- - Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Aaron Pryor — “The Hawk” — died Sunday at the age of 60. It was probably a surprise to him that he lived that long.

It wasn’t just from 10 years of drug abuse. It was the beatings in the ring, even though, as perhaps the greatest 140-pound fighter of all time, Pryor often delivered more beatings than he took.

When I spoke to him 15 years ago, Pryor knew he was on borrowed time. Even then, he was suffering from memory loss due to pugilistic dementia, and said he was taking medication to slow down the damage to his brain.

“That’s the chance you take when you are a boxer,” Pryor said.

He was a boxer, all right, one of the best, and was part of one of the great fights of the 1980s — his first war with lightweight legend Alexis Arguello.

In a decade full of great non-heavyweight fights — Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Tommy Hearns, Leonard vs. Duran, Marvin Hagler vs. Hearns — Pryor-Arguello at the Orange Bowl in Miami on Nov. 12, 1982 was as good as any.

Ring Magazine named it the Fight of the Decade. Longtime former Associated Press boxing writer Ed Schuyler said, “It was one of the best fights I’ve ever seen. I’d put it in the top five.”

Arguello had held the featherweight, super featherweight and lightweight titles over his career, which began in 1968, and, with a 75-5 record, had been considered one of the greatest lightweight fighters of any era. Pryor had turned pro in 1976 and quickly made a name for himself as a hard-punching junior welterweight and was the undefeated champion. Arguello, 31, moved up to fight the 27-year-old Pryor in a highly anticipated showdown, and it was one of those times when the fight was even better than the hype. Pryor came out throwing combinations and set a remarkable pace that Arguello would match for most of the fight.

Arguello (80-8, 64 knockouts) suffered a cut in the sixth round that blurred his vision but was still going toe-to-toe with Pryor (39-1, 35 knockouts) and had him wobbly in the 13th round. But Pryor came out in the 14th with a savage attack, landing about 20 unanswered shots before the fight was stopped. There was talk about some foreign substance in a bottle that Pryor was given in his corner between rounds, but nothing was ever proved, and the controversy was overshadowed by the performance. They would fight a rematch within a year, and this time Pryor stopped Arguello in 10 rounds.

“That was so intense,” Pryor told me about his first fight with Arguello in a conversation we had one of the D.C. “Fight Night” events.  “We both left everything we had in the ring that night.”

 This is what makes boxing so painfully compelling. These two men nearly beat each other to death that night in Miami. Yet they felt a kinship to each other. “When you go through something like that, you have shared something that no one else knows about but you and him,” Pryor said. “No one knows what Alexis and I went through that night in Miami except me and him.”

 My conversation with Pryor came not long after it had been reported that Arguello has fallen into a crack addiction in his native Nicaragua.

Pryor had through 10 years of a cocaine addiction before recovering and becoming an ordained minister. “I was at the bottom, but I didn’t want to die, and I called on the Lord to help me, and he has been helping me ever since,” he said.

He offered a helping hand to Arguello — the same hand he had used nearly 20 years before to try to destroy him. He saw Arguello, who was in the early stage of recovery, at the International Boxing Hall of Fame induction ceremonies and had a long talk with him.

“I told him that I knew what he was going through,” Pryor said. “I told him he had the strength to beat this, and that it would be worth it if he did. I told him I had been praying for him.”

Arguello would recover and become a politician in his homeland. In 2008 he was mayor of Managua, but died a year later when he allegedly shot himself in the heart. His death was ruled a suicide, but questions clouded that ruling.

Pryor would go on to work with other fighters and speak out against drug abuse. His former manager, Buddy LaRosa, issued a statement upon Pryor’s death that said, “It will be his hall of fame career that boxing will always remember as his legacy.”

That legacy is tied to Alexis Arguello, in life and in death — as it always was going to be for the two fighters after that November night in Miami.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes and Google Play.


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