Up Close and Personal with the Legendary Alexis Arguello
An Exclusive Interview by Aladdin Freeman (July 28, 2004)
During the induction weekend at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota New York, I took the time to talk with Marvin Hagler, Alexis Arguello, Dwight Muhammad Quai, Jake Lamotta, and Gene Fullmer. Although this is a little behind, I thought the fans would still be interested in reading how some of these living legends of the sport of boxing are doing. As promised this is the third part of a four part interview.
Photo © Aladdin Freeman
Alexis Arguello is one of the most gracious individuals in the sport of boxing, as many of you may know one minute he’s trying to knock Ray Mancini's head off, then he’s helping him up and telling him that he loves his father. He arguably may have had the best career of anyone who has ever gotten knocked out in the first round of their first fight.
Most people forget how well he was able to deal with adversity in his career. He lost 2 of his first 5 fights, didn’t get a title shot until his 40th fight and lost that fight by decision; yet, was still able to regroup and go on to have a great career.
Arguello’s overall record stands at 82 wins, 8 losses, with 65 knockuts. He is known for dynamic punching power and his ability to pick his opponents apart with counter punching. His fights with Ruben Olivares and Aaron Pryor will be forever remember in boxing lore. Today he’s still the same gracious person that he was back in his fighting days and now he’s even getting involved in politics.
ARGUELLO: If I had the strength to make all the originations disappear, I would and make my own because people’s perception of the sport right now isn’t that good. I don’t think people really understand that this is a real sport; it’s just you and the other person one on one. The stuff that ESPN puts on is bullshit fights, I mean what I saw last night sucked, made me want to puke and I love this sport, so what do you think everyone else is thinking about it? That’s always been my problem I’m a forward guy.
You want a funny story? I work for Telemundo and this one time we working with a promoter that only tries to promote his fighters and he matches these guys up with only C class fighters, so every time he’d do that I rip him and his fighters because that’s bullshit. I’d ask him, how are you going to make any ratings and create any interest in the sport when you’re putting on these lopsided fights? All of a sudden Bob Arum tells Carlos Barba: “To get rid of Alexis, or I won’t put together any fights for you.” Can you believe that piece of shit? I don’t trust him nor should anyone in the sport; he doesn’t care about making the sport better. ESPN is no better one day whoever is in charge is going to have to do something about the fights that are being put together.
FREEMAN: I agree with that, but don’t give the fighters free pass, a lot of them don’t want to face the top guys in their division and for what reason? They are scared to lose or the promoters are scared that if their guy loses then they won’t have that meal ticket anymore. Don’t let HBO and Showtime off either, both should be big enough to put aside their egos like they did with Tyson vs. Lewis, to allow the fighters that they showcase on their network to be matched up with other fighters from a different network. I understand there is the business side of it, but it’s hurting the sport as well.
Let’s move on because I’m sure you and I could bash Bob Arum, Don King and other people in the sport all day. Let’s talk about your career what’s your fondest memory?
ARGUELLO: Man I have to say this honestly each and every fight was great for me because for me to be able to perform as I did I had to go to work. I had to get up run in the morning for 2 hours, go to the gym and also get good opponents as sparring partners because I’m a big believer in that how you train is how you will fight at least when it came to me that’s how it worked. When I was in top shape I’d go to the ring and show my conditioning. I’d say the most memorable thing for me was my dedication and motivation in how I got so involved in boxing.
FREEMAN: Did you think after your first five fights that you’d end up as a Hall of Fame fighter?
ARGUELLO: I didn’t know right at the time, but what I did know is that I wanted to be great and had the will and drive to get better. I think I went on a nice winning streak of about 20 fights until I fought Jorge Reyes and he stopped me in 6 rounds after I punched myself out. I almost had that son of a bitch out in the fourth round myself but I knew that I would learn from every fight no matter what happened.. That’s something I wish I could instill in the fighters today, to learn from every fight even if it’s a one round knockout or if it’s a 12 round spilt decision, learn from it.
FREEMAN: You are know as the gentleman of the sport but was it something you had to work on going from trying to knock this person out to helping him up?
ARGUELLO: It was a natural process, because when we go to the ring we are human beings, but once you feel the punches and the competition that’s when the beast comes out and takes hold of us. Then that switch comes on, live or die, something like the best will win; it’s hard to explain but it's like are you willing to go for it.
There were moments, like when I fought Alfredo Escalera who was a real tough guy in there, but my condition and my hunger to win were above anything that he brought to the table that night and it was like that for most of my career except when I got to Pryor (Laughing). It’s a lot about the individual and it’s really up to you, how much you dedicate to the fight and how hard you are working and that’s where the outcome will come. Of course after the fight you want to make sure that you're okay and so is the other guy, it’s a brotherhood in there, so you want to make sure everyone is okay after the war is over.
FREEMAN: Would you describe yourself as a tactician or a puncher?
ARGUELLO: Actually punching is a mistake; a heavy hitter will cut you with one shot. I believe more in precision, when you have the capability, like when you see a mosquito fly and you're able to hit it, you're able to hit it with a couple of short sharp shots… it’s a beautiful thing.
I’d take precision any day over power; as far as being tactical you know you have to see what’s going on in there and also understand that for every punch that you or your opponent throws there’s always a counter shot or two which you have to be ready to fire or defend. I was good at doing both and so that’s where the tactical part comes into play. Some nights it was about being tactical, other nights it was about looking for shots and setting up the big shots with combos.
FREEMAN: You were big on keeping the people that you started with in the sport of boxing together and keeping everyone tight. Can you talk about that a little?
ARGUELLO: Well, there’s no one in the sport I respect more than my manager Eduardo Romano. I started it with him and I retired with him. He’s a lawyer, but more importantly to me, he’s a friend and a good person with a heart of gold. I love the guy, we still have a great relationship together even to this day. I can remember the first thing he did when I met him and he proposed to be my manager. He gave me a book about World War II and since then in my life I became so interested in reading about people like Hitler, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan and so on, pretty much anything he gave me, I read. He is the main reason I am the person that is standing before you today, and the reason is if you surround fighters with wrong people and bad influences then they are going to be bad people. If that same fighter is around a lot of quality people then you’ll get a better response.
FREEMAN: Going back to the books did you ever read “The Prince” by Machiavelli?
ARGUELLO: Oh, that was like the third book I read but I didn’t like all the things he wrote about. He was a smart man but a lot of the stuff he wrote about could help out evil people. However, some of the things are truly real and I do believe a lot of things in our minds are evil or maybe just about getting over on other human beings. I do think the heart can balance out the mind, if your heart is in a good place it can give you the strength to do the right thing and behave the right way and overcome the mind.
FREEMAN: Go tell that to some rich people in power like our President and his cronies and you’d probably get laughed out of the room but hey that’s your view and that’s mine. Do you have any regrets in your boxing career?
ARGUELLO: I have no regrets because I did everything by the book. In my opinion these days the great men, the great trainers like Eddie Futch, Freddie Brown, Ray Arcel, and Angelo Dundee had the capability to instill their values and their life lessons in their fighters and that’s the main thing to me that boxing is missing. Aside from a handful of guys boxing is missing the good trainers, that’s why our sport is so in the air now because we don’t have people who have the capability to not only train fighters but also train and create decent respectable citizens of the world. Don’t be robots, but I mean be humble enough to understand there is more going on other than boxing and bigger things than “me.”
On these athletes' shoulders relies a big responsibility, four years ago the President of the Boxing Commission in Mexico asked me... “Where did we make the mistake?” and I said... “Simple, we made the mistake with the interest and value that we put in money.” When you put the interest of a kid on money instead of heart then you’re destroying the beauty of our lives and our thought process, which should be about how much responsibilities you carry as an athlete and a citizen. When money comes into play then that’s all it’s about wanting money, who’s making the most who can get the most, me, me me…. and in the end it screws up the person and the sport.
What helped me was I had people around me to remind me to help my country even when it did me wrong, have respect for my people, my family, my nation and mankind. I truly believe that in each and every one of us lies the responsibility to feel pride of what we do for our country.
FREEMAN: To clear it up a little you mean to take a stand for something in some way or fashion like cleaning up a neighbor hood like David Robinson does. Helping gangs come to a time a peace like Jim Brown is continuing to do, helping bring awareness to people who didn’t know about a military injustice that might be still going like Felix Trinidad is doing now.
ARGUELLO: Yes, across the board, these gentlemen understand they have the power to make a difference and even educate people to injustices that are occurring in their worlds.
FREEMAN: Does it bug you to see a lot of guys now who could be doing more with their time not doing so and how could you reach them and let them know you could be doing a lot more?
ARGUELLO: One of the problems is a fighter with 20 pro fights, you can’t ask him to have any idea what to do with so much money. If you can believe this, I didn’t fight for my first world title fight till I had 58 fights, so I really appreciated what I was fighting for and for whom as well. I think what is going on now it’s a mistake. Fighters with 13 fights are winning world titles, and of course they don’t know how to behave. Not many people do at the age of 21 or younger even, know how to act nor could be concerned with anything other than fighting, women and money.
These “children” think that they are king of the world when they win these titles and forget about their country. When you won that title you should know now that you are representing a whole country or nation with your actions and you are now in a glass house or under a microscope and you better be ready to make your people proud. I'm not going to say we don’t need money, everyone does, but at the same time you have to take care of the nation and the sport itself. See, I respect boxing because it has given me so much and that’s why I will never allow anyone to mistreat the sport of boxing if I can help it. Boxing gave me the opportunities to grow into the person that I am today.
FREEMAN: Which guys in your eyes are the gentlemen of the sport today?
ARGUELLO: Pretty tough question, even more so since Tarver just knocked out the guy who I thought was unbeatable. Roy Jones has done a lot to bring the sport to the mainstream audience and expand the sport. However, he thought that he was superman and he got caught and Tarver found his kryptonite. It happens to all of us. I thought Shane Mosley was unbeatable at lightweight, then he moved up and showed that he was with bigger fighters. Hell, what I did to Olivares happened to me 8 years later when I fought Aaron Pryor. You don’t leave this game without getting your ass kicked once or twice, hell, even if you win there are nights when you sure as hell don’t feel like you did.
FREEMAN: If there was one thing you could do or are doing to improve the sport, what would it be?
ARGUELLO: I’m doing it, I took responsibility in my country and I’ve done it with my bare hands. I made a gym, it’s the best gym in Nicaragua, I have kids that this year July 6th through the 11th will be fighting and then will go on to the Central American Games and I’m sure at least one will win a gold medal. Later in July I’m going to be promoting and putting on a boxing show of amateur fighters from July 21st through the 28th where one hundred kids will be fighting and competing with each other to see who’s going to be the best.
I could do what a lot of people are doing and that’s sign the best Nicaraguan fighters and then sell them to Don King, but there’s no way I’ll do that. I’m doing it the right way and I’m going to plant my seed in these kids and the sport so that like I said we have good people. The idea isn’t to make better boxers, it’s to make better citizens who are able to represent us with dignity and respect.
© Copyright / All Rights reserved: Doghouse Boxing 1998-2004