SI Vault
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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The Avenida del Campo runs through a lushly green residential area to the east of Managua. Americans might expect to pay $250,000 for one of the houses, which are still imposing, even though the lawns are unkempt and uncollected garbage litters the sidewalks. On the grass outside Roman's house are parked half a dozen vehicles belonging to the 17 Cuban communications experts who are—according to locals—now billeted there. Arguello's house, down the road, is screened by trees and reportedly inhabited by the Soviet diplomats.

Such changes are an inevitable part of a revolution and, weighed in the balance, are perhaps unimportant. And at least Arguello escaped the trauma of being physically expelled from his house. His eldest sister, Marina, now working as a seamstress in a small clothing factory in Managua, still recalls with horror how "Six soldiers came and Mama had the heart sickness and I am still afraid. And Alexis, do I miss him? ¡Si, claro!"

The official line on the confiscation of Arguello's property is unyielding. It is put precisely by Edgard Tijerino, a member of the FSLN and a writer formerly on the independent La Prensa and now with Barricada, the official government daily. Until the revolution he was very close to Arguello—he met him in 1968 and wrote his biography. However, a later piece Tijerino wrote, entitled De Idolo a Títere ("From Idol to Puppet") ended their relationship.

"I speak now," he says, "as a Sandinista. Everybody saw Alexis in the ring with the party flag, but by the time he fought Limon, the Sandinistas were already in a winning position. Revolutionary leaders saw this as a piece of opportunism organized by Roman. Nobody knows if Alexis had the Sandinista flag in his heart. As for Eduardo, his brother who was killed—in a big family, there are many ways of thinking. If the father of Carlos Fonseca [the greatest hero of the revolution, who was killed in the mountains in 1976] came to Managua, he would be put in jail.

"When the revolutionaries were victorious, they had to control the country. There had to be a starting point. The majority of lands, farms and houses belonged to Somozans and had been obtained illegally. Individual cases of confiscation could not be discussed. There were a lot of errors. For me, the case of Alexis was one such."

There is no doubt that Tijerino was speaking officially. He's very close to the government. And he readily admits that Arguello is still a great hero in Managua. "When he won the lightweight title from Watt, all over the city there were firecrackers going off, car horns blowing," Tijerino says. "The nine comandantes of the National Party canceled all appointments to watch the fight. Barricada, which does not even have a sports section, ran the story on page one. Daniel Ortega, who is chief of the junta, came into my office when I was typing and grabbed my shoulder. 'How is Alexis?' he asked me. It was the first time he had ever mentioned sport to me."

The night of the Watt fight, something curious happened. A mere two hours before the bout was scheduled to begin, Mickey Duff, the British promoter, was approached by a Nicaraguan journalist. Managua, at the last moment, wanted the telecast of the fight. A certified check arrived from the Nicaraguan embassy in the nick of time. Arguello's third world-title triumph clearly altered the thinking in government circles. After he had beaten Watt, Arguello headed to Venezuela to talk with promoters, and at the Caracas Hilton he found a delegation composed of Tijerino and Samuel Santos, the mayor of Managua, waiting for him. Tijerino said later, "The government recognized its mistake."

The still smoldering Arguello has a different interpretation. "They send these persons to ask me to come back to my country," he says. "Then they tell me the reason they invite me—because they have the birthday of the revolution. They're going to make, like, a party. Teofilo Stevenson is coming from Cuba, they say. Muhammad Ali, Fidel Castro, communist people. They want to start making a new reputation for themselves. I told them, no."

Apart from other issues, Arguello is understandably parade-shy. "I told him he was not obligated to come to the parade," Tijerino says, "but Alexis misinterpreted the offer. He said, 'Have my property evaluated and send me a check in U.S. dollars.' He also said he might be attacked if he came to Managua. But the government had no interest in buying his property. It was there and he could have it." Checkmate.

But one thing is certain. If Arguello ever decides to go home, it will set off the biggest fiesta that Managua has seen in years. He seems unlikely to return, though. The new Alexis, the suburbanite from King's Bay, has few regrets beyond the comparative sterility of his new environment. "Here everybody is in his house, everybody say nothing," he says. "Sometimes hello, but not the same. I never go hunting here. The sea is here to fish, but I am working."

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