Remembering the boxers we lost in 2009

Nicaraguan hero, world champion boxer, Contra revolutionary, local statesman, it appears Alexis Arguello had a full and most remarkable life.

Forty-nine professional boxers died thus far in 2009. Eight were still in their 20’s, 18 never saw their 50th birthday, and only 16 were over 70. Three died at the hands of a professional hit-man, one committed suicide, one died after two carjackers opened up with semi-automatic weapons, five died from head trauma (ring injuries), one was struck multiple times in the back of the head then strangled, one fell from atop a waterfall, and another was involved in a hit and run accident.

Of course only the very famous make the headlines. July 1st, came news that former champion, Alexis Arguello, who boxed professionally for 34 years, was found dead at his home in Managua, Nicaragua, a victim of a gunshot wound in his chest. The 57-year-old, who never lost a fight at 130 pounds, retired in 1995 with a record of 82-8 and 65 knockouts and was a champion in three weight divisions. Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega described Arguello as “an extraordinary human being full of truth.”

After suffering an unavenged first round TKO loss in his 1968 professional debut, he then went on to win 36 of his next 38 bouts, which led to a world featherweight championship bout against WBA champion Ernesto Marcel of Panama in Panama. The young challenger lost a 15-round unanimous decision in Marcel’s retirement bout.

Undaunted, Argüello began another streak of wins, and eventually challenged Marcel’s successor, Mexican world champion Rubén Olivares. After Olivares built a small lead on the judges’ scorecards, Argüello and Olivares landed simultaneous left hooks in round thirteen. Olivares’s left hand caused a pained expression on Argüello’s face, but Argüello’s left hand sent Olivares crashing hard against the canvas. A few seconds later, Argüello was the new featherweight champion of the world.

After defending his title several times, he moved up in weight to challenge world Junior Lightweight champion Alfredo Escalera in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, in what has been nicknamed The Bloody Battle of Bayamón. Escalera had his eye, mouth and nose broken early, but was rallying back when Argüello finished him in the 13th round.

His reign at Junior Lightweight saw him fend off the challenges of Escalera in the rematch, as well as former and future world champion Bobby Chacon, former and world champion Rafael “Bazooka” Limon, Ruben Castillo, future champion Rolando Navarrete, and Diego Alcalá.

Argüello again moved up in weight to challenge world Lightweight champion Jim Watt. Watt lasted 15 rounds, but the judges gave Argüello a unanimous decision, thus making him only the sixth boxer to win world titles in 3 divisions. After facing some lesser known challengers, he met up with Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. Their bout was later showcased in a boxing video of the best fights of the ‘80s with Argüello prevailing by stoppage when he decked Mancini in round 14.

After defeating James ‘Bubba’ Busceme, he decided to move up in weight again and fought the future Hall-of-Famer Aaron Pryor. Argüello was stopped in the 14th round. The fight sparked controversy however, because Pryor’s trainer, Panama Lewis, introduced a second water bottle which he described as “the bottle I mixed” after round 13, leading to speculation the bottle may have been tainted. The Florida State Boxing Commission failed to administer a post-fight urinalysis, adding to speculation the bottle may have contained an unsanctioned substance. It was later revealed in an interview with former Lewis-trained boxer Luis Resto that Lewis would break apart antihistamine pills used to treat asthma and pour the medicine into the water, giving Lewis’s fighters greater lung capacity in the later rounds. After a rematch was ordered, Pryor KO-ed Arguello in the tenth.

During the ‘80s Argüello briefly fought with the Contras in his native Nicaragua, but after a few months in the jungle retired from the war. He then attempted several comebacks during the late 1980s and early 1990s and had some success, most notably a fourth round stoppage of former World Junior Welterweight Champion Billy Costello in a 1986 televised bout that put him in a position for another shot at the Junior Welterweight title.

On July 11, 2010, word came that Arturo Gatti was dead at a Brazilian resort. This was another shocker since Gatti was on his second honeymoon in Porto de Galinhas, Brazil. He was found in his underwear with blood stains on his neck and back of his head. He was scheduled to testify in a trial in New York a few days later in a lawsuit filed against the New York State Athletic Commission by former opponent Joey Gamache. The following day, it was announced that his Brazilian wife, Amanda Rodgrigues, had been charged with the murder and arrested by authorities. Early reports alleged that Gatti was struck multiple time in the back of the head and then apparently strangled with a purse strap while unconcious. On July 30, authorities ruled Gatti’s death a suicide, and ordered the release of Gatti’s wife.

Gatti started his boxing career in 1991 at age 19 to become one of the most successful and exciting Canadian boxers in history. He won the IBF 130 lb. title against Tracy Harris Patterson in 1995, and then successfully defended it three times before giving up his title to move up to 135 pounds. It was at that weight that he lost to Angel Manfredy and Ivan Robinson in three consecutive fights. Gatti roared back in 1999 and 2000 and ran up a string of victories before fighting Oscar De La Hoya. He lost to De La Hoya, but his courage was shown by refusing to quit and fighting on, after being dropped in the first round.

A few fights later he would engage in a three-fight trilogy with Micky Ward. After this trilogy, he was ranked the Number One Contender by the WBC in the light welterweight class, so a fight was scheduled for the vacant title against Gianluca Branco. Gatti won the fight, and became a two-time champion, something many felt he would never be able to accomplish. Gatti then stopped Leonard Dorin, who had never been knocked out before. He followed this with a victory over former champion Jesse James Leija. Finally a fight was set up between Gatti and the highly-regarded Floyd Mayweather Jr., in June of 2005. Gatti lost the bout, having been completely dominated and eventually stopped. On July 22, 2006, he lost to Carlos Baldomir by a ninth round stoppage in his bid to win the WBC welterweight title.

Next came news that Vernon Forrest had been shot and killed on July 25th in Atlanta, Ga. Around 11 p.m. Forrest stopped at a gas station to put air in the tires of his Jaguar. Another car pulled up and Forrest was approached by at least two men in an attempted carjacking. At one point, Forrest, who had a gun, gave chase and both sides exchanged gunfire. Forrest ended up being shot eight times by two semi-automatic weapons.

On August 1st, about 400 people showed their respect by gathering at the site where Forrest defeated Marlon Thomas in 1995 to win the IBC light welterweight belt. Forrest (41-3, 29 KOs), a 1992 U.S. Olympian, went on to win three major titles in the welterweight and then middleweight divisions.

Forrest is best known for his two victories over Shane Mosley in 2002. He had beaten Mosley to keep him off the 1992 Olympic team but when they met in January, 2002, it was Mosley, who was regarded as boxing’s number one best pound-for-pound fighter and a significant favorite. Instead, Forrest knocked Mosley down and dominated the fight to hand him his first pro loss and win the WBC welterweight title. Forrest beat Mosley again in a July rematch.

After signing a multimillion dollar contract with HBO, Forrest was stunningly upset in the first fight of that deal when Ricardo Mayorga knocked him out in the third round in January, 2003. In the rematch that July, Mayorga won again by a majority decision. Forrest entered that fight with nagging shoulder and elbow injuries, which required surgery and forced him into a two-year layoff. He returned in July 2005 and knocked out Elco Garcia; he was still troubled by his left arm, but continued to fight.

After another layoff, he won a controversial decision against former welterweight titlist Ike Quartey before another 11-month layoff. He came back again in July, 2007 and easily out-pointed former welterweight champ Carlos Baldomir to win the vacant WBC junior middleweight title.

After knocking out Michele Piccirillo in the 11th round of his first defense in December 2007, Forrest was upset by former “Contender” reality series winner Sergio Mora via majority decision in June, 2008. In their rematch on Sept. 13th, Forrest reclaimed the title by dominating Mora in what turned out to be his last fight.

Though he was understandably lauded for his skills in the ring, those who knew Forrest best, remember his tireless efforts with charities and for being a dear friend.

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