Chapter II: Preparation for Battle

A Beloved Book by Antonio Santiago

“Arguello listened to you. He was low key and assertive. He was very intense with his workout, intense with his sparring. (After his training session) he would acknowledge you with a smile and then he’d leave”
– Joe Garcia, boxing judge

Brutalizing his opponents during training sessions was not Alexis Argüello’s style. By the time he faced Pryor on November 12, 1982, Argüello had his training down to a science. Often, he followed a simple, spartan-like regimen where he walked into a gym, trained with intensity, and walked out. The three-time champ had witnessed a revolving door of trainers since he began his professional career in 1968. From Nicaraguan Miguel Angel Rivas or “Kid Pambele” to Mexican trainer Pepe Morales to the strong Latin macho type in Cuyo Hernandez, Argüello learned something valuable from each of his cornermen. His longtime manager, Eduardo Roman felt that trainers were expendable. Even though he did not grow up in the sport, Roman had an intuitive sense for what was best for his fighter. Argüello accepted Roman’s decisions as gospel. After seeing Argüello fight in Estadio Nacional in 1970, Roman recruited him, gave him books, and showed him the benefits of an education; in return, his pupil developed a fondness that never wavered. Argüello saw a man who cared about him both as an athlete and a man. In a sport where allegiances shift regularly, Argüello’s unconditional love for Roman was a rarity.

Even in his darkest days, Argüello refused to turn his back on Roman. Now, as Argüello embarked on the biggest fight of his professional career, he was working with the respected trainer Eddie Futch – the polar opposite of the assertive Latin personality. When the fight was made, Hernandez felt that Pryor was too dangerous an opponent and refused to stay on with the team. Having worked with a slew of world-class heavyweights, Futch earned accolades for his ring erudite and his long list of world champions, but, at this point, there was nothing new he could teach Argüello. Everything that Argüello did in the ring came from within.

“Eddie was terrific, a very good boxing man,” said Argüello’s agent, Bill Miller. “He would do anything for Alexis.”

If Futch represented the scholarly figure in the corner, Miller was the camp bodyguard. Formerly the Director of Boxing for Don King, Miller perfectly complemented Roman, whose business acumen stemmed from his position as the vice-president of the ENALUF, the national power and light company in Nicaragua. Roman admired Miller’s candidness on all issues, and considered him a real friend. However, as Argüello was entering the twilight of his career, Roman was content to stay in the background to let Miller take the lead. Unfortunately, during a haphazard training camp, some of those decisions became more difficult than others.

“I never signed anything officially when I started working for Roman,” said Miller. “It was just one of those, ‘Will you handle my fighter?’ deals. We had a very good relationship. Roman was not a boxing guy, and he respected my judgment. I remember it as being a normal training camp. We knew Pryor was good, but we didn’t think he could beat Alexis.”

Yet, everything else that occurred during that training camp suggested otherwise. To that point, Argüello had earned a reputation as one of the most focused fighters in the world. He never ballooned between fights. He did not drink alcohol or party excessively. More importantly, he was well aware of his strengths and limitations. As all of Miami got behind him, few expected that Pryor could or would best him.

Although the Argüello training camp began in Palm Springs, California, it would not end there. Argüello shared the training facilities with lightweight champ Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, who was preparing for his November 13 title defense against Duk-koo Kim. Both he and Mancini developed a mutual respect after their decorated battle in 1981, which Argüello won in 14 rounds.

“In the gym Alexis was all business,” Mancini recalled. “I was too. I have seen a lot of fighters that when they get older, they don’t need to do things the same way as when he was younger. He was intense, but his workout was not as long.”

From the perspective of those closest to Argüello, the training camp hardly resembled the smooth, yet regimented camps from the past. The communication that had been so consistent had now been severed. Argüello’s longtime friend and trainer Don Kahn joined Miller and Futch as camp mainstays. Kahn knew Argüello better than anyone associated with the camp. Kahn knew his friend’s tendencies, and always knew how to read him. If Argüello yearned for privacy, Kahn knew how to smoothly pull him aside. If Argüello needed to be lifted from camp’s doldrums, he looked to Kahn to lighten the mood. If Argüello was struggling, Kahn balanced him. If Argüello was a son to Roman, Kahn was his brother.

“When we signed for a fight, we would get Kahn and get him next to Alexis,” said Miller. “He would take care of Alexis. He was like his little brother.”

As the Arguello camp struggled to find cohesion, Pryor and his followers were embroiled in typical controversy as they cited opposition to apartheid when they vehemently protested the commission’s decision to use South African referee, Stanley Christodoulou. However, the camp eventually backed away from its hard stance. Chaos, which was often fueled by the camp leeches, was the norm during Pryor training camps. Pryor tried to resuscitate his image over and over again after getting shot by his wife, and getting into publicized spats with his then-manager Buddy LaRosa. To the casual observer, Pryor was a loose cannon who could not be controlled. To the astute boxing insider, Pryor was more complicated: a guy dizzied by the excesses of fame and corrupted by the sycophants suffocating him. In addition to the outside interferences, Pryor put his faith in the hands of the sport’s most ruthless character, Carlos “Panama” Lewis, who, during Miami training sessions, implored his fighter to “hurt (Arguello) first and let him catch up.”

“I feel I’ve been misrepresented a couple times by the media,” Pryor told AP reports Ed Schuyler Jr. leading up to the fight, “but I feel the coverage (for this fight) has been fair.”

Everywhere Pryor went, his harangue of followers started the familiar chant: “What time is it? Hawk time!” Pryor felt solace in the ring. Ever since he turned professional in 1976, Pryor felt victimized by his manager, the Cincinnati fans who did not wholeheartedly back him when he turned pro, and Olympic stars Howard Davis Jr. and Sugar Ray Leonard who allegedly spurned him once they reached the limelight. Pryor was never culpable for his actions; occasionally his ire was warranted, but often he stoked the fire himself. Those close to Pryor believed the disharmony outside the ring forced him to tighten his focus inside of it.

Ironically, leading up the the week of the fight, the roles were reversed. Despite the optimal conditions of Palm Springs, Argüello changed course. His dedication to training became an individual pursuit. Eventually, the camp moved to Miami, so Argüello could find what he considered his comfort zone. But, as Kahn remembers the difficult period, all was lost.

“I told Eduardo Roman I should go home,” Kahn recalled. “I didn’t want to see him lose to Pryor, especially since he had the tools to beat him. His training was no good. And I said that at this rate he cannot beat anybody. After he takes care of his problems, he can’t get into the proper shape to beat Pryor. It was something that he had never done before in his career.”

Back in Miami, Argüello forged ahead. Physically, he knew how to prepare himself for battle. This was the easy part for the great champion. He could have easily campaigned for a bout with the newly crowned WBC light welterweight champion Leroy Haley. But Argüello wanted to tell people he defeated the best young fighter in the world en route to his record fourth world title. Pryor had been blackballed in boxing circles, and opponents went to great lengths to avoid facing him. He was a dynamic fighter with speed, power, and intelligence. There was purpose to his chaos. If Pryor was gaining confidence, and began to stabilize his life outside the ring, Arguello was not himself inside of it.

Still as the fighters headed to the weigh-in at the Orange Bowl the morning of the fight, they both wanted to show the world that in front of thousands on the biggest stage that they could be great. Deep down Argüello knew it might be his last great performance; for Pryor, his first.

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