Robert Silva is back with his second greatest super featherweight, Alexis Argüello.
The first fighter my father educated me on other than Muhammad Ali was the Nicaraguan great Alexis Argüello. My father loved his fighting style; a very tall and lanky fighter who threw multiple combinations and never wasted any punches. Argüello ruled the 126-pound Featherweight division in the mid-1979s before deciding to move up to 130 pounds in 1978. From 1978-1981, Argüello compiled quite possibly the greatest list of victims in the history of the division. This dominance helped make the Nicaraguan legend the second greatest Super Featherweight of all-time.
My father described Argüello as a godlike figure. The first time I got to see him fight was on the afternoon of January 28,1978. He was challenging the Puerto Rican WBC Super Featherweight Champion Alfredo Escalera in our native Puerto Rico. My father thought Escalera had a chance because he was as tall as Argüello (5’10”) and he had speed and power. He also told me not to get my hopes up because Argüello was one of the greatest fighters he ever saw. It would take a Herculean effort by Escalera to defeat the powerful Nicaraguan. It was a Herculean battle.
Round one saw Escalera box beautifully and out-land Argüello. Argüello was a notorious slow starter. It usually took him three or four rounds to warm up. By round two, Argüello seemed already warmed up as he knocked down the Puerto Rican Champion early in the round with a quick left hook. He then landed several bombs the rest of the round. Round three and four saw the tempo of the fight be raised to a very high level. Argüello landed the more damaging blows and he opened up huge gashes over both of Escalera’s eyes.
Escalera began round five by moving more like he did in the opening stanza. Over the next six rounds, Argüello responded by exhibiting incredible ring generalship. He used his bartering ram of a jab to negate Escalera’s movement. He totally frustrated the hometown favorite by landing that jab at will followed by the occasional left hook and right cross. By the end of round 10, Escalera’s eyes and lips were badly swollen. My father was highly impressed at the boxing ability Argüello was displaying. Even though I was upset that Escalera was being taken to school by a better fighter, I realized that Arguello was something special.
Escalera changed his strategy and began pressuring Argüello in round 11. Argüello stayed calm and outboxed Escalera. The 12th round saw Escalera seriously hurt Arguello for the first time in the fight with a wicked right cross. As soon as Arguello’s knees buckled, my father and I jumped up in excitement as we knew Escalera needed a knockout to win. Escalera opened up a cut below Arguello’s right eye and now both men were bleeding. Escalera was unable to finish off Argüello before the round would end. Midway through the 13th round, Argüello was back in control and landed a left hook that practically ripped Escalera’s upper lip off. Referee Arthur Mercante called timeout and brought the doctor in to check on Escalera. Mercante and the doctor rightfully called a halt to the fight and Argüello was the new champion. Amazingly, the Puerto Rican fans didn’t riot. Instead, they gave both fighters a standing ovation.
Argüello was a beautiful man both inside and outside the ring. He was a consummate gentleman and fans all over the world, even after he defeated their hometown hero, would treat him with the upmost respect and admiration. Like many legendary fighters, he would go into your backyard and wrest the title from you. Argüello would give Escalera a rematch on February 4, 1979.
After their bloody battle of Bayamón a year earlier, I didn’t think Escalera had a shot at regaining his title from Arguello. Escalera had suffered such an immense amount of punishment in the first fight and had lost his last fight before the rematch. Argüello too had lost a fight before the rematch, as he moved up to 135 pounds and lost to the crafty boxer Vilomar Fernandez. Argüello always had difficult with fighters who constantly moved. Escalera was going to stay right in front of him. My father echoed those same sentiments. As we sat in our living room to watch the rematch, we were rooting for Escalera. We also knew his loss was inevitable.
The first three rounds were a similar pattern to their prior encounter. Argüello boxed Escalera from the outside and completely dominated him with his jab and combinations. Escalera realized from what occurred in the first fight that he had to press the legendary Nicaraguan, but he just couldn’t get past his opponent’s punches. The same pattern continued in round four. Argüello was now beginning to hook off the jab and dropped Escalera with a left hook off the jab. The same thing happened early in round five, resulting in Escalera going down hard. Escalera got up and was in bad shape. Argüello attacked and trapped him on the ropes. After Escalera was stunned with yet another left hook, a horrendous cut opened above his right cheekbone. Referee Angelo Poletti stepped in and administered a standing eight count. Escalera was now severely damaged and hurt. He went all out and engaged Argüello in a firefight the rest of the round. He survived the round and even briefly stunned Argüello right before the round with a hard combination.
Argüello went back to boxing from the outside and opened up a nasty cut above Escalera’s left eye. Rounds seven through 10 saw Escalera force Argüello into a firefight. Escalera began landing double left hooks and hurt Argüello several times and opened a nasty cut over the Nicaraguan champion’s right eye. Just like their first fight, which was aptly named the “Bloody battle of Bayamón,” the rematch had both combatants bleeding profusely. My father and I couldn’t believe that Escalera actually had a chance to win. But we both knew that knocking out Argüello was an improbability.
Argüello regained the upper hand in round 11. He jumped on Escalera early in the round and landed several hard shots to Escalera’s battered face. Then he went back to boxing and landed at will, several head snapping combinations. Escalera was now vividly tired. He had extended so much energy in slugging it out with Argüello that the effects were taking its toll. Round 12 saw Argüello once again stay outside and control the pace of the fight with his superior jab. Escalera was unable to lure Argüello into another firefight. Finally, in the 13th round, Argüello landed a phenomenal left hook off his jab that knocked Escalera out. Arguello consoled Escalera like the gentleman he was. This fight was the beginning of my idolizing Arguello. He would become one of my five favorite fighters of all-time.
The next 18 months saw Arguello successfully defend his title against a who’s who of future and former Super Featherweight Champions; Bazooka Limon, Bobby Chacon, Rolando Navarette and Cornelius Boza Edwards. Arguello battered and stopped each of these world class fighters in his methodical way, by standing tall, boxing brilliantly and landing with one of the greatest right crosses in boxing history. Outside of his two fights with Escalera, Arguello was never in danger of losing his crown. Late in 1980, at the prime age of 28, Arguello abdicated his crown and moved up to 135 pounds.
It is eerie how my father once compared Alexis Arguello to his beloved Roberto Clemente. There were striking similarities. Both men were gentlemen who gave back to their native lands. Both men were very political. It is ironic that Clemente died attempting to bring a plane full of food and medical supplies to Arguello’s homeland of Nicaragua right after a devastating earthquake had crippled the Central American country. Arguello became Mayor of Managua, Nicaragua and was found dead just eight months after taking office from an alleged suicide. A gunshot to Arguello’s heart was ruled a suicide. Two iconic Latin athletes lives taken way too soon. My father had passed away eight years before Arguello’s untimely death. Had he been alive, he would’ve cried as intensely for Alexis as he did when Roberto died.