November 9, 2012

KO Digest Friday Night Fight Flashback: Aaron Pryor vs Alexis Arguello

A True Battle of Champions!
By David McLeod - Fighter turned announcer Sugar Ray Leonard, always known to be careful with his words, took his time before he summed up the evening at ringside in Miami and he voiced the opinion of the thousands in attendance. "If  there is any fight that would go down in boxing history, it will be Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello!"

The HBO trio of Barry Tompkins, Larry Merchant, and Ray Leonard were true veterans of the fight game and they knew immediately that they had just become an important part of a historic fight. The moment was so special, the fans remained in the stadium, savoring every last second of it. The fight itself had more than lived up to its expectations. WBA junior welterweight champion Aaron "The Hawk" Pryor, aching for the spotlight, made sure not to waste the opportunity. Growing up rough and tough in Cincinnati, Pryor was a great fighter, and he wanted the world to know it.

As a standout amateur, he just missed going to the 1976 Olympics, thanks to a pair of close decision losses to Howard Davis Jr. To this day, many believe his career may have been different had he made the team. Instead, he had to settle for a job as a sparring partner for Davis before turning pro. In comparison, he was paid $400 dollars in his pro debut, while Davis Jr. was paid $250,000 for a televised bout.

As a lightweight, Pryor went 23-0 before he moved up to the junior welterweight division. In only his second fight at that weight, Pryor took on the WBA junior welterweight champion, the great Antonio "Kid" Cervantes. After Cervantes dropped him in the second round with a right cross, Pryor got up smiling, windmilling his right hand while the referee gave him an eight count. Pryor quickly trapped Cervantes in the corner and pummeled him into submission. Just like that, Pryor was the new champion and he didn't waste any time surrounding himself with an entourage. "What time is it?" he would repeatedly ask. "Hawk Time!" they would shout on cue.

Unfortunately, it'll never happen!
The hard luck continued, as Pryor signed to face Sugar Ray Leonard for the undisputed welterweight championship, but Leonard suffered a detached retina, and retired shortly after. When the word traveled that lightweight champion Alexis Arguello was moving up in weight, Pryor assumed he would go after one of the other belts. "It was Alexis pushing the envelope," said Bruce Trampler, who helped make the match. "Of course, in Pryor, he picked out the most dominant junior welterweight but that's Alexis. He didn't want a cream puff." Arguello, known as "The Explosive Thin Man," was the consummate pro who owned every punch in the book and he threw them in straight textbook form. The tall fighter from Nicaragua wasted little movement, as he patiently set up his opponent, before going for the knockout. Arguello was also one of the classiest fighters around, as he would show respect to his opponents after vanquishing them in the squared circle. "I know you love your father. I promise if I can do something for you, let me know, please," he told Ray Mancini as he consoled the beaten fighter immediately after he defeated him in the ring. The Mancini fight made Arguello a big hit in the United States. He had already won titles in three weight classes, and never lost any of his world titles in the ring, instead stepping up each time in pursuit of a title in higher weight class.

What time is it? Hawk Time!
Expectations were high for the fight, due to the fact that both fighters styles complimented each other. The fight was set for November 12, 1982 at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida. As the sun set on the last fight on the undercard, the anticipation in the Orange Bowl increased. Alexis was introduced first as "Mister Alexis Arguello," while the champion was introduced as simply, "Aaron Pryor." The slight didn't go unnoticed by "The Hawk," who stood frozen with his eyes transfixed on his prey, with his gloved fist pointed straight at his target. Arguello had to feel like he was looking down the barrel of a loaded shotgun as he loosened up in his corner.

At the sound of the bell, Pryor came out fast as promised, and fired a right cross. He was perpetual motion, as he bobbed and weaved and threw punches in combination. Arguello, forced to fight Pryor's fight, landed a solid left to the body and an overhand right that momentarily buckled Pryor's knees. Pryor 31-0(28KO's) answered right back with a combination of his own that stunned Alexis, and it backed him into the ropes. The two traded heavy blows throughout the fast paced opening round, and by the time the round came to an end, they'd combined to throw almost 240 punches -- most of them power punches!

Pryor shows his legendary chin!
This pattern continued for the next few rounds, as Pryor would get off first, throwing punches nonstop, while Arguello, 72-5(59KO's) always economical with his punches, would probe with the jab, to set up the big right hand to the head, or dig the left hand to the body. Arguello, already bruised around the eyes, did better in the fifth, as Pryor fought standing straight up, and on the outside. The challenger used the jab to set up the straight right hand, snapping Pryor's head back. The right uppercut to the body also landed fairly well. Pryor elected to jab and use lateral movement in the sixth, and a big right hand hurt Arguello. Now cut on the left eye, Arguello wiped away the blood and landed a straight right hand flush! Pryor barely blinked.

In the seventh, Pryor used angles to land his punches and got the better of his opponent. Near the end of the round, Arguello got the crowd on it's feet with a huge right hand that knocked Pryor back a few feet. He added a hard left hook to the body near the end of the round. The challenger's adjustment didn't go unnoticed. "Don't fight his fight, fight your fight!" warned Panama Lewis in the corner. Arguello found continued success however and he swept rounds eight through ten, as he beat Pryor to the punch with a straight right hand, as well as both hands to the body.

Championship Rounds!
In the eleventh, some of the snap was gone on Pryor's punches, and Arguello continued to land straight right hands behind the jab. In one sequence, a right uppercut to the body, followed by a huge right cross, turned Pryor's head completely around, as if looking over his shoulder. Pryor simply nodded, and headed back to his corner at the bell. Incredibly, the fighters came out with the same intensity for the twelfth as they did in the beginning of the fight and they turned it into a slugfest. Arguello was stunned by a hard combination, only to come back and wobble Pryor with a big right hand.

Pryor then landed a six punch combination. Arguello froze Pryor with an uppercut. In the last twenty seconds of the round, both fighters were stunned. At the bell, Leonard was in awe. "To fight at this pace, it has to take it's toll."

What was in that bottle Panama?

The thirteenth round was also grueling. A tremendous right hand snapped Pryor's head backwards, and his eyes rolled towards the overhead ring lights. The crowd went wild when Arguello landed the best punch of the fight. "Beautiful right hand!" shouted Leonard at ringside. By now, Arguello had to be asking himself what was keeping this guy up, as he headed back to his corner. "Give me the other bottle, the one I mixed,'' snapped Panama Lewis in between rounds. "Six minutes! You can fight for six minutes!" said the infamous trainer before sending his fighter back out.

Pryor overwhelms Arguello in the 14th!

Pryor went right on the attack in the fourteenth, and fired a left hook, right cross combination that snapped Arguello's head back. Breathing heavy, Arguello kept a high guard, looking to counter. A telegraphed lead right hand found the mark for Pryor and Arguello responded with a right hand to the body. A hard combination to the head by Pryor had Arguello in trouble and he wobbled badly, before falling back to the ropes. Pryor, sensing the kill, pounced on his opponent and the crowd erupted.  "Arguello in big trouble against the ropes! Pryor going for the kill! A smashing right hand!" an excited Barry Tompkins could be heard shouting on the air. The volume of punches overwhelmed Arguello, as he tried in vain to defend himself against the ropes. Pryor dug both hands to the body before landing the left hook to the head and a huge right hand that left Arguello defenseless. Another left hand, followed by a pair of overhand rights violently snapped  Arguello's head back repeatedly, and Stanley Christodoulou jumped in, just as Arguello slumped to the canvas. A vindicated Pryor raised his gloves in victory.

"If there is any fight that would go down in history, it will be Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello," said Leonard. Arguello remained on the canvas for some time after the stoppage. "I wanted to prove to the people that if HBO gave me the opportunity, that I would box and take my time, and take out a mechanic like Alexis Arguello," he said, before going over to console the brave challenger. There was some controversy after the fight, because of the mystery "black bottle" Lewis used in the corner. Both Panama and Pryor denied doing anything illegal."I had like thirty knockouts before I fought Alexis, I don't think I needed anything that particular night," Pryor said. "I feel like my ability was doing my talking for me."

Pryor beats Arguello quicker in the rematch
The controversy resulted in a 1983 rematch, but this time, Pryor dominated the fight, stopping Arguello in the 10th round. Arguello immediately retired but then attempted a comeback in the late 1980's and early 1990's, with his biggest win against former junior welterweight champion Billy Costello. Arguello retired for good in 1995 with a record of 82-8(65KO's) and was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992. Sadly, Arguello died on July 1, 2009 after allegedly shooting himself through the heart in Managua. Reports indicate there could be some foul play involved.

Less than a year after the first Arguello encounter, Panama Lewis had his boxing trainer license revoked after he allegedly removed the padding from the gloves of Luis Resto before his fight with Billy Collins on June 16, 1983. As for Pryor, he too retired after the Arguello rematch. In March 1984, he returned, and the newly formed IBF immediately recognized him as junior welterweight champion. Another big payday was lost after Ray Mancini was upset by Livingston Bramble. After a pair of unimpressive title defenses, Pryor was stripped of the IBF title for failure to defend in December of 1985. Pryor's life had become consumed by drugs, and after reportedly dropping down to almost 115 pounds, Pryor spent twenty nine months out of the ring.

Legends Forever

Claiming he was now clean, The Hawk attempted a comeback against journeyman Bobby Joe Young on August 8, 1987 and was stopped in the seventh round under unusual circumstances. Pryor had surgery to remove a cataract and repair a detached retina, before stopping Darryl Jones in the third round in 1990. Legally blind, Pryor's last fight was on December 4, 1990 against Roger Choate. After scoring a seventh round win, Pryor called it a career. Thankfully, Pryor finally kicked his drug habit in 1993, and has remained drug free ever since. With a final record of 39-1(35KO's) - Aaron "The Hawk" Pryor was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996. Just like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier before them, the names Alexis Arguello and Aaron Pryor will  forever be linked together in boxing history.

The Friday Night Fight Flashback you just enjoyed was written by self-proclaimed boxing junkie David McLeod, exclusively for KO Digest. Each and every week, David will flashback to a memorable fight in boxing history!