Robert Silva is back with his greatest super lightweight fighter of all-time, Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor.
Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor had one of the most incredible wills to win the sport of boxing has ever seen. From the first round on, he was like a locomotive coming straight on, hence the nickname “Hawk.” He was one of the greatest fighters of 1980s; an era that saw so many legendary fighters. There is not another Super Lightweight past or present that could’ve defeated him. Pryor ran roughshod over the division from 1980-1986. He was far and away the greatest 140-pound fighter of all time.
As an 11-year-old-boy back in 1979, I read a story in World Boxing magazine about Pryor. At the time, he was fighting in small clubs as a lightweight. The top 135-pound fighters refused to fight him. Howard Davis, Jr., the 1976 US Olympic Gold Medalist at Lightweight and his handlers, wanted no part of Pryor. The WBA champ Ernesto Espana and WBC champ Jim Watt made all the excuses in the world not to fight him. It’s understandable why; he would’ve knocked out all three of them in five rounds or less. My father described Pryor as a whirlwind who kept coming and coming. That was evident in his April 13, 1980 knockout of Leonidas Asprilla. Asprilla ran and held the entire fight before finally succumbing to Pryor’s non-stop aggression. My father was spot on about Pryor. He would move up to Super Lightweight and fight the legendary Colombian Antonio Cervantes for his WBA crown. What happened in that fight was akin to a legal mugging.
On August 2, 1980, in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, Pryor jumped on Cervantes as soon as round one commenced. He would be knocked down by a Cervantes right hand, but get back up and was throwing punches before the count of one. Cervantes suffered an intense beating before being put out to pasture in the fourth round. The torch had been passed from one legend to a 25 year-old future legend. The Pryor reign at 140 would be the most dominant reign in the history of the division.
After two easy successful title defenses, Pryor met Detroit native Dujuan Johnson on November 14, 1981. Pryor was 5’6 and many felt the 5’9 Johnson was too rangy and tall for Pryor to overcome. Once again, Pryor was knocked down in the first round and he was having difficulty in outfighting the lengthier Johnson. However, by the fifth round, Pryor’s non-stop fighting style wore Johnson out. Pryor battered Johnson’s head like a ping pong ball from that moment on until the referee stopped the fight. Despite his dominance at 140 pounds, Pryor wasn’t receiving the type of lucrative paydays the other greats at the time were, especially Sugar Ray Leonard. Pryor wanted a fight with Leonard badly. Until that could happen, he defended his title with two more knockouts before getting his first million dollar payday by defending his title against the legendary Alexis Arguello on November 12, 1982.
My father took me to see this fight at the Puerto Rico Theater in our South Bronx neighborhood. Going into the fight, he reminded me of the fact that Arguello always had difficulty with boxers who moved and stayed outside. Pryor was a very aggressive fighter who threw punches in bunches. My father felt that Pryor was going to walk into one of Arguello’s huge counters and be knocked out. The first four rounds saw Pryor rush at the 30-year-old Arguello like my father predicted. Early in the opening stanza, Arguello hit the 27-year-old Pryor right on the button with a right cross that momentarily stunned him. Pryor shook it off and proceeded to out-slug Arguello and stun him twice with his own right hand in a frantic and fast paced first round. Rounds two-to-four saw the same pattern repeat itself. Pryor would attack Arguello and the two all-time greats would hit each other with one bomb after another. Pryor had the advantage in these exchanges because of his superior hand speed. There was no way these two fighters could keep this frenzied pace going for an entire 15 rounds.
Pryor did what great fighters do and adjusted his style in the fifth round. He went from taking the fight to Arguello to moving side-to-side and boxing from the outside. From rounds five-to-ten, Pryor used his superior foot and hand speed to befuddle Arguello. He landed his underrated jab at will and gave Arguello footwork that he couldn’t deal with. Arguello would land an occasional big right hand, but every time he did, Pryor would come back with a sizzling combination and then move out of harm’s way. My father couldn’t believe the boxing IQ that Pryor was displaying. He had figured that Pryor’s machismo would do him in. Pryor was showing his transformation into boxing immortality.
The next three rounds saw Pryor not move as much due to fatigue. The two boxing giants once again exchanged bombs while inside. Arguello landed several wicked right hands that caught Pryor but didn’t move him. Arguello landed one of the best right crosses I’ve ever seen in the 13th round that snapped Pryor’s head back like a bobble head doll. My father and I couldn’t believe that Pryor wasn’t knocked out from that nuclear bomb of a right. Not only did that shot not hurt Pryor, it didn’t slow him down, as Pryor continued to land one big shot after another. After the 13th round ended, my father expressed to me that Arguello was done. Nothing was getting in the way of Pryor winning this fight.
Between rounds 13 and 14, Pryor’s trainer Panama Lewis gave Pryor a black bottle that contained an unknown beverage. While many boxing pundits cried foul play, I always felt that it didn’t matter what Pryor drank that night. He wasn’t going to be denied a victory in the biggest fight of his career. Pryor came out roaring in the 14th and landed a lethal right cross/left hook combination that staggered Arguello. Pryor then launched a fusillade of unanswered punched to the head and body (25 to be exact) until referee Stanley Christodoulou stepped in to stop the fight. Arguello fell down in a heap against the ropes. Aaron Pryor proved he was the greatest 140-pound fighter of all-time that night in Miami in the greatest fight to ever take place at 140. Unfortunately, days after Pryor’s greatest victory, Sugar Ray Leonard retired due to suffering a detached retina. Pryor’s dream fight would never come to fruition.
Pryor would again knock out Arguello in a rematch 10 months later. That would be the beginning of the end for Pryor as he began losing to the only opponent who owned him; cocaine. Pryor became increasingly addicted to the drug, which ended his marriage and had him washed up as a boxer in his early 30s. He was stripped of his title in 1985 and in 1987 was knocked out by Bobby Joe Young in his only career defeat. When Pryor finally retired in 1990 at the age of 35, he was broke, legally blind in his left eye and totally hooked on drugs.
Pryor turned his life around. After several years of battling drug addiction, Pryor was successful in coping with his drug dependency and became a drug rehabilitation counselor in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. Pryor became best friends with Arguello and continued his crusade against the ills of cocaine. Pryor died of heart disease in 2016, 11 days shy of his 61st birthday. One of the five greatest boxer-punchers I’ve ever seen.