Saturday, October 21, 2017

On This Day: Aaron "The Hawk" Pryor Remembered

By Peter Silkov

When people talk about the greatest fighters of the 1980s, the names usually mentioned are those of Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, or Thomas Hearns. However, there were many other great fighters who were active during what may well have been one of the last ‘golden eras’ that the sport of boxing will experience. One fighter, whose name was mentioned in the same breath as those of Leonard, Duran, and Hearns during the early 1980s, and who for a while looked as if he had the ability to eclipse the success and fame of all three previously mentioned men, was Arron “The Hawk” Pryor.

Aaron Pryor came from a difficult and often traumatic childhood, and discovered boxing as a teenager. Pryor used his talent as a boxer to achieve wealth, fame, and success, only to then self-destruct, and see everything he had built and achieve collapse around him. He ended up back on the streets of his childhood with nothing except a bad eye and a life threatening drug addiction.

Pryor was one of the most charismatic, and controversial boxers of his time. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on October 20, 1955, into a dysfunctional family that struggled with poverty and various abuse issues. Pryor was a fighter who seemed to have talent to burn, and burn it he did. Style-wise he was a fast, free swinging, boxer-fighter. He fought with the kind of pace and aggression which provoked comparisons with the legendary Henry Armstrong. He would come forward, throwing punches with both hands from all directions, and as a fight went on, he only seemed to get stronger and faster. In addition to this, Pryor could also box with great skill. Along with these attributes, Pryor had a swashbuckling attitude, he didn’t just want to win his fights, and he wanted to entertain. He would disdain his boxing skills and go toe-to-toe with his opponents, often taking punches he didn’t need to in order to underline his superiority. Fans quickly took up his chant, ‘Hawk Time’, at his fights, with every contest, he became more popular.

Some purists frowned at Pryor’s approach in the ring. The fans, however, loved it. After a great amateur career, which saw him just miss out on a place in the 1976 Olympic Games, and compile an amateur record of (204-16, Pryor turned pro in late 1976, and started demolishing opponents with impressive ease. Although he was climbing up the lightweight division with every fight, Pryor found that the top men in the 135 division were not eager to meet him in the ring. So, Pryor moved up to the light-welterweight division and on August 2, 1980, he knocked out Antonio Cervantes, who had been a great world champion in his own right in the 4th round, to win the WBA world light-welterweight championship.

What followed would be 5 years of brilliance, chaos, and ultimately self- destruction. Pryor would never lose his world title in the ring, instead he was gradually stripped of recognition as world champion by the various world boxing bodies, as his life spiralled out of control.

In all, Pryor made 10 defences of his world title, with his crowning moment being in his 6th defence in November 1982, when he defended the title against the legendary Alexis Arguello. In a fight that has been recognized as one of the greatest fights of that decade or any decade in fact, Pryor displayed the true extent of his ability for perhaps the first and only time of his professional career. In this fight, Pryor showed clearly that he had the possibility of greatness.

After he had bludgeoned Arguello into a 14th round knockout defeat, the talk was of Pryor fighting the likes of Duran, or Leonard, in what would have been huge fights. Yet, just as he had truly arrived, and was at last gaining the recognition that his talent and hard work deserved, Pryor’s world started to crumble. Although he would make 4 more defences of his world title, including beating Arguello for a second time, in reality, it was all down hill for Pryor after the first fight with Alexis.

With Marshall Terrill, Pryor details his climb to the top, and then the devastating fall back down to earth. His story is an often harrowing one, which shows the true ravages and dehumanization that comes with drug addiction. But, what might have been a great tragedy, in the end, turns into an uplifting story of redemption. As Pryor shows that the strength and will power, which made him a success in the first place, could also lead to his recovery from his addictions.

Aaron Pryor is an example of the human spirit, and all the conflicting facets that make human beings so complicated. We see once more how one man can be so talented and dedicated, and yet at the same time, how that same single-mindedness that took him to success, could also undo everything he had achieved. Aaron Pryor’s final professional record is (39-1, 35koes).

During his peak years as a fighter, Pryor was often compared with one of the greatest fighters of all time, ‘Hammerin’ Henry Armstrong, due to his frenetic, nonstop, all-action aggressive fighting style. There were similarities in their lives outside of the ring as well, with Armstrong also having some hard times with addiction after his boxing career ended, but eventually finding redemption through a new faith in God.
Armstrong became an ordained minister after recovering from alcoholism, and Pryor himself became an ordained deacon at the New Frendship Baptist Church, and dedicated himself to good causes and spreading the anti-drug message. Pryor also kept his ties with boxing, training both amateur and professional boxers, and touring the world giving personal appearances where he would discuss his career and life in and out of the ring. Living in his hometown of Cincinnati, Pryor made a new life with wife Frankie, and their children Aaron Jr, Antwan, Stephan, and Elizabeth. Both Stephan and Aaron Jr. have had solid professional boxing careers of their own, and were trained by their father.

Aaron Pryor died on October 9, 2016, after a brave struggle with heart disease.

The Boxing Glove book review of Aaron Pryor's authorized biography, "The Flight of the Hawk"

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