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Alexis Arguello

Alexis Arguello

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What Manny Pacquiao is to the Philippines, what Julio Cesar Chavez is to Mexico, so Alexis Arguello is to Nicaragua, a boxer who transcended sport to become a fighting symbol of the collective heart of his people.

He fought Ruben Olivares, he fought Aaron Pryor, and in the tumultuous 80's in Nicaragua, he took to the jungle to fight the Sandinistas.

He was a fighter, pure and simple, one of the most elegantly vicious ones ever to step inside a ring, and outside of it, one of the most intelligent and inspired.

This morning at his home in Managua, Arguello was found dead of a gunshot wound to the chest, apparently self-inflicted.

In 2008, Arguello won election as the mayor of Managua, and over the past year was the focus of corruption charges about mishandling public funds.

Some are wondering today if these charges may have led to his suicide.

As yet, the details are unclear, and even the theory that he committed suicide remains only a theory until an autopsy has been completed.

News of his death led Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega to cancel a trip to Panama, and a spokesman for Ortega released a statement saying of Arguello's passing, "This is a heartbreaking announcement.

He was the champion of the poor, an example of forgiveness and reconciliation." What most Americans will remember of Arguello is the beautiful and courageous boxer, the man who won titles in three weight divisions and fought some of the most memorable battles of his era, with defining victories over some of the great names of the 70's and 80's, like Olivares, Alfredo Escalera, Rafael Limon, Bobby Chacon and Boom Boom Mancini.

Boxing experts generally rank Arguello as the greatest 130-pounder who ever lived, and among the greats at 135.

His most famous fight by far, however, took place at 140 pounds, his epic war with Aaron Pryor in 1982.

It's probably hard for sports fans of this day and age to imagine such a thing, but when Arguello fought Pryor in front of 23,000 fans at the Orange Bowl in Miami, both men were household names in the sporting universe, and their fight was a national event.

That Arguello lost (by TKO in the 14th round â€" he would go on to lose the rematch as well) hardly sullied his reputation in the slightest.

In fact, it only heightened his legend, for Pryor/Arguello I was without question one of the most unforgettable contests of the last thirty years, and it utterly embodied, even in defeat, the unconquerable spirit of Arguello, El Flaco Explosivo (The Explosive Thin Man), an all-time legend of both finesse and fury in the squared circle.

As befits his stature, the flags are now flying at half-mast at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY.

The boxing world, and indeed the world at large, lost a giant today.

May he rest in peace.,_1952-2009_
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