Former Light Welterweight Champion of the World Aaron Pryor was born on October 20th, 1955 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Known as ‘The Hawk’, the fearsome Pryor took an extensive amateur background and turned into a professional career that saw him scale the heights of the boxing world.
On November 12th 1976, after sitting as an alternate for the 1976 Olympic team, Pryor turned professional. Over the course of the next 4 years, Pryor worked his record to an impressive (23-0) with 21 stoppages when on August 2nd, 1980 he faced the experienced Antonio Cervantes (87-10-3) for the WBA Light Welterweight title at the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati. Pryor got up off the canvas in round 1 and he was behind on the cards when he ended it in 4th via TKO.
Pryor would be a fighting champion, as he defended the belt 5 times, winning all 5 by stoppage before his most memorable fights, a pair of matches with all-time great Alexis Arguello, whom he first fought in 1982. Prior to meeting Arguello, Pryor was scheduled to fight ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard in a bout that Pryor wanted badly. The match, which Pryor had already signed for, fell through when Leonard was diagnosed with a detached retina and retired from boxing. Pryor is reported to have pulled his car over to the side of the road and cried when the fight with Leonard fell apart.
It would be on November 12th, 1982 (exactly 6 years after his first pro bout) that he first met Arguello, the three division champion who was trying to win a title in a 4th weight class and was more than a 2 to 1 favorite to defeat Pryor. What resulted was history in the making, and a signature moment for Pryor’s Hall of Fame career, as 23,000 plus spectators watched him TKO Arguello in the 14th round of a scheduled 15 in a fight that was later called ‘The Fight of the Decade’ by The RING Magazine. The RING also went on to call it the 8th ‘Greatest Title Fight of All-Time’. Arguello would use the boxing commission’s failure to administer a post-fight urine test on Pryor, as well as the evidence that Pryor trainer Panama Lewis was recorded between rounds 13 and 14 asking for a specific black bottle to lobby for a return bout.
For the re-match, in September of 1983, Pryor trained for 2 weeks with Emanuel Steward, after Panama Lewis had his license revoked for allegedly tampering with the gloves of Luis Resto when Resto fought Billy Collins Jr. Despite the turmoil, Pryor had an easier time of the fight, dropping Arguello in the opening round and never looking back until the stoppage came in the 10th. Shortly after the match, which was his 8th defense of the belt, Pryor retired for what he later called a ‘short rest’ and the WBA stripped Pryor of the title.
By the start of 1984, Pryor had returned and he was scheduled to return in a big money fight with WBA Lightweight Champion Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini, but Mancini got beaten by Livingstone Bramble, so the match never materialized. Like with the Leonard fight years earlier, Pryor shed tears over the loss of the opportunity.
The International Boxing Federation was coming into being around the start of 1984, and when Pryor announced his return, the nascent sanctioning body bestowed upon him their World title. Pryor would defend the title twice before the IBF also took the action of stripping him of the belt they had given him, due to inactivity, in late 1985. Pryor would go on to have problems getting a license to box because of problems with his eyes, and Pryor would be denied licenses in New York, California and Nevada. Pryor’s decline was further exacerbated by alcohol and drug problems that further derailed his career. Old rival Alexis Arguello is reported to have met Pryor sometime in 1986, and described him as “110 lbs” and went on to say that he felt that Pryor had not even recognized him. Despite all the problems, on August of 1987, after a layoff of 29 months, Pryor returned to the ring and absorbed the only loss of his career when he was KO’d in the 7th round by journeyman Bobby Joe Young. Pryor fought three more times in his career, culminating in the December 4th, 1990 fight against Roger Choate (6-3). He won all those fights, but all descriptions of the fights paint a picture of a fighter long past his prime. Pryor retired for good in 1990.
Pryor continues to live in Cincinnati with his wife Frankie. They raised 4 children together, and Pryor is said to be drug and alcohol free since 1993. In retirement, Pryor has been helping to guide the careers of sons Stephan and Aaron Jr. Pryor opened a gym and he has done work as a deacon with the Baptist Church.
In December 1999, the Associated Press voted Aaron Pryor as the “Greatest Jr. Welterweight of the Century”, and Pryor is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He has an overall career record of 39-1, and he was the dominant force in the boxing world at Light Welterweight from 1980 to 1985. Pryor retired from boxing with an impressive 11-0 record in World Title fights.
Happy Birthday to ‘The Hawk’, Aaron Pryor.