Lee Groves

10: Best final acts

4. Feb. 16, 1974, Gimnasio Nuevo Panama, Panama City, Panama – Ernesto Marcel W 15 Alexis Arguello

The 25-year-old Marcel was at the pinnacle of his fistic life; he was vigorous, incredibly skilled and boasted an enviable blend of youth and experience. By the time he met Arguello, Marcel had defended his WBA featherweight title three times against Enrique Garcia (KO 6), Antonio Gomez (KO 12) and Spider Nemoto (KO 9) and was two months removed from a 10-round split decision win over future champ Samuel Serrano.

Meanwhile, the 21-year-old “Explosive Thin Man” (36-3, 29) was riding a 13-fight winning streak that included 10 knockouts within the first three rounds. The 5-10 Nicaraguan’s deceptively frail 122¾-pound frame disguised his immense power and if that wasn’t enough he had four inches in height and reach over the champion.

Marcel opened the fight strongly as he circled the stalking Arguello and popped his head back with singular but eye-catching hooks and crosses while also cleverly dodging the Nicaraguan’s blows. Every landed punch by Marcel brought a roar from the Panamanian faithful but Arguello sought to quiet them by roaring out of the corner in round two and driving the champion across the ring. Marcel coolly shrugged off the surge and methodically picked away at Arguello’s defenses with direct, flush blows. Round after round Arguello tried to impose his power but while he stunned Marcel briefly in the third his piledrivers were no match for Marcel’s consummate skills and unerring accuracy.

Arguello rallied in rounds nine through 11, showing flashes of the exquisite skills that would make him a legend in subsequent years. The resourceful Marcel weathered Arguello’s fury and caught his second wind starting in the 12th as he burrowed inside and raked the challenger with clean, whistling shots. The bounce in the champ’s legs returned in the 13th while Arguello – who had gone 10 rounds only four times previously – showed signs of fatigue.

Marcel made his final round a strong one as he moved in and out with ease and rattled Arguello’s head with flurries to the point where he was almost playing with the challenger. The crowd chanted his name as he put the finishing touches on his last masterpiece. Referee Serviio Tulio Lay and judge Juan Carlos Tapia scored it 146-140 for Marcel while judge Harmodio Cedeno saw it 146-142.

It was expected before the fight that Marcel would retire and despite his dominant showing he kept his word. A lopsided win over a future three-division champion and Hall of Famer is an extraordinary way to end one’s career. But his early exit came at a cost to his legacy, for the “unfinished symphony” aspect prevented Marcel from crafting an ironclad argument for his induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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