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It was in the autumn of '82, when he was on the ledge of immortality, one victory from a fourth title, that things began to happen that his background did not equip him to understand. Media requests became frantic, beautiful women and wealthy men congregated around him. He could defeat Pryor and be wealthy and beautiful like them without ever working hard again. All the years of crusade and struggle were almost over.
The ambiguity occurred to him. Wouldn't that mean waking up the morning after the fight with no cause, no chance ever to feel that moment of purity in the 20-foot square again? Were they offering the chair to him, gold-coating it to fool him?
His public relations firm and a close friend began dropping hints that he should get another divorce, he says. Arguello had had a different wife for each of his first three titles—what a wonderful book and movie it would make if he were to have a fourth wife for the fourth. He was so eager to please people, so hungry for affection, that they could make suggestions like this and know that he would listen.
His current wife, Loretto, was a woman unfazed by the glamour, who prayed for him in arena lavatories rather than watch him get hit. But, my God, the beauty of these women rubbing against him—how could a man not give in?
He began to shake inside. At the same time, could winning mean weakness and strength, fulfillment and emptiness? The job that had once been his escape from contradiction, his one chance to feel clean, had become as complicated as the rest of his life.
"I know it sounds crazy," he says. "But I was afraid they'd make me leave my wife. I love her, but I am an Indian from Nicaragua. I had no education. When you are born with nothing, and suddenly everything is possible.... I can't explain it, but part of me was afraid to win that fight."
Wildly torn, he wildly pursued opposites. He took a girl to his training camp in Palm Springs, Calif., drinking champagne and frolicking with her in the hotel pool until dawn. He took megadoses of vitamins and pounded the heavy bag harder than ever. He refused to rise for his 6 a.m. roadwork call, then ran under a blazing midday sun.
A few hours before the fight, assistant trainer Don Kahn looked into Arguello's eyes. He did not see the fire. Arguello jangled his legs. They felt dead. "I fought only on guts," he says. In the 14th round, guts kept him vertical for one of the longest unanswered fusillades in boxing history. Pryor shelled him with 23 consecutive punches before Arguello collapsed.
For four minutes he kept his eyes closed, still conscious but shutting out the world, blocking out the shame. "I felt like I had crapped on myself," he says. "I had not worked honestly." In the locker room, he lay down and curled into the fetal position.
In lieu of the womb, he settled for his bedroom, where his wife served him three meals a day, and his eldest son, A.J., then 11, was forbidden to enter. Over 50 times, he pushed a videotape button and watched it happen to him again.