Perfect foils make classic fights; the boxer versus the puncher, the gentleman versus the savage. Seeing complete opposites face off in the ring elevates a simple boxing match into something grandiose. That is one of the many reasons 23,800 came to Miami’s Orange Bowl on November 12, 1982, to watch Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor face Alexis Arguello.
If it were not already taken, Alexis, Full of Grace would be the perfect title for an Arguello biography. A gentleman in all capacities, the Nicaraguan champion could methodically tear apart his opponents with organ-jolting left hooks and decapitating straight-rights, and then kindly thank them for their efforts. After brutally knocking out Ray Mancini in 1981, Arguello kindly praised Mancini’s relationship with his father. With effortless gratitude, winning the adoration of fans came easy.
Not so for Aaron Pryor, who often found himself to be the boxing world’s answer to Jay Gatsby. He is an all-time great, but spent much of his career searching for appreciation and trust. Surviving an upbringing that could choke up the hardest of men, Pryor made the 1976 Olympic trials, but lost a decision to eventual gold medallist Howard Davis Jr. He turned professional as a lightweight later that year, dominating any opponent who would fight him. When no top lightweight would face him, Pryor jumped to junior welterweight in 1980 and took WBA champion Antonio Cervantes’ belt via fourth-round knockout on August 2 in Cincinnati.
Pryor was even relegated to secondary status on the day he destroyed a legendary champion to win his first world title. Because up in Detroit, Thomas Hearns’ brutal second-round knockout of WBA welterweight champion Pipino Cuevas later that day would dominate the headlines and highlight shows.
The Hawk made several defenses, but few fighters with anything to lose would to get in the ring with him. Pryor’s blitzkrieg assault had left no survivors in its wake. Hitting him did little damage, for his chin was made of steel. Knocking him down only made him madder.
He often would try to drum up attention for himself. His entourage would chant, “What time is it? Hawk time.” It was catchy, but the big paydays remained elusive.
Fortunately for him, Arguello had nothing to lose but plenty to gain. By 1982, he had won titles at featherweight, super featherweight, and lightweight. Taking Pryor’s belt would have made Arguello the first fighter to ever win belts in four divisions. The purses were also noteworthy. Arguello ($1.5 million) and Pryor ($1.6 million) joined what at the time was a very select group of non-heavyweights to earn million-dollar paydays. Among the others were: Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Wilfred Benitez and Roberto Duran.
At the opening bell for the fight, Arguello came out collected, while Pryor charged out like a Tasmanian devil. The two traded punches throughout the first three minutes, with Pryor slinging from all directions. Arguello nailed Pryor with a straight right, but just briefly slowed him. At the end of the first round, the two fighters had thrown a total of 238 punches.
Pryor’s assault may have been wide open, but it did not make him any easier to hit. He was constantly bobbing and administering damage. Not only did his opponents have difficulty connecting, it was just as hard getting set to throw a shot. By the end of the sixth round, Arguello had a small gash above his left eye.
If there was a punch that Pryor was prone to, it was the straight right, which Arguello landed throughout the fight. In Round 13, Arguello rocked Pryor, but the champion bounced back with two solid jabs. Arguello would later say, “Instead of me hurting him, I would piss him off.”
Things may have seemed hopeless, but the fight was still within Arguello’s grasp. He trailed, 127-124, on two judges’ scorecards and was ahead, 127-125, on the third. This meant he’d not only have to win the last two rounds, but dominate, or at the very least score a knockdown. Arguello had dominated the late rounds in championship fights before, and he now had taken Pryor deeper into a fight than ever before.
In between the 13th and 14th rounds, HBO microphones caught Pryor’s trainer, Panama Lewis, saying to cutman Artie Curley, “Give me the other bottle, the one I mixed.” Whatever the concoction was, Pryor swallowed it.
When the bell rang to start Round 14 the challenger flew from his corner, and after a few exchanges, knocked Arguello into the ropes with an overhand right. Living up to his reputation as a great finisher, Pryor battered Arguello, landing more than 15 unanswered punches before referee Stanley Christodoulou stopped the fight.
What should have been Pryor’s shining moment was marred in controversy. What was in the mysterious black bottle? Was it an amphetamine? According to Curley, it was peppermint schnapps. The night of the fight, Pryor ate a steak at 5:30 and took a nap.
“The schnapps was just to settle his stomach,” said Curley.
Arguello’s agent, Bill Miller, was not buying, and filed a futile protest with the WBA. It did not help matters when Lewis was arrested seven months later for removing the padding from Luis Resto’s gloves in a bout with Billy Collins in June of 1983 at Madison Square Garden.
Even if there had been no controversy, a rematch would have been inevitable. When Pryor and Arguello met in Las Vegas in September of 1983, Lewis was on his way to jail, and there was no black bottle. This time around, Pryor established his dominance sooner, and Arguello quit, after being knocked down in Round 10.