A gentleman and a champion will be missed

Alexis Arguello's Last Interview (5:34)

Former Lightweight Champion Alexis Arguello's last interview (5:34)

It was a little past 9 a.m. on Wednesday when I went downstairs to my office and began my day, like I always do, by checking my e-mail. I had one from an editor in Bristol that contained an Associated Press urgent news bulletin that simply read:

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) -- Managua Mayor Alexis Arguello, former boxing champion, found dead at his home.

An awful way to start the day, especially when it's the death of one of your favorite fighters. According to reports out of Nicaragua, Arguello, 57, had been suffering from depression and shot himself in the chest.

The horrible end to his life, however, won't change how millions felt about him. He was the favorite fighter of millions of Nicaraguans and others, like me, who appreciated his tremendous skill and crowd-pleasing style inside the ring and his friendly nature outside of it.

Arguello was truly a great fighter who could do it all. He was a master tactician, he could punch, he was tenacious and skilled. And his countrymen so loved him that he carried the Nicaraguan flag at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and was elected mayor of Managua, the capital of his country, later in the year.

Arguello had been a controversial figure in his country for fighting with the Contras against the Sandinista government in the 1980s, before eventually joining the party for his run for mayor.

Whatever the personal demons he fought -- Arguello struggled with alcohol and drugs, and had talked openly of his suicidal thoughts -- and whatever his political ideology, I admired him for what he did inside the ring and for how he behaved toward me the few times we met.

I was fortunate to have done so several times in recent years. Arguello was always a gentleman. When talking to him, it was sometimes hard to imagine this was the same killer I saw in the ring on television and on the tapes and DVDs I've watched over and over.

The last time I saw Arguello was in May 2008, ringside at the Oscar De La Hoya-Steve Forbes fight in Carson, Calif. Arguello walked over to the press area to mingle and chat before the fight. Afterward, he returned to offer his two cents on De La Hoya's performance, which he didn't think was particularly good despite De La Hoya's decision victory.

The tributes to Arguello came quickly.

Top Rank's Bob Arum, who promoted many Arguello fights: "We at Top Rank are very saddened to learn about the death of Alexis Arguello. Alexis was one of the world's greatest fighters and champions. More importantly, he was a real man, true gentleman and loyal friend. He will be greatly missed."

Edward Brophy, the executive director of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, where Arguello was enshrined in 1992: "Alexis Arguello was a first-class fighter and a first-class gentleman. The Hall of Fame joins the boxing community in mourning the loss of a great champion and friend."

The Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y., will fly its flags at half-mast in memory of the great champion.

If you made a list of the top 10 fights in boxing history, his epic first battle with rival Aaron Pryor would have to be on it. They waged 14 rounds of unforgettable warfare at the highest skill level the sport had to offer. Entering the Nov. 12, 1982 bout at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Arguello was the heavy fan favorite. A former featherweight and junior lightweight champion, and the reigning lightweight champion, Arguello was attempting to become the first fighter in boxing history to win titles in four weight divisions.

Standing in his way was Pryor, the undefeated junior welterweight champion. They produced an all-time classic, ending only when Arguello, slumped against the ropes and taking a pounding, could take no more, prompting the referee to jump in and stop the fight in the 14th round.

Ten months later, Pryor stopped Arguello in the 10th round of their rematch. Who could forget the scene of Arguello, a beaten man, sitting on the canvas and taking the full count, knowing he simply could not beat Pryor?

But Arguello, who finished his extraordinary 27-year career with a record of 82-8 (including 65 knockouts), should certainly be remembered for far more than his losses to Pryor, memorable though they were.

As a longtime collector of boxing videos, I have gone out of my way over the years to obtain a number of Arguello fights.

Of my many thousands of fights on tape and DVD, the first Pryor-Arguello fight -- a mint DVD of the original HBO telecast -- has been watched a lot. I said to a friend this morning, after hearing the news of Arguello's death, that if it were possible to wear out a DVD, that one would be. But there are others that I'm happy to have in my collection, including fights with Andy Ganigan, Rey Tam and the first fight with Alfredo Escalera, whom Arguello knocked out in the 13th round to win the junior lightweight title. Believe it or not, all three of those bouts I just mentioned were on network television. Arguello's regular fighting schedule and exposure on the broadcast networks are what helped him become such a fan favorite.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going back upstairs to pull out some of those videos.