For nearly nine minutes Alexis Arguello hadn't figured out Andy Ganigan. But Arguello, who had been knocked down in the first round and staggered late in the third, knew it was only a matter of time before he would solve the southpaw style of Ganigan, a fearless Hawaiian who fights with the subtlety of an exploding grenade. Arguello had smelled trouble. "What a weird style," the WBC lightweight champion had muttered after studying a tape of Ganigan a few nights earlier. "I'd rather fight five of the world's best with normal styles than one guy like this who just throws punches from all over. It's awful."
Ganigan, a 29-year-old former sugarcane cutter, goes at an opponent in a manner described by Hawaiians as ma-ke ma-ke, kill or be killed. Thirty of his 34 victories had come by knockout. And two of his three losses ended likewise. "He don't lay down for nobody," said Larry Ichinose, Ganigan's manager.
In his most recent fight, last October, Ganigan had knocked out Sean O'Grady with a paralyzing left hook to the liver, a cannon shot that made him the World Athletic Association's first lightweight champion—in fact, first champion of any weight division. In a footnote to that historical moment, on the same day WAA founding father—and Sean's dad—Pat O'Grady shipped Ganigan his championship belt, Pat also notified Ganigan that he'd been stripped of his title for failure to defend it.
But all wasn't lost. The dazzling victory over O'Grady had boosted Ganigan to No. 2 in the WBA rankings, and he was offered $130,000 to fight Arguello.
There are those who will tell you that such a sum is not nearly enough, not by twice and twice again, to step into the ring with Arguello. A world champion in three divisions since November of 1974, Arguello has defeated the best featherweights, junior lightweights and lightweights en route to an 18-0 mark in title fights. And only two of his opponents lasted 15 rounds.
Such excellence only made the challenge that much more appealing to Ganigan. "It just proves that he's great," the unawed contender said.
In hope of unraveling the riddle of Ganigan's ma-ke ma-ke assaults, Arguello and trainer Eddie Futch studied a tape of the challenger's 10-round loss to Gato Gonzalez last June.
"My God, what a style," said Arguello, who was paid $400,000 for the defense at Las Vegas' Aladdin Hotel last Saturday. "I've never seen one like that. He starts with a right hand; he starts with a left. But he doesn't jab much or too well. And like me he's a counterpuncher. I must counter a counterpuncher. It will be difficult."
Arguello wasn't worried, only upset that he couldn't design a strategy for Ganigan. To hell with it, he finally decided. I'll just jab him, keep my hands up and pick him off at my distance. And I'll figure him out in the ring.
Ganigan's strategists wanted their man to keep the pressure on Arguello. "Go in and get him," Ichinose ordered.