THE bundle of fighting fury known as Aaron Pryor again proved too tough, too hard-hitting and ultimately too much of a fighter for Alexis Arguello in their rematch on a hot night outdoors at Caesars Palace.
Arguello, former world champion at three weights and seeking an unprecedented fourth title in his final fight, hit Pryor with some tremendous punches but took severe punishment himself before sinking to the floor to be counted out after one min 48secs of the 10th round as Pryor retained his WBA light-welterweight title for the eighth time.
It seemed an act of submission from Arguello. He said afterwards: “I didn’t get up because I didn’t want to risk my life. I had hit him with everything, and nothing happened.”
As expected, the 31-year-old Arguello announced his retirement afterwards. “I want to say goodbye to the boxing business”, he said. “Goodbye to the public, goodbye to boxing… goodbye to my old friend Pryor. The fans gave me their love and I gave it back to them”.
But Pryor says that he, too, will retire unless he gets a match with Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, the WBA lightweight champion. This would be a huge attraction and the biggest money fight available to Pryor.
The coming weeks will tell whether Pryor is serious or, as seems more likely, is using the retirement announcement as a strategy to lure the Mancini camp into an early commitment for a showdown.
Pryor, 27, considered the finest fighter in the game along with middleweight champ Marvin Hagler, floored Arguello in the first and fourth rounds before putting him down for the count in the 10th.
But the Nicaraguan exile Arguello, now living in Florida, fought back so well in several rounds that at times it seemed possible that he could pull off an upset.
He hit Pryor with rights and left hooks that sent the champion back and brought roars from the intensely pro-Arguello crowd of around 11,000 in the 12,600-capacity stadium. But Pryor always seemed to know what he was doing, and in the heat of battle could be seen grinning at Arguello, the street-fighter’s grin that says “OK, you’ve given me your best shot and now it’s my turn”.
The rematch wasn’t as great as the first fight, last November in Miami, when Arguello was stopped in the 14th round. But there was enough drama and heavy hitting to keep the crowd in suspense until the sudden and perhaps somewhat anti-climactic ending.
Arguello’s legs often looked shaky, but for nine rounds he threw everything he had at Pryor. On rounds, it was a close fight; but Arguello lost the first and fourth rounds, when he was knocked down, by 10-8 margins on all three judges’ scorecards and was penalised a point by referee Richard Steele of Las Vegas in the eighth for low blows after several earlier warnings.
Pryor was leading on all three scorecards. Judge Chuck Minker of Las Vegas had him ahead by 85-83, judge Dr. James Jen Kim of Los Angeles had it 86-83 and judge Jimmy Rondeau of Seattle saw Pryor in front by the widest margin, 87-82.
I gave Pryor five rounds, and Arguello three, with one even, and on points I too had it 87-82.
Arguello fought hard and well through the first nine rounds, but there was no doubt in my mind that Pryor would come out the winner. He shook and hurt Arguello several times as well as twice flooring him, and it seemed to me as they came out for round 10 that Pryor was firmly in control of the fight and it was just a matter of time.
Arguello had given his best, and Pryor was still disturbingly fresh and strong. Pryor, perhaps sensing that Arguello was weakening, attacked fiercely in the 10th.
He snapped back Arguello’s head with a right lead, a blow he had landed throughout the fight, and then cut loose with a series of short lefts and rights to the head as Arguello stood with his back to the ropes right above me.
The punches didn’t seem any harder that many others that Arguello had absorbed in earlier rounds, but suddenly the challenger slumped to the floor as if surrendering.
He took the count seated on his blue velvet trunks, his arms across his knees. Arguello was looking directly at referee Steele, who was crouching in front of him shouting the count. But one knew that Arguello wouldn’t be getting up.
As referee Steele told me afterwards: “He looked at me and I looked at him and I knew it was all over. He’d taken a beating and he’d had enough”.
Arguello confessed: “On the third knockdown, I went down just to protect myself. I was really hurt, and I thought ‘I’ll just stay here’. I’ve got nothing to prove in the ring.
“My heart was there. My conditioning was there. I did my best, but he was just too strong.”
Pryor said it was a great fight and that Arguello’s right hand was devastating at long range.
“He shook me a couple of times”, Pryor said, “but I was never in real trouble”.
He said that Arguello was more relaxed than the first time they met and gave him a better fight. Pryor said that in Miami, Arguello was fighting “for the crowd”, but this time “he was fighting for himself”.
Emmanuel Steward, manager and trainer of Thomas Hearns and Milton McCrory, who acted as Pryor’s chief second, said afterwards that if Arguello had been fighting anyone but Pryor, he would have won his fourth title.
“Alexis is a great fighter”, Pryor said. “He should be proud of his record”.
Arguello described Pryor as: “the best I ever fought, the best fighter I’ve seen”.
The two fighters went out throwing big punches from the start and no-one expected it to go the full 15 rounds. Arguello had said before the fight that he planned to jab, box and move, but instead he seemed to be trying to blast Pryor out of the ring.
“I wanted to be cool”, Arguello said afterwards, “but the guy wouldn’t let me be cool. He just never stops coming after you; he just never lets up”.
Pryor said he was surprised at the way Arguello fought back after being dropped in the first and fourth rounds. “He proved to me who he was — Alexis Arguello”, Pryor said.
But one had the feeling that, while Arguello was reaching deep within himself, Pryor had the situation under control and was just waiting to unleash his own thunderbolt.
Just when it looked as if Arguello might be getting on top, Pryor would hammer him with hurtful, two-handed attacks. Pryor certainly seemed to be shaken at times, but Arguello looked as if he was feeling the impact of Pryor’s punches right down to his boots — and that was the difference.
Arguello was red and puffy around the left eye from round one, and bled a bit from the nose later in the bout. Pryor did not suffer any noticeable damage, but his corner smeared a lot of grease over his right eye and at one point referee Steele sent him back to his corner to have some of it wiped away.
Pryor, who came in right on the light-welter limit of 1Ost against Arguello’s 9st 131bs, showed not inconsiderable skill and at times appeared to be outboxing an opponent widely considered the superior ring general.
He cleverly slipped and ducked many of Arguello’s big punches and used a flicking left jab that kept his man thinking. But Pryor also looked clumsy from time to time as he seemed to over-reach and get off-balance after missing with right hands.
Arguello punished him with counters at such moments, but Pryor had the natural fighter’s instincts to get himself out of potentially troublesome situations.
Pryor would duck, dodge and even grab a bit when necessary. Then it was back onto the offensive, attacking from side to side with a sudden ferocity that time and again seemed to catch Arguello by surprise.
But Arguello kept fighting back, raising the hopes of the crowd as he lashed long punches at Pryor’s head and tried his utmost to hurt the champion with battering blows to the body, sometimes going low to bring complaints from Pryor and cautions from the referee.
Arguello won the seventh round on two of the judges’ cards and he would have won the eighth on all three cards had it not been for the referee taking away the point for low punches.
But Arguello couldn’t keep it up. Pryor began to punish him again in the ninth, heavy blows from long range and lots of ‘little’ punches on the inside. And then came the 10th, and Arguel-lo’s collapse as the brave veteran found himself unable to endure any longer against a fighter who seemed able to keep punching all night.
Yet few could have thought in the first round that the fight would go as far as the 10th. Arguello seemed to have rocked Pryor with a right but then got dumped on the seat of his trunks by a bombing right thrown over the top of Arguello’s jab.
Arguello got up quickly to take the eight count on his feet and, with the arena in an uproar, somehow managed to battle back. Pryor crashed in rights to the head, but Arguello stayed on his feet and threw punches back, although he was hitting wildly and got his first caution in the fight for hitting low.
If Pryor thought he was set for an early night, he could not have been more wrong, for Arguello came surging back with a sensational rally in the second round. Arguello was fighting with a measured fury, his black gumsheild bared. A right staggered Pryor, who shook his head as if to say the punch meant nothing.
But then Argullo tagged him with a big left hook and the crowd was going wild.
Arguello kept the punches coming in the third. A stiff left jab stopped Pryor in his tracks and Arguello started to force him back and hammer him. Pryor was missing and getting hit by counters, and then his legs seemed to buckle as Arguello smashed him back against the ropes. All three judges gave the round to Arguello, and at this stage he was very much in the fight.
But disaster struck in the fourth, in the form of a Pryor left hook that knocked Arguello flat on his back. Arguello recalled later that he thought “Oh, no, this can’t be!”. He said: “I knew I was in trouble, and I couldn’t believe it.”
He picked himself up, but Pryor was on him as soon as the eight count had been completed, backing Arguello up against the ropes and punishing him with both hands. Arguello’s legs appeared to quiver, but Pryor seemed to have punched himself out temporarily and the veteran wobbled his way through to the bell, throwing punches as if on instinct.
Round five was, for these two, a quiet round. Pryor wasn’t throwing as many punches, and Arguello got his left hand working to win the round on all three scorecards.
But in the seventh, it was back to the big punching. Pryor landed right leads, but Argu-ello did his share and, near the end of the round, seemed to buckle Pryor’s legs when both let right hands go and Arguello looked to have got there first.
Both banged away in the eighth. A left hook had Pryor’s legs going briefly and Arguello let fly with both hands. But the taller Arguello was landing around the borderline as he brought punches up to the body. Pryor turned angrily to complain to the referee and then, with Arguello slamming away downstairs, referee Steele sig-nalled to the judges to take a point away.
Pryor had been hit by some jarring punches, blows that would have knocked out many fighters, but the ferocious exchanges were draining Arguello. Pryor grinned wickedly, waggled his right glove and then hit Arguello with a right to the chin. It must have been a discouraging moment for Arguello.
The referee told both to watch their heads in the ninth, and Pryor was cautioned for pushing. But Pryor looked so much the stronger and fresher of the two men.
It looked to me as though Arguello could go at any time, and in the 10th this was what happened as Pryor nailed his man and then followed up with the quick, sharp series of punches that convinced Arguello his cause was hopeless.
Pryor scored his 34th win in a row, 32 inside the distance. His official WBA title challenger is Johnny Bumphus, a tall, unbeaten southpaw and former outstanding amateur.
But Pryor says he doesn’t consider Bumphus to be a “marketable” opponent, and he says he’s not interested in going up into the welterweight division because he doesn’t think Milton McCrory or Donald Curry, the rival world champions, are big enough names for the sort of payday he seeks.
It seems it’s Ray Mancini or nothing for Pryor.
“I know nobody believes me”, he said the morning after the fight, “but I’m planning on retiring. But I’d be crazy to pass up a fight with Mancini. Now that would be a challenge”.