Aaron Pryor was the kind of fighter you loved to hate and hated to love.
Cocky, brash, and full of attitude, Pryor was a fighter on par with the great, Sugar Ray Leonard. He was a once-in-a-lifetime athlete who made boxing in the 1980s fun to watch, both in and outside of the ring.
Prior became an overnight villain after he destroyed the great, Alexis Arguello, twice, toppling a hero and icon in the boxing world. However, Prior, who died at the age of 60 on Monday, will also be remembered as a great fighter who never reached his full potential, whose battle with drug addiction took away the prime years of his boxing career. He also missed out on mega fights with the likes of Leonard and Roberto Duran because he held out for money.
To understand how amazing Pryor's accomplishments were, let's take look at some of his awe-inspiring statistics:
- Pryor began his career 36-0
- Of the 36 victories to start his career, he won 32 by knockout
- His amateur record was 204-16
- The Associated Press in 1999 voted him the No.1 junior welterweight of the 20th century
- He retired with a career record of 39-1
In the heyday of boxing's late 1970s and 1980s boom on television, Pryor was a great TV fighter. Known as "The Hawk," he would predict the round he would knock his opponents out, claim to be the best fighter in the world, and announce that it would be "Hawk Time" when he competed. More than just an entertaining hand, he had a legitimate amateur background. He beat the great, Thomas Hearns in the 1976 Golden Gloves Championship, but then lost to Howard Davis for a spot on the U.S. 1976 Olympic team. He ended up serving as an alternate.
Pryor was a rising star, an undefeated fighter and a man who looked untouchable in the ring when he became one of the sport's biggest stars. Pryor was then matched up with Nicaraguan legend Alexis Arguello, who was moving up to junior welterweight and trying to be the first fighter to win titles in four different weight divisions.
The fight took place on HBO, in front of millions of television viewers and 23,000 fans, live at the Orange Bowl in Miami. Arguello was the heavy favorite and had a record of 83-5 when he fought Pryor that night.
Pryor knocked Arguello out in the 14th round. Arguello had put on the fight of his life and made Pryor look human here and there for a few rounds. But Pryor was too young, too fast and too powerful for the Nicaraguan, who was fighting 20 pounds above his natural weight. Pryor devastated Arguello with a series of punches before knocking him out. Arguello was prone on the canvas for several minutes before he got back to his feet.
The fight was also notable because Arguello had stunned Pryor in the 13th round, and in the middle of rounds 13 and 14, Pryor's trainer, Panama Lewis, asked a cornerman for a bottle, "the one I mixed," and gave it to Pryor. Some speculated that something in the bottle gave Pryor a burst of energy, because he came out in the next round and smashed Arguello.
The whole saga is captured in HBO's Legendary Nights series.
Regardless of the controversy, Pryor destroyed the champion, and proved that he was among the best in the world. Of course, Pryor had to prove himself again, and in a second fight, he dominated Arguello, knocking him out in the 10th round.
His career was cut short because of his well-publicized battle with cocaine and drug addiction. After the Arguello fight, he lost out on million-dollar matchups against the sport's elite because he stopped fighting.
Pryor fought once in 1984, once in 1985, did not fight in 1986, and then was knocked out for his first and only loss in 1987. By the time he was knocked out by Bobby Joe Young in 1987, he was a shell of himself, a guy that wouldn't have lasted a round with Arguello, much less 14. Between 1985 and 1987, he was stripped of his IBF junior welterweight championship.
Pryor would never reclaim his boxing fame or reach his potential as one of the best ever, but he cleaned up his personal life and became a pastor. He died at 60 of heart disease.
He represented everything great about boxing during that period. He was fearless and fun to watch. He was highly technically skilled, and even though he was cocky and arrogant, he could back it up in the ring. His struggle with drug addiction only made him a more sympathetic character.
Those who liked him wanted to see him overcome his addictions. Those who hated him wanted to see him lose in the ring, not outside of it. Pryor's story is one that many can relate to; one of greatness, and even greater potential, as well as the importance of surrounding yourself with the right crowd. It serves as a reminder that no matter how talented you are, fame and glory are fleeting, if you aren't ready for them when they come along.
Pryor left an impact beyond the sport of boxing.