It was a fight Alexis Arguello lost, his tremendous 1982 Fight of the Decade with Aaron Pryor, where I first laid eyes on the man, and it was that fight that turned me into a fan. Past his prime and over his ideal weight, the boxer who was arguably the finest junior lightweight ever went 14 hard ones with the man who is arguably the finest junior welterweight ever, eventually succumbing in a knockout loss that glorified him more than it diminished him.
Arguello — found dead today, apparently by his own hand — was the kind of boxer anyone could love. “Watching Arguello fight is like enjoying the subtleties of a great Renaissance masterpiece,” Peter King once wrote. “There is rich color and detail in his performance. His jabs are straight, strong and accurate. His body punches are delivered with care. His right crosses and left hooks are issued with an awesome potency.” He was at once a smart fighter, the living embodiment of the sweet science, and a fearsome knockout artist. Ring magazine nominated him to its list of the 100 greatest punchers of all time, clocking him in at #20. For a while, he was considered the finest active boxer alive of any weight.
Inside this ferocious, perfect fighting machine was a kind and gentle soul. The most sporting boxers usually celebrate their wins then check up on the opponents they’ve detached from consciousness. Arguello is the only one I’ve seen who routinely was more interested in the well-being of his defeated foes than in raising his hands in victory. He became close friends with his opponents, win or lose. He once fought Ray Mancini. “He was a brawler, a guy who wanted it with all his heart because his father had never gotten a title shot,” Arguello said in an interview much later. Arguello knocked him out. But he told Mancini, “Look, the same way you love your father, I love my father. And if there’s anything I can do for you let me know, because I’m sure you’re going to be champion.”
I don’t usually write eulogies of any kind for ex-boxers who have passed away. I usually don’t have any idea what to say. Arguello was special to me, and I’m still at a loss. But I wanted to say something. Arguello’s life after boxing had its controversies and difficulties; I know nothing, really, but Arguello the boxer, the competitor. For those of you who never got a chance to see that Arguello, I leave you with one of the better highlight clips of “The Explosive Thin Man” I could find. I’ve always been more the “celebrate someone in their death” kind than a mourner. I hope you’ll join me in that spirit.