Alexis Argüello Jr., Son of a Champion, Is His Own Man


CANASTOTA, N.Y. — As the M.C. welcomed fans to the International Boxing Hall of Fame induction ceremony, he recognized a familiar face and beckoned him to the stage.

This, he said, is Alexis Argüello Jr. — son of the champion fighter. The crowd cheered, and the host offered him the microphone.

“That was the last thing I expected,” Argüello Jr. said afterward. “I was like, ‘No, I don’t want the mic.’”

He has never wanted it, but it has been handed to him all his life.

Being the child of a famous athlete can come with unmatched privileges and unnerving scrutiny. But when fame is automatically attached to the name, expectations are heightened, especially in a sport where dozens of namesakes have tried to emulate their celebrated fathers, one punch at a time.

Alexis Argüello Sr. won titles in three weight classes and was named by The Associated Press as the 20th century’s top junior lightweight. With one of the most memorable mustaches in boxing, he was revered in his native Nicaragua and elected mayor of Managua before officials said he died by suicide in 2009, at 57.

Born in Managua, Alexis Argüello Jr. grew up in Miami, though he also lived for a month at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas when his father was training for his second fight with his main rival, Aaron Pryor. His childhood was a kaleidoscope, careening from a gilded lifestyle with boats, cars and houses to a humbled one strained by his father’s excesses.

The one constant was fame, and sometimes, it interfered. When the family went out to dinner, it was rare that a fan didn’t interrupt it for an autograph or photo. Even at his wedding in 2005, at a private club in Manhattan, some employees excitedly recognized his father.

“I would get kind of annoyed because I wanted to spend time with my dad,” he said. “He said, ‘Listen, those are my fans.’ We had to adjust to it.”

Called Junior at home, he favored another nickname outside: A.J.

And as his parents’ relationship deteriorated, he discovered a passion separate from his father’s: lacrosse.

“It was therapy for me because my parents were breaking up,” he said.

A sturdy 5-foot-9 defensive midfielder, Alexis Argüello Jr. played at Herkimer College, a community college about a 45-mile drive east of Canastota. His undefeated 1992 team won the junior college national championship.

“I was A.J., the lacrosse player,” he said.

His next stop was playing for Division I Stony Brook. But then he was contacted by Tony Graziano, a prominent boxing promoter in Canastota. His pitch: You displayed raw talent in a charity fight organized by your lacrosse team. Why not pursue boxing full time?

Intrigued, he left college and moved to a motel across from the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He generated considerable buzz in a few amateur bouts. But when Graziano offered him a professional contract, he hesitated.

Get your degree, his father advised, because “the reason I fight is so that you don’t have to.”

Alexis Argüello Jr., who had always been ambivalent about fighting, studied television production at Stony Brook, where he met his wife, a health care administrator. He later joined CBS Sports, producing long features on subjects like Brandi Chastain and the 1999 Women’s World Cup. He has won two Emmys.

“Those are my titles,” he said. “The spotlight belongs to my dad, not me. I just feel more comfortable behind the camera.”

He joined Showtime Sports in January, excited to focus on boxing, this time on his own terms. He was recruited by someone whose name also echoes: David Dinkins Jr., son of the former New York mayor.

“He certainly seems to have found his calling,” David Jr. said.

Inherited fame was a pervasive theme when Alexis Argüello Jr. returned to the Hall of Fame in June. Among the inductees were Floyd Mayweather Jr., Laila Ali and Roy Jones Jr. At times, it seemed only Alexis Argüello Jr. hadn’t gone into the family business.

During his assignment — his first time back since his father’s death — he taped interviews in English and Spanish with retired champions. Several said they idolized his father.

“Watching this makes me wish that I was here for my dad’s,” said a teary Alexis Jr., who couldn’t make his father’s ceremony in 1992.

These days, Alexis Argüello Jr., 50, cherishes the rare occasion when someone makes the connection between him and his father. With time, his annoyance at fans’ curiosity has turned to appreciation.

One boxing fan, Jason Lacey, 39, recalled chatting with a “very easygoing” Alexis Argüello Sr. for 45 minutes at a Hall of Fame event. Lacey’s home shrine features posters autographed by Alexis Sr. and Pryor side by side.

This time, he asked Alexis Jr. to sign a boxing glove, and he happily obliged.

“It’s just so interesting how it comes full circle,” Lacey said.

Still, boxing mementos are hard to find at Alexis Argüello Jr.’s two-story house in Rockaway Park, Queens. The Emmys dominate the top shelf of a living room bookcase, bracketed by photos of his 11-year-old daughter. The centerpiece of the shelf below, a wedding photo, displays a beaming Alexis Jr. and his wife, flanked by his parents and two brothers.

The father sports his signature mustache. Alexis Jr., his own man, is clean-shaven.

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