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ADRIFT IN A SEA OF CHOICES
Gary Smith
October 21, 1985
Alexis Arguello once considered suicide as an escape from the contradictions and ambiguities that filled a rich life with betrayal and despair
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October 21, 1985

Adrift In A Sea Of Choices

Alexis Arguello once considered suicide as an escape from the contradictions and ambiguities that filled a rich life with betrayal and despair

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The subject seems to electrify the ground beneath his feet. His legs cannot stop jiggling, his hand keeps shooting out to ground him on the arm of his visitor. He laughs while speaking very painful words.

"Do you realize that no one—no one—ever gave me a gift in my life?" he says quietly. "If they did, I'd probably cry.

"Nobody understands me. If I had had a chance to study, I could be something different. But I didn't."

He will live in New Hampshire, near lakes and trees instead of people, a man cut off from his country and now even from his fellow expatriates. "I cannot live in Miami," he says. "Too many temptations. I don't trust myself. I have accepted I am a weak person. When I am boxing, I have no right to screw off."

He began working out in June, but for nearly two months he still agonized, he still threw himself on the ground some nights and cried. Boxing made him feel strong, but the need to depend on anything outside himself for strength made him feel weak. He had seen through the paradox, and now he had to make himself pretend he had not.

To return meant reentering the world, making money, risking more betrayal. To return to make history meant swimming against it. Joe Louis could not regain a title after coming back from retirement, nor Willie Pep, Jim Jeffries, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Benny Leonard or Sugar Ray Leonard. Only three men in recent boxing history, featherweights Vicente Saldivar in 1970 and Eder Jofre in 1973 and middleweight Sugar Ray Robinson in 1955, ever won championships after voluntary retirements of more than a year.

One loss, even one awkward win, will terminate his comeback. Arguello will be close to 34 by the time he is able to maneuver past four or five warmup bouts and earn a title shot—next spring, say. A half hour each evening, he performs mental training, visualizing peak performances of the past and ones to come, and before each fight he will work with a hypnotist. But no matter how careful the preparation, this comeback pains many people in boxing.

"I've never seen a boxer take shots like he took against Pryor and hold up against big-time fighters," warns Emanuel Steward, Tommy Hearns's trainer. "I thought he'd lost his legs two years ago [after the first Pryor fight]—that ability to regain his balance quickly after throwing a punch. I'd like to see him with the class and dignity I remember. I'm afraid he could get hurt."

"He's been exploited," says Roman. "I would never expose him to this danger."

"I don't see anyone in the junior welterweight division who can beat him," contends Bill Miller, the agent who has replaced Roman as Arguello's manager. "I think he burned out from so much boxing before, but since the layoff he looks to me like a better fighter."

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