ALEXIS ARGUELLO and Aaron Pryor changed my whole outlook on winning and losing.

I remember peering through the ring ropes at Caesars Palace in September 1983 to see a thoroughly beaten Arguello retire on the seat of his satin trunks. Referee Richard Steele knelt in front of him and counted down the last 10 seconds of a great champion's storied career. It was just a formality.

Aaron "The Hawk" Pryor had dispatched Arguello and defended his World Boxing Association junior middleweight crown with a swift and stunning combination 98 seconds into the 10th round.

But both fighters knew that the end had come much earlier. Arguello had peppered Pryor with a barrage of punches that would stop most fighters in their tracks. But that furious flurry took more out of Arguello than it took out of Pryor.

Later, in the press tent, the two men hugged each other and cried together. In the catharsis of that moment, both announced their retirements, although both would return to the ring a year later.

Before that night I held to this simple maxim: Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser.

I taught that to my daughter, who was a good high-school athlete. A true champion, I told her, can never reach an easy accommodation with defeat. You should hate to lose even more than you love to win.

But Arguello and Pryor taught me that great fighters learn to win and lose with grace. They understand that iron sharpens iron.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have to understand that. Their epic tussle ended with his close but clear victory Tuesday.

I thought that she should have bowed out gracefully at that point. I wanted to see her lift his hand in victory as the decision was announced.

But that's easy for me to say. I didn't crisscross this country for 17 months shaking hands outside factory gates, canvassing in coffee klatches or packed auditoriums or anywhere else I could draw a crowd. I didn't spend millions of my own dollars.

I didn't put my reputation and career on the line for a chance to lead a nation. I never had to hear a commentator accuse me of "pimping" my own daughter just because she campaigned for her mother.

I wasn't exalted one day and debased the next, or ultimately rejected by a party that I had spent most of my adult life fighting for.

This is not about sympathy. Fighters don't need sympathy. Every time they step into a ring, they know they could just as easily be looking up as looking down when the count gets to 10.

This is about the next fight. Barack Obama won the right to fight again. Hillary Clinton needs to be in his corner for that next fight.

She must work to transform her voters into Obama voters; otherwise she will dishonor herself and the millions of voters who thought she was worthy.

Obama has been gracious in victory. Yes, it's easier to be gracious when you end the fight on your feet. But he has shown himself worthy.

I'm not one of those who felt that she had stepped on his moment Tuesday by not conceding. His moment has just begun. After 17 months of pitched battle, I can't see why we can't wait a few more days for her to lift his hand in victory.

He understands that what is now at stake is more important than the formality of dating her defeat. That's why he never joined that chorus of his supporters who urged her to bow out gracefully.

Whether she has been gracious enough will be determined by how hard she fights for him, not when she ended her fight with him.

Arguello was gracious in defeat. But he never had to campaign for the man who knocked him out. Hillary Clinton has no other choice.

Neither has Obama.

He knows that if he tries to win without her in November, he may be the one on the canvas the next time the count gets to 10. *

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