SI Vault
Gary Smith
October 21, 1985
Alexis Arguello once considered suicide as an escape from the contradictions and ambiguities that filled a rich life with betrayal and despair
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October 21, 1985

Adrift In A Sea Of Choices

Alexis Arguello once considered suicide as an escape from the contradictions and ambiguities that filled a rich life with betrayal and despair

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He signed to fight Pryor once more, but ambiguity had nested in his mind. He overtrained to drive it away, but that was futile. He was knocked out in the 10th round and retired.

Arguello overcame the shame more quickly this time. Why torment yourself, he asked. All your life you have looked forward to this day when you could relax, try new things, taste life. When he was boxing, he could lie motionless in bed for 24 hours, using a form of yoga to allow his body to recover. Now, in retirement, he could not stay still for five minutes. He took acting lessons and a course in grammar. He formed a corporation to promote boxing matches and to start his own stable of fighters. He campaigned for a union to ensure medical benefits and a pension for boxers, and to cleanse the sport of corruption. He did boxing commentary for TV. He appeared on Miami Vice and he memorized lines from Hamlet. He laid plans to market Alexis Arguello wrist-watches and an Alexis Arguello athletic drink, to do a videotape demonstrating self-defense to children, then to buy an old ballroom and convert it into a restaurant and lounge. He did some Miller Lite commercials and appearances. He planned a camp for youths where they would learn to read and write as well as to box. He paid the mortgages on the homes he had bought for his mother-in-law and brother. He would write spur-of-the-moment checks to charities.

He liked to buy things, even though things meant little to him. If a salesperson at a jewelry store or a car dealership steered him toward the cheaper jewelry or a cheaper model, thinking this simple Latino surely could not afford the fat sapphire or the deluxe Mercedes, his eyes flared and he demanded to buy the most expensive thing they had, without asking the price. For a moment he felt strength, a small simulation of what he'd felt in boxing. Then he looked at the sapphire, and the need to buy it made him feel ridiculous and weak. Often he would give the thing away.

Surely, he told himself, there must be something more to this life he had denied himself during those 16 years of fighting. He began going to bars all night, sleeping all day, hoping to find in darkness what the light did not offer. He met new women there, lovely and willing. Men slapped him on the back, marveled at his old performances, assured him he looked good enough to finish off his beer and climb into the ring. For a little while, that made him feel good. Sometimes, when he felt sure he had won their affection, they would slip him a chance to invest in their businesses, and he found himself hooked.

A parking-lot attendant in Atlantic City gave him a lift for a few blocks to another hotel. A nice guy. Before he knew it, Arguello had offered to let him stay on his yacht in Miami. The man brought a friend with him but no money, graciously accepted a wad from Arguello, lived on the boat a month, stole a TV and radio and left the yacht a wreck. Someone else had to ask him to leave. Arguello didn't want to hurt his feelings.

In a pair of Everlast shorts, Arguello had felt like a wolf. "In a sport coat and tie," says The Miami News sports columnist Tom Archdeacon, "Alexis was like a lamb."

His wife grew tired of his stumbling home at dawn. She and their little boy moved out. He sat alone in his $300,000 house, wondering what he could do. He needed another crusade, something to make him feel clean again, to offer him black and white.

In his country, people were killing each other in a civil war. In 1979 the Sandinistas had ejected his mother and sister from his home in Managua in the middle of the night. They had confiscated his two houses, his boat, his gym, his chicken business, his motor home, his Mercedes, his BMW and his bank account. He could not risk returning to his homeland. He had to start his life and fortune over in Miami.

His largest home in Managua became a residence for Soviet envoys. His name was banned from Nicaraguan newspapers and airwaves, and he was branded a friend of the toppled Somoza regime. For proof, the Sandinistas pointed to the fact that Arguello once had trained in the compound of the hated National Guard and ridden on a horse in a parade for Somoza. Arguello was stunned. There had been no other gym for him to train in then, and he says he did not even know Somoza would appear at that parade. And what about his brother Eduardo? Just months before the confiscation of Alexis's Nicaragua property, Eduardo and Arguello's sister, a tough teenage girl named Isabel, had flipped a coin to see who would fight for the Sandinistas and who would stay home to support their mother, who had separated from Guillermo. Neither knew then that the Sandinistas would eventually come under Marxist influence. Eduardo won the flip and went to war. His unit was pinned on a Managua street by a patrol of Somoza's soldiers. When they were nearly out of ammunition, he told the others to sneak off while he provided cover with his machine gun. A moment later, he was shot, then laid on a pile of tires and burned. Guillermo wandered the streets for months, looking for his son.

And this was how the Sandinistas rewarded Arguello?

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