Aaron Pryor, whose aggressive, predatory pugilist style (earned him the nickname “Hawk”) which allowed him to claim the Junior Welterweight Championship and a spot in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, died in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, on Oct. 9 at 60. He had been suffering from heart disease and vision problems for several years. He leaves behind his widow, Frankie, three children, and three grandchildren.
The Cincinnati native used his exceptional hand-and-foot speed to break out of that city’s “Over-the-Rhine” neighborhood, in a 204-16 amateur career that included a 1976 victory over future Detroit Hall of Famer Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns. Barely missing a spot on that year’s fabled Olympic team which earned Gold Medals for Howard Davis, Jr., Sugar Ray Leonard, Leo Randolph, and Leon and Michael Spinks, Pryor received managerial sponsorship as he turned professional from a Cincinnati pizza magnate, Buddy LaRosa, on his way to seizing the WBA junior welterweight championship by knocking out Columbian Antonio Cervantes in the fourth round on Aug. 2, 1980.
Over the next three years he defended his title eight times with six knockouts, and two by unanimous decision in an era distinguished by scores of talented fighters. The highlights of his career perhaps, were the two bouts in which he was matched against “El Flaco Explosivo (The Explosive Thin-Man),” the legendary Nicaraguan Alexis Argüello.
Going into the fight on Nov. 12, 1982, Argüello was a media darling who had previously won the Featherweight, Junior Lightweight and Lightweight belts, and aimed to make history by winning the Junior Welterweight title. Both boxers pummeled each other to a standstill in Miami’s (Florida) Orange Bowl until the 14th round, when Pryor corner man Carlos “Panama” Lewis gave him a water bottle allegedly laced with crushed antihistamine pills (to boast his lung capacity in the later rounds).
In this, the final round Pryor rallied to overwhelm Argüello with a furry of punches before referees stopped the bout, and awarding Pryor a victory in what Ring Magazine later named the Fight of the Decade (and eighth greatest title fight of all time). In a rematch in Las Vegas’ Caesar’s Place in Sept. 9, 1983, Pryor knocked out Argüello in the 10th round with both men announcing their retirements afterwards.
In June 22 of 1984, Pryor came out of retirement to continue his win streak, albeit without the passion that marked his early career. His skills eroded through the introduction of a cocaine habit coupled with a diagnosis of cataracts and a detached retina.
In August of 1987 he suffered the only loss of his career, a technical knockout by Bobby Joe Young. By 1990 he’d retired for good as the talons of addiction brushes with the law dominated his life.
Intervention via religion and his eventual marriage set the stage for his recovery. From 1993 onward he remained drug free. His ministry and motivational speaking secured him the title of Kentucky Colonel (that state’s highest recognition of community service).
Boxing fans may visit his website at http://www.hawktime.com/ to partake the legacy of his career, including a knockout percentage rate of 87.5, including an astonishing 26-straight knock outs (1976-1984). As his site proclaims “Hawk Time will reign forever!”