MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Former boxing champion Alexis Arguello, who was one of the all-time best junior lightweights before going on to become mayor of his homeland's capital city, was found shot to death in his home early Wednesday.
Presidential spokeswoman Rosario Murillo confirmed Arguello's death and an autopsy was pending. The La Prensa newspaper reported Arguello was found with a gunshot wound to the chest.
"We are upset," said Murillo, who declined to provide details about the death. "This is a heartbreaking announcement. He was the champion of the poor, an example of forgiveness and reconciliation."
The 57-year-old Arguello, who was elected mayor of Managua last year, retired after several comebacks in 1995 with a record of 82-8 with 65 knockouts. Nicknamed "The Explosive Thin Man," Arguello was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992.
In 1999, a panel of experts assembled by The Associated Press voted Arguello the best junior lightweight and sixth-best lightweight of the 20th century. His popularity in his own country was so great that he carried the flag for Nicaragua at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and led to his decision to seek public office.
Arguello fought against the Sandinista government in the 1980s after it seized his property and bank account, but later joined the party and ran for mayor of the capital last November. He defeated Eduardo Montealegre, though opponents alleged the vote was fraudulent.
Arguello had returned Sunday from Puerto Rico, where he honored the late baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente. His death prompted Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega to announced he was canceling a trip to Panama for the inauguration of President-elect Ricardo Martinelli.
Arguello turned professional in 1968 and lost his first bout. He didn't lose much after that, and six years later rallied to knock out future Hall of Famer Ruben Olivares in the 13th round to win the WBA featherweight title.
Arguello went on to win the super featherweight title and lightweight title, his 5-foot-10 frame and long reach allowing him to move up in weight without losing his tremendous punching power. At the time, he was only the sixth boxer to win titles in three weight classes, and was considered for a time the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Nobody had ever won titles in four divisions, and Arguello moved up in weight again in November 1982 to challenge junior welterweight king Aaron Pryor in a fight billed as "Battle of the Champions." More than 23,000 fans packed the Orange Bowl in Miami, and the two waged an epic battle in which Pryor knocked out Arguello in the 14th round.
A rematch was ordered and they met again a year later at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. This time, Pryor knocked out Arguello in the 10th round.
He announced after the fight that he would retire from boxing, but as so often happens in the sport, he couldn't stay away from the ring. He finally hung up his gloves for good in 1995, after losing to journeyman Scott Walker.