing things like that. I’d rather have my sleep. Besides, I’m a decent human being. Why was I doing things that weren’t any good for my life? I feel a lot better now. I feel so responsible to the youth and I want to portray what I am. Like I said, every man has hard times in his life. But I’m over that. That’s what is important.

Photo by The Ring Magazine/ Getty Images

KO: A lot of kids know you primarily from your beer commercial. In some ways that made you more famous than your boxing. Does that bother you?

AA: I won three world titles, and I knew how to communicate with the American people, and that’s why the Miller Brewing Company made me one of the spokesmen. Besides, I go all around the world making personal appearances, because I know public relations. That’s why they keep sending me. Maybe I’m one of the best they have. They know what a good job I do. They like what I do. But I have to ask myself, “Do you want to do that?” Why don’t you do something different? Hey, let’s do something else! Lets win that other title.

KO: People were bothered when they saw you fight Pryor. You were hurt and beaten into retirement. It upset them because they viewed you as a hero. Are you aware that many people see you as a hero?

AA: Well, I don’t consider myself as a hero. I just consider myself a human being making a living.

KO: You’ve had many problems in your life. You’ve been hurt by an earthquake in Nicaragua. You’ve been hurt by the revolution in your country. You’ve been hurt in the ring. But you always come back. What is it inside you that makes you come back?

AA: I think it’s a desire?

KO: What is your desire? To do what? To be what?

AA: To prove that a human being is capable of doing anything he wants. To prove that there are no limits in our dimension. You can go as far as you want to go, as long as you pay the price. That’s the message that I want to send to young kids. I came from the ghetto, my family was poor. But that doesn’t mean anything. I became a good athlete, but I want to be more than that. I want to be a good human being. I want to respect everybody, that way I will get respect. That’s what is missing in this world. Respect. We see people, but we don’t care about them. We should be able to communicate with people. Man has no limits. You can get anything you want as long as you pay the price.

KO: If you had to pick one fight that gave you the most satisfaction, which one would it be?

AA: Each one of them was a goal, a desire. Each title was different. A different adventure. A different weight to approach. But it was the same joy. In all the accomplishments I made, I made something from nothing. That made me happy and feel great. And I’m going to feel better, especially since I’m going after something nobody has ever done.


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