History | Oct 20 2018

On This Day: The great Aaron Pryor was born

Matt Christie reflects on the life of one of the finest fighters of the 1980s, Aaron Pryor
Aaron Pryor
aaron pryor  |  Richard Mackson/USA Today Sports

WHEN Aaron Pryor spread his wings, he attacked like few others in the history of the sport. The “Hawk” possessed astonishing fury, rapier hands and almost perfect aim. At his brilliant, bludgeoning best, Pryor was one of the finest super-lightweights of all time, one whose speed of punch drew favourable comparisons to the incomparable Henry Armstrong, and famously overpowered the legendary Alexis Arguello in a slugfest of the ages. But there was always a sense of unfinished business with the former WBA and IBF king, a sense heightened by his grim descent into drug addiction, and confirmed by his death from heart disease at the age of just 60.

Pryor’s professional career was perhaps stunted by his close-but-no-cigar amateur background; a fine run in the vest – where he beat Thomas Hearns – ultimately came to an end after he lost twice to Howard Davis Jnr in the 1976 Olympic Trials. Those defeats would haunt the young fighter for many years to come, and Pryor often spoke of his frustration at the chances and cash awarded to the likes of Davis Jnr (who picked up a whopping $185,000 for his pro debut) and Ray Leonard, who both left those Games decorated in gold. While his similarly sized rivals quickly found fame and fortune, Pryor was forced to stack shelves in a Cincinnati supermarket when he turned over. Along came Buddy LaRosa, the owner of a chain of pizza parlours, who bought out his contract and paid him $125-a-week so he could focus purely on boxing. The deal would soon prove to be stacked in LaRosa’s favour.

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