Beyond the Ropes: Aaron Pryor

By: Heath Harlem
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Before 2013 winds down one of the biggest stories that boxing fans will be talking about is all of the star power in the junior welterweight division.  Danny Garcia, Lucas Matthysse, and Zab Judah are some of the most talented stars in the game, and warriors like Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado are wowing fans with their epic battles.  While this group of fighters may be one of most exciting in recent history, it is worth taking a look back at one of the divisons all time greats.  Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor posed the personality, star power, and talent of Garcia or Judah, along with the heart of Rios or Alvarado.  Pryor reigned as junior welterweight champion for 5 years and was voted by the associated press as the greatest 140lb fighter of the 20th century by the associated press in 1999.

Aaron Pryor was born in Cincinnati, OH on October 20, 1955.  Pryor didn’t begin boxing as a youth until he was 13 years old.  Pryor quickly found success and accumulated an amateur record of 204 wins and 16 losses.  Pryor became a 3 time national AAU champion (1973, 1975 and 1976) and in 1976 he beat Thomas Hearns in the finals.  Aaron was favored to make the Olympic team in 1976 but was upset in the trials by Howard Davis Jr. and was forced to serve as an alternate.  When the Olympics ended, Pryor turned pro and made his debut with a knockout victory on November 11, 1976.  A few days after his pro debut, Pryor signed to be managed by Buddy LaRosa owner of a pizza chain in the Cincinnati area.  This management arrangement turned out to have a drastic impact on Pryor’s career in the future.

Pryor’s career got rolling in 1977 when he fought 8 times, winning 6 by knockout.  After his second decision victory of 1977, Pryor went on to win the next 26 fights of his career by knockout.  On August 2nd, 1980 Pryor fought for the title for the first time against Antonio Cervantes in Aaron’s hometown of Cincinnati, OH.  The fight was broadcasted live on CBS and in the first round an overwhelmed Pryor was knocked down.  Showing the heart of a modern day warrior like Alvarado or Rios, “The Hawk” rose from the canvass and with the skill and power of a Danny Garcia ended the fight by knocking out his opponent in round 4, becoming Junior Welterweight Champion.  Pryor defended his title in November 1980 with a 6th round knockout of Gaetan Hart.  After the fight with Hart Pryor was offered a fight with Roberto Duran that would have paid him $750,000.  Pryor stalled before accepting the fight with Duran due to a contract issue with LaRosa and by the time the management issue was worked out, the opportunity to fight Duran was gone.

With the fight against Duran off of the table, Pryor continued to reign as champion making three title defenses in 1981 and 1982 before being offered a fight against Welterweight Champion Sugar Ray Leonard. The fight with Leonard was going to pay Pryor $750,000.  Pryor had the opportunity to fight Leonard sooner for $500,000 but him and his management team held out for the larger pay day.  Before Leonard was to face Pryor, Leonard had to defeat Roger Stafford in May of 1982.  While Leonard did defeat Stafford in their title fight, Leonard suffered a serious eye injury and the fight with Pryor was off.  With the fight with Leonard off, Pryor made a title defense Against Akio Kameda before he finally had his big money fight against Alexis Arguello.

Much like modern day Junior Welterweight’s Mike Alvarado and Brandon Rios, on November 12, 1982 Aaron Pryor faced Alexis Arguello in the first of their two epic fights.  In front of almost 24,000 people Alexis and Aaron were in an all-out war for the first 13 rounds.  In the 13th round Argeullo was down on the scorecards when he stunned Pryor and took the momentum of the fight.  Between the 13th and 14th round, Pryor’s trainer, Panama Lewis was heard asking “give me the other bottle, the one I mixed”.  Pryor seemed revived in the 14th round, and knocked out Argeullo with a series of viscous power shots.  Many people suspected that there was an illegal substance in the bottle, but there was never any post fight drug testing completed.  Years later another fight trained by Lewis stated that Lewis would put antihistamine pills into the water bottles to help with lung capacity later in fights.  Despite all of the controversy, this great fight was named fight of the decade by ring magazine.  After defeating Sang-Hyun Kim on April 2, 1983, Pryor faced Arguello again on September 9, 1983.  For this fight Pryor was trained by Emanuel Steward after Lewis was suspended for removing padding from another fighter’s glove.  Pryor decisively defeated Arguello dominating the rematch from round 1, and ending the fight via knockout in the 10th round.  The dominating performance silenced many of the doubters who had concerns about the “water bottle” from the first fight.   However, after going through to “wars” together, Arguello and Pryor became friends for the rest of their lives.

After the 2nd Arguello fight, Pryor had a short lived retirement which he describes as a rest.  The IBF was recently formed and upon his return they immediately named him their Welterweight Champion.  Pryor’s first fight at Welterweight was to be against Ray Boom Boom Mancini but that fell through when Mancini was stopped by Livingston Bramble.  Pryor instead defended his title against Nick Furlan on June 22nd, 1984.  Pryor was a lopsided decision against Furlan.  However, this decision ended Pryor’s knockout streak.  In March of 1985 Pryor won a split decision against Gary Hinton, his last fight before his title would be stripped for failure to defend.  During the mid-1980’s Pryor became consumed by drug abuse and did not fight again until August 8th, 1987 when he was defeated by Welterweight journeyman Bobby Joe Young.  Pryor, addicted to drugs was a shell of his former self and fought only three more time over the next three years against three journeymen before finally retiring in 1990.  After arrests in his hometown that helped guide Pryor to the proper treatment, Pryor finally was able to kick the drug habit in 1993.  In 1996 Aaron Pryor was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and in 1990 he was named the greatest Junior Welterweight of the 20th century by the associated press.

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