Arguello's strongly felt sense of what is gentlemanly can cut both ways. In 1978, just after he had won his junior lightweight title from Escalera, he came upon Roberto Duran in the lobby of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. There had been some vague talk that Don King was interested in promoting a match between them, and Arguello walked over to shake hands. According to Arguello, Duran ignored the proffered hand. "He screamed at me, 'You're a queer! Why don't you sign the contract?' It was just propaganda, maybe. I'd never seen a contract." At the time, Duran was having trouble making the 135-pound lightweight limit, and Arguello was coasting along in the junior lightweight division, so a match wasn't likely. Even so, Arguello was disgusted. He walked away from Duran and they never met in the ring. Arguello denies, however, that he would have turned Duran down. "I am a professional boxer and I am happy to fight with anyone," he says simply. "This is my job."
And in doing his job, he matches his considerable physical strength with equivalent brain power. Watch him in the early rounds of a fight, say his second bout with Escalera, in Rimini, Italy in February of 1979, which Arguello says was his toughest fight. He lashed out at the buzzing Escalera, but often his counterattack seemed ineffective, his punches falling short of the mark.
Arguello was drawing Escalera in, emboldening the challenger, allowing him to think, "Here's a fighter with no snap." "Alexis seems almost lackadaisical about his starts," says CBS boxing consultant Mort Sharnik. "Certainly he 'takes' a few punches in the early rounds." All the time, though, Arguello is feeding data into that computer of a mind, making judgments, figuring his man, pulling him into range.
And then in the fifth or sixth round, the same short punch suddenly has crunching power. Both Busceme and Mancini ended up reeling like drunken sailors—as did Escalera in that terrific fight in Italy. Arguello has a pulverizing left hook, but often it is the straight right over the top that he uses as a finisher. "If he ever gets Aaron Pryor [the WBA junior welterweight champion]," Sharnik says, "he'll overwhelm him."
Lately it has been Arguello who has been overwhelmed, by an obsession. Since July 1979, he has fought 11 times; No. 12, against Andy Ganigan, was scheduled for April 3 in Las Vegas but had to be postponed until May 22 (it will be telecast by CBS) because Arguello had inflamed sinuses. He says he will go on at this pace: "This year is going to be busy. The end of '83, I'm going to finish my career. I've got to make money fast—fight four or five times every year. I had four fights in '81, and I only took December off because I was moving from Coral Gables." He barely stops training. "After a fight I talk to my doctor to find out how my face is, my body, my muscles," Arguello says. "I take one week layoff and I am training again. Right now is the time for work. Later is the time for everything else."
This obsession isn't rooted in the ring or ring history, although the goal of becoming the first man to win four different titles is worth zealously pursuing. No, the obsession stems from something deeper than that: survival.
When Arguello came to New York to fight Rafael (Bazooka) Limon in July of 1979, Nicaragua was in a state of turmoil. The violent Sandinista revolt against the right-wing regime of Anastasio Somoza was nearing its successful conclusion. After Arguello knocked out Limon in 11 rounds on the night of July 8 at the Garden's Felt Forum, he started back to Managua by way of Miami.
"I didn't know how much things would be changed," Arguello says, "so I just took ordinary luggage when I left home six weeks before the fight. The full-scale civil war had started when I was in Mexico training for Limon, and when I got to Miami after the fight, Dr. [Eduardo] Roman, my manager, said there was a big problem getting back into Nicaragua, so I stayed for a while in Miami."
He's still there. After the revolutionary government took over, Arguello's house and that of his mother were confiscated as well as his boat, his cars, his chicken-raising business and his bank account. The Sandinistas were rough about it, turning his mother and his eldest sister into the street without time even to pack their clothes. His house, he was told, had been given over to Soviet diplomats and government men were driving around in his Mercedes. He still had about $200,000 in a U.S. bank, but the greater part of the capital—approximately $500,000 in money and properties—that he had earned in 67 fights during almost 11 years, was gone.
He was bewildered. Hadn't he sent money to the Sandinistas when their leaders were in exile in Mexico? Hadn't he gone into the ring against Limon in New York under the red and black Sandinista banner, for all to see? And hadn't his younger brother, Eduardo, been killed while fighting for the Sandinista cause only weeks earlier? Arguello's anger slowly grew, his resolution deepened. "When you have something hard to do, you must do it," he says, reflecting on these events. "I had to do it all again. I had everything, now I had to start again. If you have a lot of courage you can do it again."