Status: Hall of Fame boxing great. Former Featherweight, Super Feather and Lightweight champion. 1952-2009. (Note: This interview was done in Atlantic City in 1995.)
Birthplace: Managua, Nicaragua
Childhood Heroes: "Hank Aaron, Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Frank Robinson and Jesse Owens…I love that man, especially for what he did to Hitler."
Nicknames: "The Explosive Thin Man – from Howard Cosell. Little Onion – my father was Big Onion."
Childhood Dreams: "I tried a lot of sports…baseball, basketball, soccer. Boxing was the only one that excited me. I love it, I really love it. I love boxing with my heart. Nothing can stop you when you want something with your heart. I thank God I found boxing when I did. I just wish I could be 16 again and relive it all again. Boxing made me feel so good. Boxing got me out of the ghetto."
Early Boxing Memory: "The day I got on my knees and asked for my mom’s blessing to box. I came home from a sparring session with Ruben Olivares. I was 16. I buckled him with a right hand. And he came on and threw a million punches! That was my mistake. I got him mad. My eye was swollen, puffy out to here. I had to get my mom’s blessing. She saw my eye and said, Don’t do it! You’re going to get hurt! They’re going to hurt you!"
Favorite Movies: "The Exorcist, Jaws – those movies get my blood going, my adrenaline going!"
Musical Tastes: "The Platters, Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, Earth, Wind & Fire."
First Job: "I was a carpenter with my brothers Guillermo, Ivan and Orlando (age 12)."
Pre-Fight Feeling: "Never thought about it. I was sleeping. I was Sleeping Beauty before every fight [smiles]. What gave me relaxation was knowing I did the work. I was always in good shape. When a man is in good shape, his psychological point is on top. That’s the most important thing. If you didn’t prepare enough, your mind is uncertain. When you’re in shape, you know you can do the things you want. Guts, determination, desire…those are important the things. I was never nervous after my first pro fight (KO 1 Israel Medina in 1968)."
Funny Boxing Memory: "[Laughs]…funny memory…with respect to my opponent, the day it happened was in Atlantic City in 1980. I don’t want to mention his name. The first time I got in a clinch with him, he stink. He stink so bad. I said to my corner, I don’t know what happened to this guy, but I think this guy poo in his pants. ‘Cause he stinks so bad! The next round when the bell rings and he turned to go back to his corner, I saw his pants and he soiled his pants! With a punch I hit him with right in the solar plexus. And it was funny. Until I saw it I thought, Oh, what a bad guy I am. But it was from a punch I hit him with."
Pre-Fight Meal: "Steak – lots of protein for energy, salad, rice, beans, pasta, Coca Cola. I love Coca Cola. That’s publicity. Tell them to send a check [laughs]!"
Greatest Sports Moment: "Every time I won a world title. Each was special. Ruben Olivares for WBA Featherweight title (KO 13 in ’74), Alfredo Escalera for the WBC Super Featherweight title (TKO 13 in ’78) and Jim Watt for the WBC Lightweight title (W15 in ’81). Each was a really great moment in my life."
Most Painful Moment: "Like when a man wants a dream and he gets the chance to make the dream but the dream doesn’t come true…it was with Aaron Pryor (in ’82 and ’83). But I was discouraged but I wasn’t sad because I knew I lost against a great champion."
Favorite Boxers To Watch: "I like the old-timers better…Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Carmen Basilio, Barney Ross. Before he died, I met Sugar Ray in Los Angeles when I was fighting Olivares for the championship. He was kind of loosening himself up in the Main Street Gym in downtown L.A. And that was one of the greatest moments of my life, to get to meet such a great fighter. I told him of my admiration for him. He was one of my inspirations. In my country, I used to pay ten cents to watch him on Sundays in the movies, Sport Gillette. We had no television. I really told him, boxing to me, he was the best, I tried to imitate him. And I told him that. He told me, Alexis, keep working hard and as much as you work, you accomplish what you want. Always to dedicate myself. If a man can work, he can do anything he wants. That was the most important day in my life when I met him."
Toughest Opponents: "All of them. Each and every one of them. In order for me to perform, I have to get into shape. I have to face another human being like I was…with the same desire to conquer the world."
Hardest Punchers: "Art Hafey. Canadian. I knocked him out in five. His punching power was tremendous. He was a strong guy with a neck like this. He hurt me but I didn’t go down."
Closest Boxing Friends: "Ray Mancini, Boom Boom. My dear buddy. All of them. We have something in common. We go up there in front of everybody. Whenever I see my opponents, I get happy."
When Were You At Your Best?: "All of them. Because I always made the condition, to do a good performance. Did my job as well as I could. I loved what I did. I’m really happy for what I did. And if I was born again, I’d do it again."
Any Fights You Wanted But Never Got?: "There was a rumor that a fight would be interested…Roberto Duran and myself. And I thought, Holy shit! That would be a tough one. The date they tell me for that I will dedicate six months for that one! But we never came to. He went from 135 to 147. And I went from 126 to 130 and to 135. It would have been a train collision, a great fight."
People Most Admired: "Ben Franklin and George Washington. They created the best piece of paper on earth – The Constitution. 1776. Freedom. A man born free is supposed to die free. A man deserves what comes to him, what he works for. Albert Einstein. Abe Lincoln – I love that man. I know these days are gone. Sometimes I think I’m misplaced. If we taught our future generations about them, we could be better."
Future Ambitions: "To help my country, my 4,000,000 people in Nicaragua. To find a way to develop our nation, to make it successful. To have something to offer this country."