beam fell on the eyes of a deer, and it froze. Arguello stood with his finger
on the trigger, staring into those eyes. He could not bring himself to
He caught the
deer with his bare hands. He cradled it to his chest. He brought it home and
made it a pet, and never hunted again. Unlike most men, once he saw a
contradiction, he could not anesthetize himself to it.
Like his father,
the shoemaker's son suffered great pain from the ambiguity of his existence.
He, too, longed for resolution, for something that would knife through the
paradox of humanness, of a creature born half spirit and half animal.
Boxing was the
knife. For 16 years Arguello climbed into a 20-foot square and stared into the
eyes of a man who weighed the same as he. The choice seemed clean. Hit or be
hit. Consciousness or darkness. Glory or shame. Black or white. Sometimes, even
life or death. Where else did life offer this? Oh, if only he did not have to
stare into those eyes....
Arguello made boxing into something more than two men trying to destroy one
another, so he could have resolution without the guilt of brutality. He made it
a crusade to help the poor, to offer hope to the young, to give his war-torn
Nicaragua a hero. He freely wrote checks to charity and spent hours with
children. He refused to deride his opponent to hype a fight. "I'm not a
fighter," he said. "I'm an artist. Boxing should be beautiful.... It
should be like ballet dancing."
In the ring he
studied his opponent for as long as he needed to analyze him, suffered
punishment for it, then threw that short, sharp knife of a right hand. The
opponent crumpled. Resolution. In that eye blink, he experienced a purity, a
finality his father and most mortals never know. Then he looked down at the man
on the floor—this was art?—and the feeling began to dissipate, the vagueness
and contradiction returned, and he had to start all over again. Usually he
hugged the man he had beaten and whispered kind words in his ear.
He became one of
eight men in history to win world championships in three weight
divisions—featherweight, junior lightweight and lightweight—and the only one of
those eight never to lose any of his titles in the ring. How dignified and
controlled he was in boxing gloves, a Marine sergeant over each of his muscle
movements, a Samaritan over each of the men he felled. Everyone respected
Then, in November
1982, he tried to become the only man ever to win a fourth division title, and
he met his contradiction: 140 pounds of uncontrollable desperation named Aaron
Pryor. The first fight, one of the sport's greatest battles, ended in the 14th
round with Arguello lying in darkness for four minutes, a doctor anxiously
fingering his eyelids. The second ended in the 10th round, when Pryor flattened
him for the third time. The other side of resolution was a terrifying
He was 31 years
old, owner of a 78-6 career record, five houses in the U.S., including one in
Miami worth $300,000, a $280,000 yacht, a Mercedes, a BMW, a wife who loved him
and four children. The world offered him a chair on a rope. Come out, it called
to him. Come, be one of us; nothing is clean or final, but the risks are much
For two years he
tried it. His life lurched from business to acting to a crusade to clean up
boxing. From cocaine to women to wild spending. From Nicaragua to Miami.
Nowhere in the confusion could he find the moment of clarity, of resolution,
that boxing had given him.