How great was Aaron Pryor? An amateur standout who met, amongst other future stars, Thomas Hearns (a win for Pryor) and Howard Davis Junior (a loss), Pryor turned pro in late 1976, knocking out a guy named Larry Smith in his hometown. It’s fair to say, a fair amount of controversy, awaited “The Hawk.”
An aggressive, skilled talent who had great stamina and great punching power, Pryor soon climbed the 140-pound ranks. A title shot came against Colombian legend Antonio Cervantes in 1980 and after just four-rounds, Pryor, aged 24, was the new WBA champion. Nine retention’s followed – during which defences Pryor defeated the great Alexis Arguello in one of the most memorable 140-pound title fights in history; Pryor coming on to sensationally, and controversially KO Arguello in the 14th-round – before Pryor won the IBF belt in 1984.
One retention followed, in 1985, before Pryor unfortunately became involved in drugs. Stripped of his title for inactivity in late 1985, Pryor would not box again for well over two years. When he did return, in 1987, he was a mere shadow of his former greatness, being KO’d by Bobby Joe Young; this being the first, and only, loss of Pryor’s pro career.
Despite failing eyesight, Pryor fought on on three further occasions, winning all three fights against limited opposition. Retiring in 1990 with a fine record of 39-1(35), Pryor was inducted into The Hall of Fame in 1996.
Pryor’s rivalry with Arguello – and the infamous “black bottle” episode during the first fight, when his trainer Panama Lewis was heard to ask for this specific bottle between the 13th and 14th rounds of the epic fight; this leading to widespread suspicion that the bottle contained an illegal substance – is legendary. After taking a drink from the most talked about bottle in boxing history, a rampaging, energized Pryor ripped into Arguello, eventually stopping him with a vicious volley of punches.
The two fought again in 1983, with Pryor winning via relatively easy 10th-round KO, but the first fight from 1982, is one of the true classics, despite the controversy. And some fans argue that this verison of Pryor was pretty much unbeatable. It’s certainly a claim worth looking at.
Might the peak Pryor have been too good for the likes of Floyd Mayweather Junior, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns (at pro level)? We will of course never know and we have those defining fights with Arguello only.
But Pryor was certainly special, and for a time he really did soar. Sadly, his talents burned out far too soon.