In July 2009 the world of boxing lost three great champions in violent and tragic circumstances.
On July 11, 2009 Arturo Gatti was found in a beach resort apartment in Brazil handing by his neck, his death has been ruled a suicide. Gatti was truly one of the game’s great warriors he left it all in the ring. You always got your money’s worth with any fight card he was on.
Arturo was called the “Human highlight Film.” He had nine straight sellouts in Atlantic City’s Convention Center from 2002--2007. Four of his fights were chosen as the “Fight of the Year” by the Boxing Writers Association. He fought on HBO 20 times including a legendary trilogy of fights with Mickey Ward. The trilogy was voted the second greatest of all time, second only to Ali and Frazier.
Arturo Gattie was a boxing icon and hero in his hometown of Jersey City, NJ.
On July 25, 2009 Vernon Forest was shot down in an Atlanta gas station while putting air in his tires. It looks like robbery was the motive, he was driving a Jaguar.
During his great career his most memorable fight was when he defeated the unbeaten Shane Mosley in January 2002 for the 147 pound WBC title. Vernon was an underdog going into the fight despite his win over Shane as an amateur. He won a unanimous decision.
He was a gentleman during his great career and never boasted about his victories. Vernon was humble and gracious in victory and defeat.
He will definitely be missed in his hometown of Atlanta, Ga. Vernon was an important part of the Atlanta community. He was a giver and people in Atlanta loved him. He founded a program called “Destiny’s Child” which catered to mentally challenged adults. His friends said, “He was a greater human, than he was a boxer.”
On July 1, 2009 Alexis Arguello was found dead in his home of Managua. Managua is the Nation’s Capitol of Nicaragua. He was the Mayor of the city. His death I took personal.
Alexis was a champion in three different weight classes during the greatest boxing era of my life time, the 80s. Alexis was not only a boxing champion he was a class act, inside and outside of the ring.
I have walked, broken bread, and have been associated with some of the greatest boxing champions of 2Oth Century. They include, Muhammad Ali, George Forman, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello.
The Heavyweight Champion was once the most recognizable sports personality in the world. With so many alphabet soup divisions the names of today’s heavyweight champions are hardly recognizable. It was once unheard of for the Heavyweight Champion not to be an American.
Muhammad Ali though retired is still the most recognizable boxer in the world. He had my back during his electrifying career and when he retired there was a definite void left in the world of boxing.
The void was quickly filled with some of the most electrifying and excited fighters who were not heavyweights, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Thomas Hears, Marvin Hagler, Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello. The little guys had finally taken the spotlight.
Sugar Ray Robinson was the last “Little Guy” to hold the spotlight of the boxing world. No one has ever dominated the middleweight division like “The Original Sugar Ray.”
There was never a dull moment when the little guys of the 80s stepped into the ring. Their fights often left you breathless.
I had up close and personal moments with Leonard, Hearns, Duran, Pryor and Arguello.
Sugar Ray was the darling of the boxing world and the game’s “Cash Cow.” His fights with Hearns, Duran and Hagler were all classics and controversial wins. He sometimes won under suspicious circumstances and this was all done without my friend the notorious Don King as his promoter.
The most controversial title fight during that era was the showdown fight between Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor and Alexis Arguello. These two would be forever linked in boxing history. Their two showdown fights in the 80s are now boxing folklore.
Aaron Pryor and I became friends when he came to Washington, DC to be trained by Dave Jacobs the former boxing trainer of Sugar Ray Leonard. Dave had been fired by Sugar Ray Leonard and someone had suggested that Aaron and Dave become a team. The combination was “Oil and Water,” not compatible.
It had always been rumored that Dave was overrated. I think this was because like all great champions, Sugar Ray called his own shots.
Aaron was from the streets of Cincinnati, Ohio and he is the greatest example of; “You can take a brother out of the ghetto but you can’t take the ghetto out of him---meet ‘The Hawk.’
There was no denying Aaron was an awesome talent and was going places in spite of himself.
He dominated the great Thomas Hearns in the 1975 Golden Gloves. His star was definitely on the rise, but he stumbled when he failed to make the 1976 Olympic Games. He lost to the eventual Olympic Gold Medal winner Howard Davis.
The lost to Davis cost Aaron a major contract but that did not stop his pursue of a World Championship. He tore through the professional ranks with an eye popping 24-0 record. The boxing stars in his weight class like Leonard, Hearns and Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini ducked him. He was Warrior and no one wanted to fight him. His style was relentless you never had to look for him.
Dave Jacobs invited me to the gym to meet Aaron and asked me to help find a place for him to live.
I took him into DC and introduced to my friend Maurice “Mo” Tighman. Mo was the resident manager of the Naylor Gardens’ apartment complex.
I asked Mo to do me a favor and find a place to house Aaron for a couple of months. As luck would have it there was an apartment available. One of our friends a long time tenant was going to be out of the country for several months. He was looking for someone to rent his apartment while he was gone. Enter Aaron Pryor.
The first night in the apartment he was on the streets looking for drugs. He then imported another problem in from his hometown, his common-law wife. This was my fault because my friend at the time Boxing Promoter Don King had forewarned me (Aaron was bad news). I thought about my source of information and decided to take a chance, big mistake.
The fights that took place in that Naylor Garden apartment between Aaron and his common-law wife were the talk of the complex. According to my brother Earl a police Sergeant in the district “The Hawk” was no longer undefeated on some of those nights.
My brother had to referee several of the knockdown drag out fights. As a favor to me my brother never arrested the couple. He was once the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of Germany while serving in the Army.
Aaron finally had to send his live-in lover back to Cincinnati so he could concentrate on his training.
When our friend arrived back from out of the country he didn’t even recognize his own apartment. The apartment was declared a disaster area.
The next time I saw Aaron was at the weight in for his fight on the undercard of the Michael Spinks and Saad Muhammad middleweight title fight. The weight in was held at the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel in downtown DC.
He gave me a wink of his eye and pretended he didn’t know me. He never paid for the damages and never said thank you. Once again “You can take a brother out the ghetto but you can’t take the ghetto out of him.”
In the meantime a fiasco developed at the weight-in between flamboyant Promoter Butch Lewis and Saad Muhammad. There was a problem with Saad making the weight limit. Saad threaten to knockout Butch. This confrontation caused fisticuffs between the entourages.
Thanks to the incompetent DC Boxing Commission led by Chairman Cora Masters Barry the fight was called off. Ms. Barry was later arrested and convicted of taking brides and stealing money from the Commission.
The tragic death of Alexis caught me completely off guard. He was found in his hometown of Managua with a bullet through his heart. His death has since been ruled a suicide.
Alexis like Pryor came out of a life of poverty. There the resemblance ends. Alexis was a class act during his entire career. He was intelligent, articulate and had a heart as big as the ring that he fought in.
Aaron was more like my friend Don King, selfish and ghetto treacherous and his word did not mean a thing.
The fight that made Alex Arguello a household name in the United States was his fight with Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. This was a great brawl. It was my first close up look at the fighter from Nicaragua. He gave Mancini a boxing lesson. The thing that impressed me the most was, after this brutal fight he embraced Mancini and wished him well. He was not caught up into himself.
Alexis was a tactician in the ring. He had a style where he stood straight up with a powerful jab. He could end a fight at anytime with a powerful right hand or a devastating left hook.
Alex Arguello was 77-5 when he met the undefeated Pryor on August 12, 1982. He was going for his forth World title in 4 different weight classes. It was a fight of epic proportions. They both were considered two of the best pound for fighters in boxing. They would split three million dollars a record at that time in the division.
I was rooting for Alexis. “The Hawk” had flown the coop!
The fight lived up to its advanced billing. Aaron set a fast pace with his in your face style and won the early rounds. His style made for a difficult first half for Alexis. But Alexis found his second wind and fought back to put “The Hawk” on the defense.
Aaron had only gone beyond ten rounds once in his pro career and Alexis had traveled beyond ten rounds on many occasions.
The question was who could hold on the longest and it looked like the question would be answered in the 13th round. Alexis caught Aaron with a devastating right hand to the jaw. It looked like he was going down for the count but Aaron somehow managed to stay on his feet.
Aaron staggered back to his corner for the infamous 14th round and the equally infamous “Black Bottle.”
In Aaron’s corner was the controversial trainer Panama Lewis. Panama made a move that has since gone down in boxing history. While they were trying to revive Aaron for the opening for the 14th round, Lewis was seen and heard yelling “Give me the other bottle, the one I made up.” He was rejecting the regular water bottle they had been using throughout the fight.
We still have not figured out what was in the “Black Bottle” but whatever it was made Aaron come off his stool like the ‘Energized Bunny.’
With just a minute gone in the 14th round the great Alexis Argüelles failed to respond to a volley of 24 straight punches and the fight was stopped. Aaron Pryor was now “The Disputed Champion,” of the world.
Alexis, never recovered from that controversial lost. It took a lot out of him as proud man and equally proud boxer. There was return match with Aaron but be was knocked out in the 10th round.
Aaron would go on to self destruct. The last thing I heard was that he had found God. I hope it is the other way around and God found him. If Aaron found God---God is in trouble.
I last saw Alexis at a Don King celebration in Atlantic City over a decade ago. He looked good and we laughed and talked about the good times. He was still humble and a gentleman and that is how I will remember him.