LI boxer, 43, to make area debut

Heavyweight boxer Nick Argyris trains at the Westbury

Heavyweight boxer Nick Argyris trains at the Westbury Boxing Gym with his trainer, Joe Gadigia. (Credit: Robert Cassidy)

Nick Argyris, 43, is slated to box Thursday night at Plattduetsche Park Restaurant in Franklin Square -- a New York professional debut that was postponed two weeks by Sandy and 20 years by an accident that almost took his right hand.

In 1992, Argyris was 23, a 5-foot, 11-inch, 220-pound bruiser out of Astoria, Queens, and was about to commence a professional boxing career. After more than 60 amateur fights, he was known for his gorilla-like strength and the thud of the right hand's punch.

"He didn't move around," said former World Boxing Council featherweight champion Kevin Kelley, a friend who trained with Argyris in Queens when they were kids. "He got inside and hit you with body shots, head shots." Some, said Kelley, called Argyris a "Greek Mike Tyson."

At a fight at Madison Square Garden's Felt Forum, Argyris recalled, announcers made explicit the comparison with the heavyweight champion: " 'Watch out, Mike Tyson,' they said. They even said that."

But Argyris never came close to fighting Iron Mike. He was working a roofing job atop Coney Island Hospital when an engine-powered winch hoisting material from the ground jammed. As it tipped toward him, the steel cable began to run again -- very fast. Argyris stuck his gloved hand out to protect himself.

"I thought it just took the glove, but then I looked at my hand," Argyris said. "It took my fingers."

He'd lost them almost up to the second joint, leaving barely enough flesh and bone to make a fist. Pugilist ponderings of a career in the square circle were done.

The righthander had to learn to write with his left. He learned, too, to keep his right hand out of sight, or hold something with it to draw attention from its missing parts.

It didn't always work.

Sometimes it would be in a store, where a child would say to her mother, "Mommy, he's got baby fingers!"

Once it was on a date. "The conversation was going great, back and forth," he said. "Then I reached over for the wineglass. She screamed."

He ballooned to 285 pounds. He stopped doing the training runs he'd once enjoyed.

He stopped training at all.

It wasn't any one thing that brought Argyris back. It was going to Kelley's fights. It was sitting at home in his basement watching heavyweights on television. Some of them, he said, were potbellied and out of shape. "They couldn't break an egg," he said. He knew he could do better, he said. "It was eating me up inside."

Argyris re-entered the ring in 1999, building a 5-1 record off intermittent fights, mainly in Alabama and North Carolina.

He said he has been training full-time since last year, living on savings and income from renting out part of his house in Babylon Village. He does most of his gym work at Westbury Boxing Club, runs his distance on local roads and sprints at school tracks.

He will earn about $800 for Thursday night's fight, according to promoter David Schuster, and he hopes to eventually earn a living fighting.

It's not an impossible dream, Schuster said. Argyris' background -- the son of Greek immigrants -- gives him a ready-made fan base. While his age makes him a novelty, his fitness is excellent, and his time out of the ring has left him well-preserved.

And, Schuster said, everybody loves a comeback. Remember George Foreman?

"It's the old underdog story," he said. What matters now, he said, is stringing together enough wins to find high-profile opponents.

Kelley says his friend should be fighting two to three times a month. "He needs to be getting back in the ring as soon as possible. It could be a year out, or it could be a few years before he gets noticed."

But even Argyris' allies admit the consequences of a loss or poorly chosen match could be dire. "At 43, he doesn't have room for errors," said Argyris' trainer, Joe Gadigian. "You don't really get a second chance in this sport. Nick made his second chance."

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