"Even after Alexis loses, he'll still be champion," Pryor said. "It's over for me if I lose. For me it's $4.95 an hour or world champion."
Arguello made eight title defenses over the next several years, and the rise in weight did nothing to diminish his vaunted hitting power; seven of those defenses were knockout wins. So he jumped up to 135 and in June 1981 beat up and outpointed the durable Scotsman Jim Watt to win the WBC lightweight belt. The win made Arguello just the sixth boxer ever to win world titles in three divisions. Five more wins followed, all by knockout, so it stood to reason that yet another jump, this one to 140 against mercurial, undefeated champion Aaron Pryor, would make sense. He'd carried his power well so far. Though slower than he was as a young featherweight, his punches still carried enough steam to flatten other men his size. There was no reason to think five more pounds - it was only five pounds - would make much of a difference.
The weight wasn't on Pryor's mind beforehand. Survival was. "Even after Alexis loses, he'll still be champion," Pryor said. "It's over for me if I lose. For me it's $4.95 an hour or world champion."
But the weight did matter. In one of the great fights of the era, Arguello and Pryor took turns battering one another around the ring in front of 28,000 fans at the Orange Bowl in Miami. The difference? Even Arguello's best right hands couldn't discourage Pryor's manic aggression and frenetic punch rate. He outpunched Arguello, outfought him and eventually stopped him in the 14th round. In a rematch a year later, Arguello lasted until the 10th. He fought just twice more before retiring for 10 years, fighting twice and then retiring for good.
Years later Arguello told writer Peter Heller, "I was a great fighter. I won the featherweight, the junior lightweight, and the lightweight world titles, I had power all the time, but when I jumped into the 140-pound division I couldn't punch the same way. I hit Pryor with everything and I could not even break an egg with my punches. They guy laughed at me when I hit him. There was no punching power." Most believe that had Arguello stayed at lightweight, he'd have reigned for years.
Some contemporaries of Arguello's, a few that were as good as he and a few that weren't, won titles in four divisions or more. The great Roberto Duran did it. So did Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns. Pernell Whitaker did it. And later, Roy Jones, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather did it too. It's something only the elite fighters can do. If you want to know how hard it is, even today, with all the weight divisions there are and with all the belts that are floating around, consider another who couldn't do it: Julio Cesar Chavez, arguably the greatest Mexican prizefighter ever. If he couldn't do it - and it wasn't for lack of trying - then you know it's not easy.
Three years after the debacle against Whitaker De La Hoya relieved Chavez of his junior welterweight belt and then moved on to 147. Chavez quickly tried to regain his old title and drew with Miguel Angel Gonzalez then beat Ken Sigurani before taking one last stab at winning a title at welterweight. There was one problem: the welterweight he had to face was De La Hoya, who had only gotten bigger and better, while he, Chavez, had only gotten older and slower. Never even a real welterweight, he was facing a kid who after the weigh-in hydrated all the way up to junior middleweight.
It never was really a contest. Chavez fought hard and tried to get inside and did on occasion, and he had his moments. But he was a little too old, too small, and too slow for a bigger, younger, faster fighter. After getting bloodied and battered for most of the fight he gave it one last try in the seventh and then said to hell with it and stayed on his stool after the eighth, the blood all but pouring out of his mouth and from cuts over his eyes.
"It wasn't that he was strong, I just didn't have a smart game plan," De La Hoya said afterward. "That's why the fight seemed so tough." The outcome might have been the same regardless of the weight at which it was contested, and regardless Chavez' age. We'll never know. And maybe his quest for that elusive fourth-division title would have been successful if he'd gone after a belt belonging to a fighter less competent that De La Hoya. Surely there were enough of them out there. But he didn't. And he didn't get a title in a fourth weight class either. It's no easy feat, even for the great ones and even today.