Alexis Arguello, 57

Alexis Arguello, 57; Three-Time Boxing Champion

Alexis Arguello, left, defeated Alfredo Escalera in a super featherweight title fight in 1978. He won titles in three weight divisions during his career.
Alexis Arguello, left, defeated Alfredo Escalera in a super featherweight title fight in 1978. He won titles in three weight divisions during his career. (Associated Press)
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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 2, 2009

Alexis Arguello, a three-time world champion boxer and national hero of Nicaragua, who was elected mayor of the capital city of Managua last year, was found dead July 1 at his home in Managua. He was 57 and, according to press accounts, had shot himself in the chest.

Mr. Arguello won his first world championship in 1974 as a featherweight and later won titles in the super featherweight and lightweight classes, making him the sixth fighter in history to capture titles in three weight divisions. His boxing brilliance made him a celebrity in his native country, but his success was repeatedly undercut by the convoluted political fortunes of his homeland.

In the ring, Mr. Arguello was a peerless tactician who was ranked by Ring magazine as the finest junior lightweight (also called super featherweight) in history. At his peak in the late 1970s and early 1980s, many boxing observers called Mr. Arguello the finest boxer in the world.

He was 5-foot-10, weighed 130 pounds at the peak of his powers, and quickly won the nickname El Flaco Explosivo, or the Explosive Thin Man. He had devastating punching power in both hands and calmly took the measure of his opponents before pouncing with a methodical, almost elegant fury.

In a professional career that began when he was 16, he won 82 fights (65 by knockout) and lost only eight. He won 19 consecutive championship fights in eight years, including eight victories over former and future world champions.

Several of his fights entered boxing lore as among the most epic of their time, none more so than his bout against Aaron Pryor on Nov. 12, 1982. Mr. Arguello, the reigning lightweight champion at 135 pounds, was attempting to capture an unprecedented fourth title against Pryor, the undefeated junior welterweight champion at 140 pounds.

Pryor dominated the early part of the fight, held at Miami's Orange Bowl. Mr. Arguello picked up strength as the fight wore on and nearly knocked Pryor out in the 11th and 13th rounds.

At the beginning of the 14th round, Pryor found renewed energy, pinned Mr. Arguello against the ropes and administered a savage beating. Referee Stanley Christodoulou stopped the fight after Pryor hit Mr. Arguello with 23 unanswered punches.

Mr. Arguello slumped to the canvas and was unconscious for four minutes. He left the ring in tears and was rushed to a hospital, where he was treated for a severe concussion, a broken nose and cuts.

After the fight, it was revealed that Pryor's trainer, Panama Lewis, gave Pryor liquid from a special bottle that escaped the view of boxing officials. Lewis was later suspended for cheating in other fights.

In 1983, Pryor and Mr. Arguello had a rematch, but Pryor dominated from the beginning, knocking Mr. Arguello down three times before the referee stopped the bout in the 10th round.

In later years, their battles over, Pryor and Mr. Arguello became close friends.

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