Rest in Peace Aaron Pryor — Word from the family of Aaron Pryor states that the Hall of Fame boxer succumbed to heart disease early this morning. Pryor was 60 years old, less than two weeks short of his 61st birthday. The following statement was released on social media:
He was known around the world as The Hawk but to our family he was a beloved husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle and friend. We appreciate the outpouring of condolences and sympathy and ask that our family be allowed time to grieve and mourn his loss. Press releases are forthcoming and we will announce plans for a public memorial shortly. -Frankie Pryor
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 it 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 four years, Pryor worked his record to 23-0, with 21 stoppages, when on August 2, 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 was behind on the cards when he ended it in the 4th via TKO.
Pryor would be a fighting champion. He was victorious in all 11 of his title fights, all of which were contested at 140 pounds. His successful defenses included two memorable bouts with the great Alexis Arguello. A match with Sugar Ray Leonard, which Pryor wanted badly, fell out when Leonard was diagnosed with a detached retina. 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 six 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 a signature moment for Pryor’s Hall of Fame career, as 23,000-plus spectators at Miami’s Orange Bowl watched him TKO Arguello in the 14th round in a fight that would be named 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 to Pryor, as well as the evidence that Pryor’s 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 two 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 in the sequel, dropping Arguello in the opening round and never looking back until the stoppage came in the 10th. Shortly after the match, Pryor retired for what he later called a “short rest'”and the WBA stripped him 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 boxing license because of problems with his eyes. New York, California and Nevada turned him down. Pryor’s decline was further exacerbated by alcohol and drug problems. 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. That would stand as his only defeat in a pro career consisting of 40 fights. In his final bout, he defeated a fighter with a 6-3 record in a match staged in a hotel ballroom in Norman, Oklahoma. His final fights paint a picture of a fighter long past his prime.
In 1996, Aaron Pryor was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Three years later, the Associated Press named him the greatest junior welterweight of the century.
Rest in Peace Aaron Pryor.