Alexis Arguello would have turned 72 last Friday. It doesn’t seem like nearly 15 years since his tragic death in 2009, at age 57, and although he obviously wouldn’t be fighting at this age, last week’s remembrances should have made us miss his presence in the game.

Simply put, Arguello was all class all the time, something sorely missing in the lead-up to most big fights these days – and particularly the recent Ryan Garcia-Devin Haney bout.

Now, I’m no prude – being born and raised in New York City will take that option off the table. But when trash talk goes into the gutter for far too long, followed by a hug at the end of the fight, it not only makes all that “bad blood” look contrived but gives a bad look to a sport that can use all the new fans it can get.

Of course, some will say that’s what made Garcia-Haney an apparent success at the box office, and I don’t disagree. But fighters living up to the old adage of “act like you’ve been there before” has never been more necessary.

And we need more fighters like Alexis Arguello, who always fought his opponents like they were bitter enemies in the ring but represented the sport like a gentleman before and after he stepped between the ropes.

That doesn’t mean that his peers didn’t occasionally try to get under his skin, with fellow legend Roberto Duran doing his best to make a fight with Nicaragua’s Arguello with his words first, then his fists.

“I remember one day I was checking in at Caesar’s Palace and Duran came in,” Arguello told me in a 1998 interview. “[Duran said] ‘Alexis, you son of a bitch, you motherf****r, queer, f****t! Why don’t you sign the f*****g contract? I’m gonna kick your ass.’ Then he started pushing me. And I said, ‘Duran, don’t do this bulls**t to me. Don’t push me around.’ Then I turned around and left. Then he followed me and said, ‘Alexis, this is only publicity, man. I like you.’ I said, ‘Hey Duran, look, I’m a serious man, I’m a businessman. But if it comes that we’re going to fight, then we’re going to do our jobs. But don’t fool around with me.’ Because I never liked people talking. I never liked that. I was a quiet guy. Let’s get up there and do our jobs.

“But the guy came out and said, ‘Alexis, I’m sorry. I’m just trying to hype it up.’ And you could do that with the mouth, but then the guy started pushing me, and then I got upset. But we became good friends. The fight never happened because he went from 135 to 147, and that was the reason I stayed in the lightweights. Actually, I was a junior lightweight when this was going on.”

Arguello-Duran would have been a war of epic proportions, and it wouldn’t have needed any pre-fight hype. And if we’re being honest, Garcia-Haney didn’t need any extra hype. Two young stars on the rise with contrasting styles and a history with each other from the amateurs fighting with a lot on the line? Count me in. But from the time the fight was announced, there was pushing, shoving and more than its fair share of off-color remarks. And that was before Garcia’s wild social media rants, which should have put the fight in jeopardy – especially given Garcia’s claimed history of mental health issues.

None of it felt right. And regardless of Garcia’s impressive performance and victory, and no matter the wink-wink suggestion that it was all an act, it’s not what the sport needed – because six months down the line the pre-fight nonsense will be remembered more than the fight itself. And that’s unfortunate for Garcia, who upset the odds; and for Haney, who showed a ton of heart in defeat.

That is the world we live in these days, though – and not just in boxing. It’s something Arguello sensed back in 1998.

“[Current fighters] don’t have the respect for the sport the way Duran did it,” he said. “They don’t have the same values. What I keep saying is that my trainer injected me with the respect of the sport. I never gave a low blow to anybody, never head-butted anybody, I never used my elbows. The kids these days have lost the mystique of the sport.

“My trainer used to tell me, ‘Alexis, get to sleep early, don’t get laid too often.’ [Laughs.] I remember he used to say, ‘You’re supposed to sleep thinking about boxing, take a shower thinking about boxing, take a s**t thinking about boxing.’ These kids only think about it in the gym. Most of the time, they don’t even get up and run.”

That was 26 years ago. And you see it constantly, where making social media posts and TikTok videos is more important than perfecting your craft. Floyd Mayweather Jr. took more than his fair share of abuse online over the years, but no one worked harder. That’s why he retired undefeated. And there are young fighters who are focused on their day job 24/7, but they’re a dying breed, and that’s not a good thing in a sport that needs complete dedication.

“I really enjoyed the sport, and that was one of the key factors in my career, because I never got to know anything,” said Arguello. “I never drank, I never went out. And that’s one of the points I tell the new fighters. If you don’t want to end up all beat up or hurt, don’t make the mistake after each fight to go to a bar to celebrate. In my day, we never did that. I always wanted to rest because I was tired. Everyone invited me out, but I had the courage to go rest. And that’s one of the things I’m trying to inject. But it seems to be a bit difficult because of what’s happening to the sport. The sport seems to me to be losing its values. The pride doesn’t exist anymore. They have more interest in money.”

Which is understandable, and which is why Garcia-Haney turned into a success on more than just the fighters’ merits. And if money is the sole motivation, I can’t begrudge any fighter that, because this isn’t a sport to play around with, and they should get the most money they can and get out.

But there is the romantic notion that when a fighter steps into the ring, it isn’t just because he or she can’t do anything else. It’s because there’s a love of the fight, of the art, of the idea that they’re being tested like no other sport will test you. That there’s more than a paycheck in mind – like when Arguello fought Ray Mancini in 1981.

Back then, title fights were 15 rounds and Arguello was defending the WBC lightweight title, which he had taken four months earlier from Jim Watt, against Mancini, of Youngstown, Ohio, who was trying to win the championship for his father, Lenny.

There was a lot on the line for both combatants, but there was no trash talk, no pre-fight antics. Mancini’s story sold the fight, and the men in the ring did the rest.

“When I fought Mancini, there was a hyping of things,” said Arguello. “They brought his father, and even Mort Sharnik, who was the producer for CBS, told me that I would lose. And I never felt hate toward anybody. Those moments would give me more strength to push myself over the limit. Those opinions: ‘I’m gonna beat you’ and all that. And Mancini was so quiet, he was a pro also. But that moment when you get into a press conference, it’s not to offend anybody. It’s not to try and show that you are better than anybody, because we aren’t. That was always my opinion.”

Arguello stopped Mancini in the 14th round of a memorable war, yet what is most remembered was the champion embracing the challenger after the fight and telling him how he believed he would one day achieve his dream of winning the title for his dad.

“I had good memories for many reasons,” Arguello said of the Mancini fight. “He was younger. I was 30 years old already, and everyone was saying that it was time for me to leave. Everybody was pointing out my weaknesses, saying I was over the hill. And I prepared myself so well. I stayed in the Concord Hotel in upstate New York for six weeks training, and by the time we made it to the press conference, everyone, including the producer, was saying that I was going to lose. And my trainer got upset. He said, ‘Alexis, we want this kid knocked out as soon as you can.’

“In the first round, when the bell rang, I came out and I tried the guy, and when I went back to my corner at the end of the round, I said, ‘Hey guys, this won’t be a first-rounder. This guy is a tough cookie.’ But then I started applying my experience. He was a brawler, a guy who wanted it with all his heart because his father had never gotten a title shot. And after his father had gotten an operation on his heart, he was brought to the site of the fight, and I thought that it was to push me, to psych me out or something. But it didn’t work. We went 14 rounds because the kid wanted the title.

“In the 12th round, I hit him with a straight right hand in the mouth, and I opened up a cut on his mouth. He put his knee on the canvas, turned around all wobbly, and headed directly to his corner. And in the boxing rules, when a fighter gives his back to his opponent, he’s out. I asked the referee, Tony Perez, ‘Tony, the guy is out. He turned his back on me.’ He said, ‘Alexis, keep fighting or I’ll disqualify you.’ I said ‘What? Are you kidding me? I’m gonna hurt the kid.’ But the guy was tough. And in the 14th round, I connected with such a combination that the kid could not take it.

“But the fight itself was a toughie. It is one I always think good about. Especially after the fight. Tim Ryan brought us to do the interview and said, ‘That’s what we’re talking about – two gentlemen who fought like men, but now they’re friends.’ And when Ray was coming in, I said, ‘Look, the same way you love your father, I love my father. And if there’s anything I can do for you, let me know, because I’m sure you’re going to be champion.’ And that came from my heart because he’s a special kid.”

Mancini would get his title, and Arguello would fight 12 more times, most notably a two-fight series with Aaron Pryor. Sadly, Arguello was reported to have taken his own life in 2009 – although there is controversy surrounding his final hours. There is, however, no controversy about what he brought to the sport and what he will be remembered for. He set out a blueprint that today’s boxers, young and old, should follow. And for all the negatives, Arguello still loved the sport when he was alive, and I loved his answer to the final question of our interview.

But first, a little example of who he was and how this interview took place in 1998. I met his son, Alexis Jr., at a Shane Mosley fight in New York City, and we got to chatting. I told him that I would love to talk to his dad, and he gave me his number in Nicaragua. I called, we talked and about an hour in, storms cut us off and I couldn’t get him back. The next day, I asked my wife to call him, because I had to go to work, and to thank him for the time and tell him that I had enough to work with for my story at She got in touch with him, and Arguelllo said, “No, have him call me tonight; we were getting into some good stuff.” We were, I did, and we talked for another hour. When the phone bill came in, it was $130 for the two calls. The best $130 I ever spent, and I will never forget it. But back to the question. I told him that some people want boxing banned. What did he think about that?

“No, that would be the biggest mistake on Earth,” said Arguello. “There have been so many boxers that have hurt the sport and harmed the sport because of their behavior. But in the long run, there are a lot of kids out there that need this. It would be a crime if, out of a hundred guys, one would make a mistake. We can’t stop something that you enjoy, I enjoy and that most of us enjoy. Why? Because we were all born with a fighting instinct. And that’s why we enjoy it.”

You are missed, Mr. Arguello.

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