SI Vault
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
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
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

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

He took the rope off the chair and looped it around his neck. At 33, he undid his retirement and announced he was returning.

How could a man lose millions of dollars, his pride, his loved ones, his desire to live—simply by leaving his job? In America, which is a country crowded with people who built their identities upon the loose gravel of their work, this was not unusual. Boxers simply built more furiously and more dangerously than the others.

Every few months, it appeared, another retired fighter felt compelled to come back. But no, not Alexis Arguello. He seemed to have a grip on his life.

"When I quit," he had said, "I'm not going to come back one year later like some other guys. I promised everybody: my wife, my manager, the press. And I've never been a liar. I saved and invested every penny I made, thanks to good management. I know who I am. I'm only a fighter getting older. I want to go to college and get a degree."

No, not Arguello. He was in control of himself.

Most boxers refrain from sex for a few weeks before a match. Arguello refrained for two months. In trainer Eddie Futch's 54 years in the sport, Arguello was the only boxer he ever knew who refused during workouts to allow his sweat to be wiped off. Sweat was eye-stinging proof that he was working honestly, that he was in control of himself.

Arguello did not even allow his trainers to wrap his hands with gauze before workouts or fights. He would spend up to 25 minutes doing it himself: around the hand, inside the thumb, around the hand, outside the thumb, entering a trance as he wove it, visualizing his body mechanics in the ring, starting all over if there was the smallest wrinkle. When he finished, life seemed to be wrapped into a tight, flawless ball at the end of his wrist. His dark brown eyes hardened and focused; inside, he says, he felt like a wolf padding through the forest on the trail of satisfaction. He felt clean now, natural. Certain. One day in Tucson, an instructor of yoga meditation said he was as centered, as at one with himself, in a public gymnasium as many Hindus who meditate in the serenity of an ashram.

Don't athletes' lives mirror their performances? Don't we expect a Pryor's life to ricochet and an Arguello's life to hum?

When Arguello was nine years old, his family was so poor it could no longer afford his schooling. He dropped out for good and ran away to work on a farm, coming home nearly a year later when his father found him and begged him, for his mother's sake, to return. Food was so scarce that his mother stabbed a fork into his hand for stealing off his brother's plate. At 13, he went to Canada to find work, grew long hair and had a tattoo needled into his upper arm. A year later he came back to Managua and handed his parents the thousand dollars he had saved working two jobs. His life was torn between the need to escape his reality and the desire to stay and fight it. At 14 he found boxing, and the fragments of his life fused. He didn't have to run away to escape.

Sometimes, as the years passed, he would sense how fragile this truce was. He went through two divorces, his second wife once screaming at him in a hotel lobby, just before a fight, to give her more money. But always he had boxing to make him whole.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13