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HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
Clive Gammon
April 26, 1982
Champion, loving father and gentleman in and out of the ring, Alexis Arguello is a hero the world over, but a stranger in his own land
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April 26, 1982

Home Is Where The Heart Is

Champion, loving father and gentleman in and out of the ring, Alexis Arguello is a hero the world over, but a stranger in his own land

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"There was that fight in Mexicali against Jose Torres in February 1976," a Managua sportswriter recalls. "It was not a title fight, but he was playing poker until three, four in the morning. And there was a muchacha with him when he should have been concentrating on training in Managua. Even when he left for the fight he took the girl with him. Always, before, he used to go with Sylvia, but for Mexicali he took another girl. He won the decision, but he was knocked down for the second time in his life."

Sylvia was the classic girl-next-door-in-the-barrio, whom Alexis married when he was 17 and who bore him two children. Dumping her for a muchacha was something he might have gotten away with in Philadelphia, but not in Managua. "He was very innocent, really, about women," the sportswriter says. "The money came fast, he was taken up by the society people of Managua. Before, he was a good husband, always at home. Now he started staying out late in Plastic City [what Managuans call the garish entertainment district south of town] and that's where he met Patricia, dancing in a disco. She danced well and she was of the upper class. She was 16, maybe 17."

When the divorce came, the barrios and the press were solidly for Sylvia. Tales of their early poverty were recalled—how once, when they were badly strapped, Alexis had had to pry a coin worth about 25¢ from a souvenir ashtray they had at home; and how, when their house was damaged in the great Managua earthquake, they couldn't afford the $140 to repair the wooden structure and Roman had had to come up with the money. The divorce, working-class Managuans felt, meant that Alexis had betrayed his own people.

He responded with more and more ostentatious, out-of-character behavior. In 1976 he announced his retirement from the ring—to cut down on the money he would have to pay Sylvia, the press claimed. There followed allegations that he was wickedly hard on sparring partners, that he relied on local boys because he could get away with paying them a mere $2 per hour, that he was too ferocious with them, even hurting his own brother Orlando, that he lost control during training, as did Carlos Monzon, the longtime Argentinian middleweight champion who was noted for his hot temper. "Three thousand dollars for a watch for his wrist, two dollars to beat up a Nicaraguan," Managuans said.

To anyone who has known Arguello in recent years, that accusation borders on the incredible. It arose, no doubt, from the maliciousness of the local press and the bitterness in the barrios. But there's also no doubt that Alexis went well off the rails in this period, and that the cause was both media pressure and his second marriage. "The first time he defended his featherweight title, against Lionel Hernandez in Caracas," another reporter says, "his spending was unbelievable. Suits, solid gold bracelets. Just like Duran and Monzon." For the only time in his association with Arguello, Roman's influence was in eclipse. The same writer says, "One day a man from Costa Rica showed up with a Mercedes sports car. Alexis took him to the bank, drew 50,000 cordobas [about $7,000] in cash, added his own new Mercedes sedan, gave everything to the Costa Rican and drove away in the used car."

A scene in the lobby of New York's Statler Hilton hotel, across the street from Madison Square Garden, on the eve of Arguello's fight against Ezequiel Sanchez there in June 1977 was typical of his behavior during this period. As Roman, the press and Nicaraguan fans looked on, Patricia suddenly accosted Arguello. She was very angry and wanted money. She screamed, "I got married to you to get a good life, but you are giving me nothing!" Arguello, embarrassed, put his hand in his pocket and gave her money, but the incident signaled the end of their marriage.

Arguello is in more tranquil, far more secure waters in his present marriage, to Loretta, a handsome, wryly humorous Nicaraguan girl he met in Miami in 1978. And that domestic tranquillity is especially important to Arguello because the anarchy of his relationship with Patricia was followed by another trauma, his exile from Nicaragua.

Roman, though not a member of the Sandinista Front, wanted the overthrow of Somoza. Early in the revolution he was involved with an anti-Somoza underground paper, supplying it with money and materials and arranging for mimeographing. At one point he was forced to fly to Costa Rica to escape Somoza's National Guard. Previous to that, though, he had tried to attend to Arguello's political education. The night before he left Nicaragua to fight, Arguello would customarily dine at Roman's house. At one such dinner, before he headed for Italy and the second Escalera fight, Roman introduced Arguello to El Pensamiento Vivo de Sandino, a little book of the thoughts and life of Sandino, the Nicaraguan revolutionary hero of the early '30s, whose name had been taken by the new movement. Arguello was politically naive at this time and was impressed enough to send money to the revolutionaries.

"Somoza never gave him a penny," Roman says, "but he tried to take advantage of Alexis' position as world champion. He got him to take part in a presidential parade, riding on a horse. Then he presented him with a decoration of the Congress. I heard these things were going to happen and I said, 'Look, Alexis, don't make that mistake. They are trying to involve you in their politics, and that is terrible for you because you are the champion of the people of Nicaragua, not of the dictator Somoza.' "

Upon overthrowing Somoza in July of 1979, Sandinista officials discovered that Somoza had appointed Arguello an honorary lieutenant in his National Guard, the feared and hated army that had kept the dictator in power. Arguello was scarcely aware that he had been so "honored." He didn't even tell Roman. In fact, he didn't have room on his walls for all the unsolicited certificates that reached him. But this one sealed his fate. Or at least that of his property.

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