Arguello is that rarest of birds, an old-fashioned sportsman who refrains from hype and from bad-mouthing opponents. And his style seems to affect his foes. When Arguello arrived in London for the Watt fight, he immediately inquired after Watt's family, and Watt returned the gesture, saying, "Alexis and myself are both proud professionals, and a world championship fight should be a dignified affair."
The bout was dignified, all right, and brutal. Watt and Arguello were both bloodied, and Arguello won a unanimous decision. "I have no complaints," Watt said at the conclusion. "I hope I went out like a man. The title is in good hands."
Arguello had the last word. "I promised Jim I defend the title for him with my blood and my heart," he said.
In the ring, which had been the target of bottle throwers after Hagler defeated Minter, Watt and Arguello embraced each other after the decision was announced, and the extra bobbies brought in to control the crowd filed out with the decorous fans.
Arguello was also applauded in San Juan after he put Escalera away. "In Puerto Rico, they love Alexis more than they love [WBC super bantamweight champion] Gomez right now," says Kahn, who ought to know. "They love Benitez, but they love more Alexis. He wins the people when he beats Escalera. The government gives him a certificate making him the guest of the nation."
When Arguello entered the ring in Beaumont, Texas to fight the local hero, Busceme, he got the predictable antagonistic reception from the home crowd. He swatted away Busceme's early, wild shots with unconcern and then, choosing his positions and his punches, knocked him out neatly in the sixth round—a rather simple chore, like mowing the front lawn back in King's Bay. As soon as the dazed Busceme was the right way up in his corner, Arguello took the challenger's head gently in his gloves and spoke urgently to him. "I told him," Arguello said in the dressing room after the fight, "that he was a man. I wanted him to feel strong again, and give him his pride back. I told him he fought like a man, just like Mancini."
Indeed, last October, in Atlantic City, N.J., Arguello spoke to Ray Mancini in equally warm and generous terms after he had defeated the challenger. With considerable grace, he referred to Mancini's father, a former pro fighter who had himself aspired to the lightweight title, and spoke of his sadness at the father's disappointment over his son's defeat. For those aware that the world of boxing is a long way from Camelot, these solicitous remarks might have had a whiff of stage management. But Arguello's rare, curiously old-fashioned chivalry was unrehearsed, and a national television audience, which viewed the fight on CBS, was charmed.
Mancini had taken the fight to Arguello and seemed to be ahead after six rounds. But then the champion asserted himself and methodically pummeled the 20-year-old challenger until he TKO'd him in the 14th round.
The fighters embraced, much as Arguello and Watt had in London, and Alexis spoke to Mancini, saying, "I love your father [whom he then gestured to in the audience]. That is the most beautiful thing you have...like I have with my father. Take good care of you. You're going to be a good, good fighter, and I promise if I can do something for you, let me know, please."
Mancini then talked about how disappointed he was to have lost his title bid, and Arguello assured him that his own first championship fight also had been a failure.