Aaron Pryor is a former boxer from Cincinnati, Ohio. He was World Junior Welterweight Champion from 1980 to 1985 and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996. Pryor was voted by the Associated Press as the #1 junior welterweight of the 20th century in 1999.
Pryor, nicknamed The Hawk, had a record of 204 wins and 16 losses as an amateur. He won the National AAU Lightweight Championship in 1973. In 1975, Pryor again won the National AAU Lightweight Championship and a silver medal at the Pan American Games. He beat future great Thomas Hearns in the lightweight finals of the 1976 National Golden Gloves but lost to Howard Davis Jr. at the 1976 Olympic Trials. Pryor participated as an alternate in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.
Pryor fought eight times in 1977, winning all but two by knockout. The only two fighters who heard the final bell versus Pryor that year were Jose Resto and Johnny Summerhayes, each losing by an eight-round unanimous decision. After the fight with Summerhayes, Pryor won 26 fights in a row by knockout. It was one of the longest knockout streaks in the history of boxing.
On August 2, 1980, Pryor faced two-time world champion Antonio Cervantes of Colombia for the WBA junior welterweight championship. His purse was $50,000. The fight took place in Pryor’s hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio and was nationally televised by CBS. Pryor was dropped in round one, but he rose and knocked out Cervantes in round four to become champion. He made his first title defense on November 22, 1980, knocking out Gaetan Hart in the sixth round. Pryor made $100,000 for the fight.
On November 12, 1982, Pryor defended his title with a fourteenth-round TKO of Alexis Arguello before a crowd of 23,800 at Miami’s Orange Bowl and a live HBO audience. The fight, dubbed The Battle of The Champions by promoter Bob Arum, was eventually named the Fight of the Decade by The Ring.
Pryor made $1.6 million while Arguello was paid $1.5 million. Arguello, a 12-5 favorite, was attempting to become the first boxer to win world titles in four weight divisions.
The end of the fight was controversial. Arguello landed a punch in the thirteenth round that seemed to stun Pryor, and despite trailing on two of three scorecards, Arguello had things tilting in his direction. Between the thirteenth and fourteenth rounds, HBO’s microphones caught Pryor’s trainer, Panama Lewis, telling cutman Artie Curley, “Give me the other bottle, the one I mixed.”
It seemed to revive Pryor. Coming out quickly for the fourteenth round, Pryor landed a barrage of unanswered blows before referee Stanley Christodoulou stopped it. Arguello collapsed to the canvas near the ropes, where he lay for several minutes.
Many speculated that there was something illegal in the bottle, but nobody checked the contents and the Miami Boxing Commission failed to administer a post-fight urine test to the boxers. Lewis and Pryor steadfastly denied that there was anything illegal in the bottle.
Pryor had a rematch with Arguello at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada on September 9, 1983. Pryor made a career high $2.25 million and Arguello made $1.75 million.
Panama Lewis had his license revoked after he removed the padding from the gloves of Luis Resto before his fight with Billy Collins Jr. on June 16, 1983. Pryor hired Richie Giachetti to train him, but they had a falling out. Two weeks before the Arguello rematch, Pryor brought in Emanuel Steward as his trainer.
The rematch was not as competitive as their first one. Pryor dropped Arguello with a right cross in the first round and again with a left hook in the fourth. Pryor put Arguello down for the count in the tenth round.
After the fight, both Arguello and Pryor announced that they were retiring from boxing.
By the mid-1980s, Pryor’s life had become consumed by drugs. In December of 1985, Pryor was stripped of the IBF title for failure to defend. Alexis Arguello said he saw Pryor in December of 1986 and “was shocked at his appearance. He must have weighed 110 pounds. I went up to him and said, ‘Help yourself, Aaron, help yourself.’ But I don`t even know if he heard me or understood what I was saying.”
After 29 months out of the ring, Pryor, insisting he was now clean from drugs, attempted a comeback. He fought welterweight journeyman Bobby Joe Young in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on August 8, 1987. Pryor was a shell of his former self and was knocked out in the seventh round.