Brutal, but gallant

MURRAY GREIG, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:40 AM ET

If you never saw Alexis Arguello fight, I feel sorry for you.

Think of a 130-pound version of Joe Louis: a lethal combination of patience and power, inscrutable behind the deadpan expression of a hangman testing his trap door.

Go to YouTube and type in "Arguello" and "one-punch KO" to see what I mean. It's a clip of his 1982 execution of Kevin Rooney, who went on to become Mike Tyson's trainer. The ferocity of Arguello's punch is chillingly brutal; the swiftness with which he helps Rooney back to his feet is pure gallantry.

Brutal, but gallant. That was the dichotomy that defined Arguello, who was found dead at his home in Managua, Nicaragua, early Wednesday -- apparently of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 57.

Like all the great ones, Arguello's legacy goes far beyond what he accomplished between the ropes -- although a record of 80-8 (65 KOs), three world championships in three different weight divisions and titanic clashes with the likes of Aaron Pryor, Ray Mancini, Bobby Chacon and Rueben Olivares long ago cemented his status as one of the ring's immortals. Elected mayor of Managua last year, his popularity in his homeland was so entrenched that he was voted Nicaragua's official flag-bearer at the Beijing Olympics.

A child of poverty, Arguello left school at the age of 14 and turned pro just two years later. After getting knocked out in the first minute of his first pro fight, he proceeded to rattle off 36 wins in a row before dropping a decision to Ernesto Marcel for the WBA featherweight crown in 1974.

Even after he KO'd Olivares for his first world championship later that year, Arguello never forgot his roots. He put his name -- and his money -- behind dozens of charitable causes throughout Latin America and even fought against the Sandinista government in the 1980s after it seized his property and bank accounts. Last weekend he was in Puerto Rico to take part in a fundraiser honouring the late baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente.

On a personal note, I'll never forget having breakfast with Arguello and George Chuvalo a couple of years ago at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y. Both men had been stalked and mobbed by autograph hounds all weekend, yet I never saw one fan refused. As our conversation was winding down, I asked Arguello how he'd like to be remembered. He thought about it for a moment, then said: "As a guy who respected the game and respected the fans who make it so great. I love and respect boxing because it has given me so much. That's why I will never allow anyone to mistreat or disrespect the sport if I can help it."

Just as we were finishing up, Roberto Duran strolled into the room, scowling over a perceived slight by the organizers of the previous evening's Hall of Fame banquet. As soon as he saw Arguello and Chuvalo, however, Duran's moon-like face cracked into a wide smile. Pulling a camera from his pocket, he demanded (in Spanish) that I snap a picture of the three of them together.

"I feel like Ali," cracked Arguello, flashing that famous smile. "I'm the prettiest one in the room!"

And he was. Hard to believe his energy and humour are no more.

R.I.P., champ.


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