It was in the
autumn of '82, when he was on the ledge of immortality, one victory from a
fourth title, that things began to happen that his background did not equip him
to understand. Media requests became frantic, beautiful women and wealthy men
congregated around him. He could defeat Pryor and be wealthy and beautiful like
them without ever working hard again. All the years of crusade and struggle
were almost over.
occurred to him. Wouldn't that mean waking up the morning after the fight with
no cause, no chance ever to feel that moment of purity in the 20-foot square
again? Were they offering the chair to him, gold-coating it to fool him?
relations firm and a close friend began dropping hints that he should get
another divorce, he says. Arguello had had a different wife for each of his
first three titles—what a wonderful book and movie it would make if he were to
have a fourth wife for the fourth. He was so eager to please people, so hungry
for affection, that they could make suggestions like this and know that he
His current wife,
Loretto, was a woman unfazed by the glamour, who prayed for him in arena
lavatories rather than watch him get hit. But, my God, the beauty of these
women rubbing against him—how could a man not give in?
He began to shake
inside. At the same time, could winning mean weakness and strength, fulfillment
and emptiness? The job that had once been his escape from contradiction, his
one chance to feel clean, had become as complicated as the rest of his
"I know it
sounds crazy," he says. "But I was afraid they'd make me leave my wife.
I love her, but I am an Indian from Nicaragua. I had no education. When you are
born with nothing, and suddenly everything is possible.... I can't explain it,
but part of me was afraid to win that fight."
Wildly torn, he
wildly pursued opposites. He took a girl to his training camp in Palm Springs,
Calif., drinking champagne and frolicking with her in the hotel pool until
dawn. He took megadoses of vitamins and pounded the heavy bag harder than ever.
He refused to rise for his 6 a.m. roadwork call, then ran under a blazing
A few hours
before the fight, assistant trainer Don Kahn looked into Arguello's eyes. He
did not see the fire. Arguello jangled his legs. They felt dead. "I fought
only on guts," he says. In the 14th round, guts kept him vertical for one
of the longest unanswered fusillades in boxing history. Pryor shelled him with
23 consecutive punches before Arguello collapsed.
For four minutes
he kept his eyes closed, still conscious but shutting out the world, blocking
out the shame. "I felt like I had crapped on myself," he says. "I
had not worked honestly." In the locker room, he lay down and curled into
the fetal position.
In lieu of the
womb, he settled for his bedroom, where his wife served him three meals a day,
and his eldest son, A.J., then 11, was forbidden to enter. Over 50 times, he
pushed a videotape button and watched it happen to him again.