Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor – What Time is it?
By Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (May 10, 2011) Doghouse Boxing
Aaron Pryor
The first time I saw Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor was at the 1976 Olympic Trials against New York’s Howard Davis, Jr. Pryor could move and box or he could come at you like a buzzsaw and take you out! That is a rare combination, but he had it!

Always controversial Pryor may not have fit into the “Olympic mould” the committee wanted. These were two of the top amateur boxers the USA was producing outside of “Sugar” Ray Leonard. Both boxers had numerous titles between them. Pryor was 1972 National while Davis was 1973 National champion. Pryor won a silver medal in the Pan Am Games while Davis in 1974 won the World title defeating the 1972 Olympic champ from Russia and the Cuban champion in Havana! Both defeated Thomas Hearns. Pryor did it to win the 1976 Golden Gloves and Davis to win the AAU championship.

“Aaron Pryor was the best defensive amateur boxer that I had ever seen. In 1975 I went to the National Golden Gloves in Nashville. I was astounded to see this boxer stand in the middle of the ring and his opponent threw every punch possible and not one of them hit Aaron. I didn’t know Aaron at the time, but after I saw him in that fight I was very much interested in who this magnificent boxer was. I enjoyed his relentless boxing style,” said Leo Randolph. Randolph was a 1976 Olympic Gold Medal winner and went on to become the WBA Super bantamweight champion.

Many will dispute the decision for I know in talking to Davis he thought there was no doubt he won. I saw it a little different. Davis was given the decision and represented the USA by not only winning the Gold Medal but winning the Val Barker, best boxer in the Olympics trophy! “Howard Davis hired me as a sparring partner when he turned professional,” said Aaron Pryor. “It was a classic Philly Gym war +10 for 3 rounds in New York,” said Don Elbaum.

Elbaum brought in Aaron Pryor, Jr., in June for a fight and I was able to meet and talk with Pryor for a third time before the show started. I had walked into the men’s room and there he was washing his hands. Like a kid in a candy store I said, “Aaron Pryor!” I showed him a picture with both of us taken prior to the Hinton fight in Pleasantville, NJ.

“Pryor was the best puncher-boxer I have ever seen, bar none. He is also, a great friend. I had some real wars with him in the gym in training camps before the Pan Am Games,” said Chuck Walker. Walker won a Bronze medal at the Pan Am Games, won the 1975 AAU championship and lost a disputed decision in the 1976 Olympics to his opponent from Poland who went onto win the Gold medal.

“I do remember being in the Howard Davis corner helping his father at the 1976 Olympic trials. The bout was close but Aaron did win. Did he get his hand raised? No. The Olympic heads did not want Aaron on the Olympic team. He was too much trouble,” said Joe Clough. This is from the trainer of 1972 Gold Medal Olympian “Sugar” Ray Seales, 1972-76 Olympian Davey Armstrong, 1976 Gold Medal Olympian Leo Randolph, Rocky Lockridge and 1980 Olympian Johnny Bumphus. He also was 1983 Pan Am Games coach and is currently training boxers in the Philippines.

Pryor would make his professional debut in his hometown of Cincinnati in November of 1976 stopping Larry Smith in two rounds. “I was approached by Buddy LaRosa (Pryor’s manager) after that fight and told him he had a world champion in Pryor,” said Elbaum. From November through March of 1978 Pryor won was 12-0 with 10 knockouts. One of those decisions was over former Canadian champion Johnny Summerhays, 25-8-3. All his fights up to then were in the state of Ohio. In May he had his first out of state fight stopping Scotty Foreman, 8-2, in Miami Beach, in 6 rounds.

Pryor’s improved his record to 18-0 against another former Canadian champion, Al Ford, 50-9, stopping him in 4 rounds in May of 1979. In his next bout he scored a first round knockout over the former NABF champion Jose Fernandez, 28-14-3, who had challenged for the WBC Super featherweight title. In October of 1979 Pryor stopped the former WBA lightweight champion Alfonso Frazer, 42-13-3, of Panama, in 5 rounds. All but one of his twenty fights had been in Ohio. It was time to move on after this major win.

In April of 1980 in Kansas City Pryor stopped Leonidas Asprilla, 17-1-2, of Colombia in the tenth and final round. This set the stage for an August title bout with the WBA world champion Antonio Cervantes, 87-10-3, also of Colombia. “They put pictures of Cervantes all over the gym. Even in the bathroom. I was sick of seeing his face,” said Pryor”. “He (Pryor) would take your best punch. Spit in your eyes and kick your ass,” said Buddy LaRosa.

The bout with Cervantes would be held at Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati. The three officials including the referee who would also serve as one of the judges were all Latino’s. Pryor’s would be 24-0 in August of 1980. Cervantes had won his last 13 fights since losing a split decision in a championship fight with Wilfredo Benitez in Puerto Rico. This would be his sixth title defense. It’s this writer’s opinion that Robert Duran jumped from lightweight to welterweight to avoid the light welterweight division that Cervantes ruled.

In a wild first round Pryor was putting a great amount of pressure on Cervantes who was giving as well as taking as the counter puncher. The round was almost over when both fighters threw right hands and Cervantes landed first dropping Pryor who was up before a count had started. While the 8 count was administered by referee Larry Rozadilla Pryor was swinging his right arm in a windmill fashion like a softball pitcher. “Pryor pushed the referee aside like it was a street fight and I saw the life go out of Cervantes as Pryor went on the attack,” said Elbaum.

Roberto Duran cornerman Freddy Brown was in the corner of Pryor as a cut man assisting Panama Lewis, the trainer. Pryor resumed the attack in the second round with more feinting than punching while respecting the punching power of Cervantes. Halfway through the round Pryor started sticking and moving and taking the round. In the third round Pryor had Cervantes right eye cut from an overhand right and was pouring on the pressure rocking Cervantes who was holding on at the bell.

In the fourth round Cervantes was no longer fighting off the ropes so much but in the middle of the ring using his legs. At the age of 34 this was not the best of ideas for the champion. Pryor’s combinations were kicking in as he had Cervantes hurt and landing a flurry of punches as a straight right hand dropped the champion in his own corner on his knees holding onto the ropes. As he tried to pull himself up he had nothing left and couldn’t beat the count at the 1:47 mark of the fourth round. A new champion would be crowned in Cincinnati!

I remember vividly as Pryor was to be interviewed at ringside but his entourage prevented this by swarming all over him. You could see the handwriting on the wall. A non-title bout followed in Dayton against Danny Myers, 20-3, who had won 16 of his last 17 fights, all by knockout. Pryor easily stopped Myers in 3 rounds.

In November of 1980 in Pryor’s first defense against Gaetan Hart, 44-20-4, the Canadian champion, who was on an 8 fight win streak having stopped Cleveland Denny in June, who died shortly later. The champion dropped Hart in the sixth with a lead right hand and would stop the Canadian in the same round. After the fight Pryor was asking for the Leonard-Duran winner in their rematch some 3 days later. “I want that winner so I can be somebody. Saoul Mamby (WBC champ) won’t fight me so I want to be a champ in another division,” said Pryor.

In June of 1981 Pryor would meet Lennox Blackmoore, 23-2, from Guyana, in Las Vegas, easily stopping his opponent in the second round. This was Pryor’s twentieth straight knockout victory. In November he would meet Kronk’s Dujuan Johnson, 17-0, with 13 knockouts. He dropped Johnson in the first round and for the next five rounds it was a close fight. In the sixth round with Johnson tiring Pryor started landing. He would finish Johnson off in the seventh round when the referee put a stop to it. Two more title defenses ended in stoppages would follow over Dominican Miguel Montilla, 37-6-3, in 12 and Akio Kameda, 17-0, the Japanese welter champ, in the sixth round. Pryor was dropped in the first round of the Kameda bout.

In November of 1982 Pryor would meet his most dangerous opponent in the 3 division champion Alexis Arguello, 77-5, of Nicaragua who was WBA Featherweight, and WBC Super Featherweight and current WBC Lightweight champion. He had won 25 of his last 26 fights only losing in a non-title bout. The bout would take place in Miami. They would have two bouts that would highlight Pryor’s career.

The first fight was memorable to all as you had your classic counter puncher in Arguello and one of the few boxers in history that could box and punch in Pryor. Pryor came out on the attack in the first round. This was only the second time Arguello fought at 140 which was in his previous fight when he stopped Kevin Rooney in 2 rounds. Early in this fight Arguello rocked the swarming Pryor only to bring a smile to Pryor’s face. Before the round was over Arguello was rocked several times.

There was no way this kind of pace could continue. The legendary trainer Eddie Futch was in the corner of Arguello. Rounds 2 thru 4 were still at a high pace with Arguello going more to the body in the third while Pryor had caused some swelling under an eye of Arguello in the second round. In the fifth round Pryor turned to stick and move which bothered Arguello. There was a cut along the side of Arguello’s left eye in the sixth round. The seventh through the tenth were still at a good clip with Arguello landing a good upper cut in the tenth but he was wearing down.

In the thirteenth round with Pryor ahead and Arguello hanging in there a straight right hand landed on the jaw of Pryor snapping his head back, but it didn’t seem to faze him. Through 13 rounds Pryor was ahead 8-5 on two of the scorecards but behind on one 7-5-1. “When Alexis hit you with those kind of shots (referring to round 13) 9 out of 10 times they go down. But he fought a different animal in Aaron Pryor,” said Ray Leonard.

It looked like Panama Lewis was putting smelling salts under Pryor’s nose at the start of the fourteenth. There was also the comment Lewis made in asking for the “other” bottle and what was in it. I heard from a good source that Don Elbaum put the mixture in that bottle and until this day no one knows what was in it and Elbaum is not talking. The commission took no urine tests after the fight.

Arguello would need a knockout to win but it was Pryor putting on the finishing touches in the fourteenth round when a combination rocked Arguello backwards for one of the few times in the fight. Pryor jumped all over Arguello who was now against the ropes and defenseless when the referee stopped the bout in favor of Pryor at 1:06 of the fourteenth round.

In 1983 after the Arguello fights a Ray Leonard-Aaron Pryor fight was talked about, but Leonard retired due to a detached retina after a fight in February. “Aaron Pryor wants to get into the ring with me. He wants to be able to retire, and he will. For health reasons,” said Leonard.

In April of 1983 Pryor took on Korea’s former WBC champ Sang Hyun Kim, 41-3-3, in Atlantic City. Kim was 11-0-1 in his previous 12 fights but had no answer for Pryor who would stop Kim in the third round. The Arguello rematch was set for September some 10 months since their first fight. This time it would be held in Las Vegas marking Pryor’s eighth defense. Panama Lewis would not be in the corner.

It wasn’t the same Arguello and Pryor may have won 6 out of the 9 rounds when he knocked Arguello out in the tenth round. Arguello announced his retirement. “Never in my life did I meet a guy whose personality took me out of my head. With everybody else I fought we had a little conflict with and we couldn’t be friends,” said Pryor. I remember it well. Arguello praised Pryor at the press conference and it looked like Pryor did not know how to re-act. “He really cared for me and I really, really loved him and after our retirement we toured Nicaragua 3 times together,” said Pryor.

Pryor was looking to fight the WBA lightweight champion Ray Mancini, who was forced to make a mandatory defense and lost to Livingston Bramble. “I approached Art Modell who owned the Cleveland Browns. We were going to hold the fight in Cleveland’s stadium and have PPV. Both Pryor and Mancini would have been guaranteed 1.5 million plus PPV percentages. It would have drawn 50,000 people. Mancini’s manager Dave Wolf didn’t want Mancini to lose his title to the WBA who threatened to take it if he didn’t fight Bramble. That purse was half a million,” said Elbaum.

It was 9 months later that Pryor in June of 1984 would to travel to Canada where defeated Nick Furlano, 28-7-1, over 15 rounds at the University of Toronto. It would be another 9 months before Pryor would fight again and it would be Philadelphia’s Gary Hinton in Atlantic City. This writer had the pleasure of meeting Pryor for the second time. The first was in Larry Holmes office in Easton when my flash didn’t go off on my camera and off went Pryor to his destination. This time it was like day and night for he couldn’t have been any friendlier. He was training in Pleasantville, NJ.

The Hinton fight could not have been any closer as far as I was concerned. Each fighter received a 143-141 while the final judge had it 146-139 for Pryor who would keep his title by split decision. I had him ahead by one point. This would be Pryor’s last title defense retiring for some 29 months. He was 36-0 with 32 knockouts and 10 title defenses.

Pryor decides to make a comeback 29 months later in August of 1987 in the welterweight division. Matchmaker Elbaum put him in with Bobby Joe Young, 29-6-1 (22), from Youngstown, Ohio. It took place at the Sunrise Musical Theatre in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Pryor had only fought over 140 once (non-title) but came in at 148 and was not in top shape.

Alexis Arguello showed up greeting Pryor, and taking Pryor’s head in his hands, begged him “please don’t do this Aaron”. It was an attempt to stop the aging Pryor from going through with this bout, but to no avail. Young’s jab outscored Pryor throughout a competitive yet one sided fight. Pryor was down in the seventh round. He got up then voluntarily went down again and made the sign of the cross, got counted out, then finally arose a second time. This would be the only loss on an otherwise perfect record in his thirty-seventh fight.

Pryor attempted a second comeback 16 months later in December of 1988 against a much more unskilled boxer in Hermino Morales, 10-5-1, in Rochester, New York. Pryor weighed 146 and scored a knockout in the third round. It would be 17 months later when Pryor came in at career high 154 against Darryl Jones, 13-13, at the Masonic Temple, Madison, WI, in May of 1990. Again Pryor scores a third round knockout.

In a career ending fight at 147 he stopped Roger Choate, 6-3, at the Norman Sheraton, in Norman, OK. Pryor won by seventh round technical knockout and finally called it a career. He finished at 39-1 with 35 knockouts over a 14 year period.

Pryor was inducted into the International Hall of Fame in 1996. Through most of his career he was managed by Buddy LaRosa, the pizza king of Cincinnati. Today, Pryor is an ordained deacon at Friendship Baptist Church and does speaking engagements spreading his anti-drug message. His wife Frankie handles the business end while his sons Stephan and Aaron, Jr. have both boxed. Stephan had a 10-3-1 record before retiring while Aaron, Jr. is still active at 15-3. Frankie has always responded to my e-mails and phone calls. She said her husband is overwhelmed with them and obviously gets tired of the same questions.

“Aaron Pryor was the original Manny Pacquiao,” said Nazim Richardson. There will only be one “Hawk”! Who can ever forget the first time we saw as he would be introduced he would bring that right hand down like a tomahawk chop pointing straight at his opponent in the other corner?

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