Fights of Legend: Pryor vs. Arguello IWritten by Brian Opal
In the post Muhammad Ali era of the early 1980s, the sport of boxing was being carried by super-star household names such as “Sugar” Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler.
Although not nearly as popular among the masses, the names Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor and Alexis “The Explosive Thin Man” Arguello will forever live in infamy amonghardcore fight fans and historians.
One major reason is because the two combatants captured the hearts, minds and imaginations of viewers when they went to war on November 12, 1982 in a bout that was billed “The Battle of the Champions.” The two men were considered the best of class in the less well-known 140lbsSuper Lightweight division. Pryor was the current and defending WBA Super Lightweight champion and Arguello was a former three-division world champion.
Arguello was a 12-5 favorite and striving to become the first boxer to win world titles in four different weight classes. A Nicaraguan political exile, he had made his new home in south Florida where he developed a huge following among the Cuban and Latino communities in the state.
“The Hawk” hailed from the ghettos of Cincinnati and was considered to be one of the real-deal bad boys of boxing during that era.
The legendary match was held before a large crowd of 23,800 at the Orange Bowl stadium in Miami Fla., and a live HBO audience that easily could’ve eclipsed a million viewers.
The event was a brutal, back-and-forth battle of attrition — the type of toe-to-toe blood and guts scrap that all fight fans dream of seeing live, but seldom get the opportunity. From the opening bell, Pryor pursued and pressured Arguello with combinations, while Arguello stood still in the pocket, blocking his shots while counterpunching with hard, precise straight punches. Both warriors took the opportunity to punish each other from the get-go and both were staggered and hurt in the first round.
The first round set the tone for the rest of the fight. Pryor then tried to increase the tempo in the following few stanzas by moving and punching more, hitting Arguello with slashing combinations. But Arguello stayed true to his strategy that he summarized before the fight: "I don't have to hit him many times in each round, but I do have to make sure that every time I hit him it hurts."
Both fighters had their moments in each round, and every round was considered difficult to score. Pryor appeared to be gaining control in the middle of the fight, but Arguello battled back in rounds nine, 10 and 11.
In the 11th, he pummeled Pryor with a series of very hard shots that seemed to shift the momentum of the fight. Between the 11th and 12th, observers noted that a different water bottle was being used in Pryor's corner. In the 12th stanza, “The Hawk” came out with increased energy, but Arguello did a superb job of matching him blow for blow. In the 13th, Arguello hit Pryor with a smashing shot, probably the hardest punch of the fight, but Pryor used his footwork to dance away and out of trouble.
Between rounds Pryor's notorious trainer Panama Lewis, well known for underhanded tactics and cheating, could be heard requesting a second water bottle — the mysterious “black bottle.” HBO cameras and microphones caught Lewis directing cutman Artie Curley to, "give me the other bottle, the one I mixed." There was tremendous controversy after the fight because Arguello landed a punch in the 13th that seemed to rock Pryor, and despite trailing on two of three scorecards, had the momentum moving back in his direction.
Pryor began the 14th round with what appeared to be new found vigor and stamina, starting quickly and aggressively and landing a fierce flurry of more than 10 viscous blows before the referee stopped the match.
Arguello was badly hurt and fell to the canvas, where he lay for a few minutes before being helped to his feet by his cornermen.
Interestingly, cutman Curley claimed the “black bottle” contained peppermint schnapps to help settle Pryor's stomach and prevent diarrhea. In a 2009 sports documentary, former Lewis-trained fighter Luis Resto revealed that Panama had a practice of breaking-up antihistamine tablets and pouring the medication into his bottle, granting him more lung capacity and greater endurance in the late rounds. Coincidentally, Lewis received a lifetime ban from boxing just three years later when he was convicted of wrapping Resto’s hands with plaster of Paris and removing padding from his gloves.
The two ring kings agreed to try and put the controversy to bed forever when they had a rematch less than a year later. Pryor went on to win the second fight by stopping Arguello in the 10th round and proving to naysayers that he didn’t need Lewis’ shady methods in order to win.
Pryor’s purse was $1.6 million while Arguello was paid $1.5 million.
Alexis Arguello Memorial in Managua
The historic bout was named the Fight of the Decade by The Ring magazine, as well as the eighth greatest title fight of all time. Both “The Hawk” and the “The Explosive Thin Man” were eventually inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. The old rivals later became good friends and saw each other several times a year until Arguello's tragic death in July of 2009.