True Ending of Alexis Arguello, and Why: What Happened?
By Robert Brizel, Head Real Combat Media Boxing Correspondent
It has been seven years since Alexis Arguello, the legendary three division champion and mayor of Managua, Nicaragua, was found dead in his home on July 1, 2009. Speculation persists as to whether Arguello was murdered or not. What happened to Arguello, and why?
Known as ‘El Flaco Explosivo’, Arguello, 57, had a ring record of 77-8 with 62 knockouts. The key mystery remains the eight and a half year gap in Arguello’s record between his fourth round TKO victory over Billy Costello on CBS television on February 1986, in Reno, Nevada, and August 1994, when Arguello won a 10 round majority decision over Jorge Palomares in Miami, Florida. Palomares, billed on television as having a record of 14-7, actually had a record of 3-13-1 and finished his career 5-21-1. Arguello, far from former self, got hit too much but still knocked down Palomares twice in the sixth round, was unable to finish him, and barely escaped with scorecards of 95-93, 95-93, and 94-94.
Arguello, known for suffering from depression, did not like his egotistical self when he beat former junior welterweight champion Costello. He descended into a world of alcohol and drugs. The Sandinista rebels, who overthrew the 46 year dictatorship of the Somoza family and Anastasio Somoza in 1979, confiscated Arguello’s BMW car, house, ban accounts and assets. Although Arguello fought hard to regain it back, his sense of emotional balance was never the same. He had fought in the Nicaraguan jungles against the Sandinistas. His brother Edwin Arguello had died fighting for the Sandinistas.
Only two days before he died, on June 29, 2009, Arguello was filmed in Carolina, Puerto Rico, representing Nicaragua on a ceremonial mission, placing flowers at a cenotaph honoring the late baseball great Roberto Clemente. Arguello appeared fine, speaking about Clemente’s legacy, seen here at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_8jqwmWOSM
However, all was not well back in Nicaragua after Alexis left his home country. While Arguello was away, late on a Friday afternoon, Managua’s Sandinista dominated city council met and voted to restructure the local government in a way the mayor’s powers were diluted to a ceremonial figurehead. Arguello returned to Managua devastated and was said to have been furious when he learned what had happened in his absence. Alexis was furious, embarrassed, offended, and depressed. His mayoral political position, meant to help his people, had been reduced to a titular nothing, or so he had perceived. The Alexis was personally devastated. The Sandinistas refused his wish to resign his mayoral position.
It was also rumored Alexis had made frequent trips to Puerto Rico for drug rehab. However the rumor was never actually confirmed. The statement cannot be evaluated now.
Whatever the nature of Arguello’s ego and depression, it was not a new story. It took Arguello over two years after losing to Aaron Pryor for the second time in 1983, to return to the ring to stop Pat Jefferson in October 1985 in Anchorage, Alaska. We are talking about one 25 month quiet period, and another 8 ½ year period, of inactivity and dark misunderstanding.
A few years back, I ran into Alexis Arguello Jr. in New York, who told me the family had not been allowed access to his father’s body, the autopsy results, and suspected murder. It would be years before the true facts came out. The final answers came long after the fact.
Coroners in Nicaragua found no drugs or alcohol in the system of Arguello. Based on the film clip from Carolina, Puerto Rico, a few days before Arguello, died, he appeared coherent and well, so the coroner’s inquest can be seen as truthful.
Arguello, it seems, did not take defeat lightly. It was the drug and alcohol beaten shell of Arguello who defeated Jorge Palomares and lost to Scott Walker. Whatever the nature of Arguello’s inner demons, Arguello, had, for a final time, lost to himself. For the mark of a great man, broken into seeming defeat, is to rise up to one’s feet again from the ashes.
According to Arguello’s widow, Carla Rizo, she was present when Arguello went to kill himself. She was going out to get desperate help for Arguello when he had emotionally lost it, but it was too late. She heard a gunshot, rushed back into her home, and found her husband face down on the floor with a gunshot wound to the chest, the gun by his side. Traces of gunpowder were found on his hands. Elected mayor a year earlier, Arguello had spoken publicly about his battles with depression, alcohol and drug use.
Perhaps being a superstar is not all it is knocked up to be. Arguello had an image of himself, a pedestal he stood on, form which he had fallen a number of times. In Arguello’s mind, his dignity was taken away from him when he was stripped of his political power. Arguello was wrong. His mere presence was an inspiration to his Nicaraguan people, a Nicaraguan version of Muhammad Ali, beloved if not misunderstood, lonely at the top.
Arguello’s inner loneliness was hard to understand. In his final moment, the inner demons which had plagued him in private for so long had won. Arguello committed suicide and was gone. The hands which were destructive against others, had taken away the self. Rest in Peace, El Flaco Explosivo, Rest in Peace. Your boxing career was a life and a joy, and an inspiration to others.
We all require understanding. Arguello was a lone soldier in boxing. In the end, without others who functioned at a level where he could be understood, Arguello died alone within himself. From Randy Turpin to Freddie mills, from Arturo Gatti to Edwin Valero, it is not the first time this has happened in professional boxing, and it will not be the last. Whenever this reporter works a boxing event, he talks with boxers. Sometimes boxers approach this reporter and want to talk. This reporter has learned to listen louder over the course of time, and be a friend who understands, which is sometimes a contradiction in the wild world of boxing.