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Aaron Pryor (1955-2016): How ‘The Hawk’ Learned How to Soar Again

Bernard Fernandez

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Aaron Pryor – True greatness in boxing almost always comes in measured doses. The best of the best shine brightly in the ring for just so long, but, if they stay too long in the cruelest sport, their luminescence begins to ebb, sometimes with startling rapidity. The decline of a special fighter’s gifts might owe to the natural aging process, or to accumulated wear-and-tear on his body. Occasionally, though, it can be attributed to the same temptations that can wreck the lives of anyone else: drugs, booze, gambling, the wrong sexual partners or some combination thereof.

Two-time former junior welterweight champion Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor failed to make it to his 61st birthday by 11 days, passing away Sunday at his home in Cincinnati, Ohio, at 5:57 a.m. The cause of death officially was listed as a loss on points to a persistent foe, the heart disease he had battled for a number of years. But those who knew him or were aware of his glorious yet tragic story know better. Perhaps the most dominating 140-pound boxer the world has ever known, Pryor began to die in increments the moment he first succumbed to the siren song of cocaine in September of 1983, just days after he had knocked out Alexis Arguello in 10 rounds in a more dominating rematch of their certifiable classic of a first meeting. In that memorable test of skill and wills, “The Hawk” finally put away the rawhide-tough Nicaraguan superstar with a barrage of punches in the 14th round on Nov. 12, 1982, at Miami’s Orange Bowl Stadium. So furious was Pryor’s final assault that it was a full four minutes before an out-cold Arguello regained consciousness.

“It was like a miniature `Thrilla in Manila,’” lead promoter Bob Arum said of a war widely considered to be the top fight of the 1980s, and one of the most exciting ever in the annals of boxing. “It went one way, then the other way.”

After Pryor defended his WBA junior middleweight title for a seventh time, on a seventh-round stoppage of Sang Hyun Kim on April 2, 1983, in Atlantic City, N.J., his no-doubt-about-it demolition of Arguello in the much-anticipated rematch should have had him at the top of the world. Personal contentment, though, had always been more elusive to Pryor than success inside the ropes, no matter how many members of his unwieldy entourage were around to stroke his fragile ego. Even as he rose to the peak of his profession, Pryor – who grew up as one of society’s outcasts, and who left his dysfunctional family at the age of 14 in search of the love he had never known – was sinking into a morass of recriminations and self-loathing. He took his first hit of the insidious white powder in the aftermath of the second Arguello fight, in his adopted hometown of Miami, where pharmaceutical escapes from reality were as much a part of the landscape as palm trees and white-sand beaches. The career slide Pryor might have avoided entirely or delayed for at least several years became a free-fall into which he lost not only most of his material possessions, but, more importantly, his pride at what he had accomplished and his sense of self.

Although Pryor, who had vacated his WBA junior middle title because of inactivity, won the vacant IBF version of the championship on a 15-round unanimous decision over Nick Furlano on June 22, 1984, in Toronto, and defended it on a split decision over Gary Hinton on March 2, 1985, in Atlantic City, his life had become one hot mess. As his addiction, taxes and alimony from two failed marriages ate away at ring earnings that seemed downright modest when compared to those amassed by such contemporaries as Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran, the hangers-on began to drift away and Pryor was reduced to a shell of his former prominence in every way.

“After Buddy (LaRosa, his estranged manager) took his half, the government took its half (of what was left),” Pryor said in 1995. “Then after that, my wife at the time had to have her half. After everybody got their half, I didn’t have half of nothing.’”

Pryor’s fall from grace was spectacular in its totality. He was sentenced to prison on a drug conviction in 1991, and the following year he was a homeless crack addict living on the streets of his hometown of Cincinnati, shadowboxing in alleyways for handouts that might allow him to score his next drug hit. At one point his weight had dwindled to 100 or so pounds, although he was too ashamed to step on a scale, and more than once he considered suicide as a means of ending his misery. He spoke of putting a gun to his head and a knife to his chest, but the man who was so absolutely fearless when it came to trading punches with world-class fighters admitted to lacking the courage to pull a trigger or plunge a blade into his broken heart.

The story did not end on that despairing note, of course. Like any number of fallen fighters who went before him or have since, Pryor decided enough still remained of what had made him dangerous to attempt a comeback.  But there was no evidence that any trace of the once-spectacular Pryor existed when he was stopped in seven rounds by a fair-to-middling welterweight, Bobby Joe Young, on Aug. 8, 1987, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It was Pryor’s only defeat in a career in which he would finish 39-1, with 35 knockout victories.

But Pryor pressed on nonetheless, stopping ham-and-eggers Hermino Morales, Darryl  Jones and, finally,  Roger Choate before stepping away from  the ring for good in December 1990. It was for the Jones fight, on May 16, 1990, that I made the trip to Madison, Wisc., to chronicle what had by then become for Pryor a quest that was in equal parts sad and curious.

Pryor’s bid to be granted boxing licenses in Nevada, New York and California had been rejected on medical grounds that he was legally blind in his left eye, having undergone surgeries to repair a detached retina and to remove cataracts. With nowhere else to turn, he sought redress in Wisconsin, a state that has long viewed itself as a bastion of progressive politics and protector of civil liberties. In short, Pryor believed he would be allowed to fight in that state because he met the standards of being a handicapped person, which afforded certain protections under Wisconsin’s tough anti-discrimination statutes.

“This is bad for boxing and bad for the state of Wisconsin,” said Dr. James Nave, the then-chairman of the Nevada State Athletic Commission which had voted, 4-1 the month before against licensing Pryor to box in that state. “We spent a tremendous amount of time researching this case and I don’t think Wisconsin looked at what we did before coming to a decision.”

Taking a somewhat different viewpoint was Marlene Cummings, secretary of regulation licensing in Wisconsin, who said she had no choice but to approve applications submitted by Pryor and clearly diminished former heavyweight contender Jerry Quarry.

“Everyone has due process in this state,” Cummings said. “Aaron Pryor and Jerry Quarry met all the standards required to be allowed to box here. I’m certainly aware that officials of other states have arrived at other decisions, but I am obligated to follow the laws of Wisconsin. I can’t take one law and hold it out by itself. We’re very serious about being fair in this state.”

The Pryor-Jones bout drew approximately 400 spectators in the 1,200-seat Masonic  Hall, still another reminder of just how far Pryor had tumbled from that magical night in Miami when he and Arguello electrified 23,800 on-site fight fans and a nationwide HBO audience by reaching deep inside themselves and finding whatever it is that can elevate a boxing match to heights of courage and determination seldom glimpsed in any athletic arena.

But his trips to Madison and Norman, Okla., where he stopped Choate, were not the figurative end for Aaron Pryor, nor was his descent into the drug-induced haze with an 800-pound gorilla on his back that he either couldn’t or wouldn’t toss aside for so long. There would be another triumph for “The Hawk,” maybe one even more significant than his twin batterings of Arguello, with whom he is destined to forever be linked.

There would, finally, be love, in the arms of his third wife, the former Frankie Wagner, herself a recovering cocaine addict. Pryor was cleansed, as much as anyone can hope to be, of his drug cravings and any lingering demons, when he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996. He would return to Canastota, N.Y., for IBHOF induction weekends 20 times in all, the most recent in June of this year, to soak in the adulation he had earned with his fighting heart and perpetual-motion style.

“It’s like a dream that comes true every time I’m here,” a fitter, happier Pryor told me in 2013. “You can get hooked. If you come once, you’re probably going to come year after year after year.

“To me, it’s one of the greatest feelings you could ever have to come to this special place. I look forward to it like a little kid looks forward to Christmas. The fans just take you in. They embrace you. If the Hall of Fame was in, say, New York City, I don’t think it would feel the same. Too many different things to do or see there. Here, it’s all about boxing for four days.”

It is a remarkable thing, witnessing two legendary adversaries like Pryor and Arguello bonding years later as the result of the respect each earned from the other on a roped-off swatch of canvas. And when Arguello, 57, died on July 1, 2009, reportedly by his own hand (although many continue to believe foul play was involved), Pryor admitted to still being shaken 11 months later during his next trip to the IBHOF. It was as if a part of him had died, too, with the part that remained awaiting summoning to the other side of the celestial divide.

Gen. George Patton once observed that “all glory is fleeting,” but that is not always the case. Lives end, but for a select few glory endures beyond the grave. It is destined to be that way for Muhammad Ali, who also departed this mortal coil in 2016, and within the strictures of boxing, it as likely to be that way on a lesser scale for Aaron Pryor, who found redemption in the ring and, ultimately, outside of it.

“Aaron was known around the world as `The Hawk’ and delighted millions of fans with his aggressive and crowd-pleasing boxing style,” Frankie Pryor said in announcing her husband’s passing. “But to our family, he was a beloved husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle and friend.”

Pryor is survived by his sons Aaron Pryor Jr., Antwan Harris, daughter Elizabeth Wagner and grandsons Adam, Austin and Aaron Pryor III.

Thanks for the memories, Hawk.

Aaron Pryor / Check out more boxing news and videos at The Boxing Channel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Season 2 of the World Boxing Super Series Concludes on Saturday in Munich

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PRESS RELEASE: The hotly-anticipated World Boxing Super Series Season II Cruiserweight Final between Mairis Briedis and Yuniel Dorticos takes place behind-closed-doors in a film studio at Plazamedia Broadcasting Center in Munich, Germany on Saturday, 26 September. On the line: The Muhammad Ali Trophy, IBF World Title, and vacant Ring Magazine 200 lbs belt.

The final will be shown live on DAZN in the US and Sky Sports in the UK.

“A final for the Muhammad Ali Trophy has proved to be something extraordinary. We have seen that it brings out the best in boxers which reflects the DNA of our tournament as to deliver and continue to deliver boxing at its very best to fans of the sport,” said Andreas Benz, CEO of Comosa, the event organizer.

“Plazamedia is a phenomenal solution, the studios are providing a controlled environment which is of huge benefit to us and the production team to keep everyone safe while also putting on a great show.

“At the same time, we have done everything to secure fair conditions for both teams, and to ensure they remain healthy and isolated until the action starts.”

Mairis Briedis, tournament No. 1 seed, qualified for the final through wins over Noel Mikaelian (UD) and Krzysztof Glowacki (TKO3), while Dorticos, No. 2 seed conquered Mateusz Masternak (UD) and Andrew Tabiti (KO10) to enter the 200 lbs decider.

“We are very happy about the announcement of the final,” said Latvia’s Mairis Briedis. “I love the fact that it will be in Munich as it reminds me of every time I went to train with the Klitschko brothers in Germany and the flights were always via Munich. Those are some great memories of the time spent with them there.”

Said Miami-based Cuban, Yuniel ‘The KO Doctor’ Dorticos, IBF World Cruiserweight Champion: “To all my fans worldwide, In Europe and especially in Munich, Germany: I am super happy the World Boxing Super Series final will take place in Munich, Germany, and I will see you all on Saturday, September 26th. The KO Doctor is back and ready to prescribe another dose of pain and take the Muhammad Ali Trophy back to Miami.”

Kalle Sauerland, Chief Boxing Officer of the WBSS, said: “On 26 September we will not only crown the best cruiserweight on the planet but also send a sign to the world that boxing is back with the first major transatlantic championship bout between the undisputed number one and two in their division.

The final is not only about honour and glory, but cementing a legacy. The winner will become a member of an exclusive ‘Ali Trophy Winner Club’ that includes Oleksandr Usyk, Callum Smith, Naoya Inoue and Josh Taylor. It doesn’t get much bigger in boxing, and we expect Briedis and Dorticos to have an absolute barnstormer!”

The Muhammad Ali Trophy was created by the late world-renowned artist Silvio Gazzaniga who also designed the iconic FIFA World Cup Trophy.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 106: Return of LA Boxing, Josh Taylor, Charlos and More

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 106: Return of LA Boxing, Josh Taylor, Charlos and More

Let’s call this week the Big Build Up.

Back in the 1920s to the 1950s the City of Angels was known as the place where Humphrey Bogart lived and played characters out of Raymond Chandler’s novels. Books like the “Big Sleep” and “Lady in a Lake” were made into movies based in Los Angeles.

Well, here we are back where boxing thrives, people or not.

Los Angeles kicks off the big boxing week starting with a televised fight card that features home grown featherweight Vic Pasillas at the Microsoft Theater in the downtown area. Fox Sports 1 will televise the Premier Boxing Championship card on Wednesday, Sept. 23.

Pasillas (15-0,8 KOs) faces Dominican fighter Ranfis Encarnacion (17-0, 13 KOs) in the co-main event at a fan-less event that begins a crowded week of boxing as we near the end of 2020.

“Coming out on top against Encarnación is going to catapult me into some big fights at featherweight. The division is wide open and I know with hard work I can take it over,” said Pasillas who is originally from Los Angeles. “This is by far the most important fight of my career. I’m coming with everything I got, because I know this is the turning point that will lead to bigger and better fights. I am ready to bring an exciting fight to the fans and get my hand raised in victory.”

Both Pasillas and Encarnacion are undefeated and unknown to most of the boxing world. A win changes everything especially when it’s difficult to even stage a boxing card.

Promoters are anxious to get their fighters in the ring by any means necessary.

On Thursday in Biloxi, Mississippi, super lightweight Michael Williams Jr. meets Thomas Miller in the headline attraction of a boxing card that will be streamed by UFC Fight Pass.

On Friday in southern Mexico, Serhii Bohachuk (17-0, 17 KOs) meets Alejandro Davila (21-1-2, 8 KOs) in Merida, Yucatan. No word if it will be streamed. The super welterweight from Ukraine has a 17-fight knockout streak and has become a main attraction in Hollywood, California for 360 Promotions.

“Serhii has become one of the most talked about rising stars in boxing,” said Tom Loeffler, promoter of 360 Promotions. “Boxing fans are excited to see if he can continue his knockout streak against Alejandro Davila, the toughest opponent he’s faced. He’s been training very hard with Manny Robles for this fight and if victorious, we’re certain there will be bigger opportunities for him in the near future.”

These are all tasty appetizers for the big buffet coming on Saturday.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Saturday morning, especially if you live in the California area, ESPN+ will showcase the IBF, WBA super lightweight world title fight between champion Josh Taylor (16-0, 12 KOs) and Apinun Khongsong (16-0, 13 KOs) in London. It will be streamed live on Sept. 26, Saturday morning, starting at 11 a.m PST.

This is an important match for Taylor (pictured on the left) who needs a win to nail down a unification clash with Jose Carlos Ramirez the WBC and WBO titlist. If Scotland’s Taylor emerges victorious the super lightweight clash will be one of the top fights of the year.

And if that fight happens to take place, then that winner more than likely meets WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford.

But first things first. Taylor needs to defeat Thailand’s Khongsong on Saturday.

“I didn’t want a warm-up fight, so getting straight back in there against my mandatory challenger is great, as it’s kept me fully focused. I want big fights in my career, so this is an important fight with my belts on the line,” said Taylor.

Charlos Pay-per-view

The Charlos brothers asked for it and they got it.

Long have the brothers from Houston, Texas asked for a pay-per-view fight card and it never seemed possible until now. The Charlos will headline a pay-per-view double-header on Saturday via Showtime.

Beginning at 4 p.m PT/ 7 p.m. ET the Showtime pay-per-view card begins with three top notch bouts:

WBO bantamweight titlist John Riel Casimero (29-4) vs Ghana’s Duke Micah (24-0, 19 KOs).

WBA super bantamweight titlist Brandon Figueroa (20-0-1, 15 KOs) vs Damien Vazquez (15-1-1, 8 KOs).

WBC middleweight titlist Jermall Charlo (30-0, 22 KOs) v Sergiy Derevyanchenko (13-2, 10 KOs).

Charlo was not impressed with Derevyanchenko’s performances against Daniel Jacobs and Gennady Golovkin because both were losses. He expects to dominate.

Derevyanchenko says he’s ready for Charlo.

“Golovkin is a very different fighter than Charlo, but Jacobs is similar stylistically, so that’s something I’ll be used to,” said Derevyanchenko. “This training camp has been very similar to camps for my previous fights though. We just brought in different sparring partners for this one. We’re using fighters who can show us what Charlo will bring to the ring.”

After a 30-minute intermission the second half of the boxing card begins.

Former bantamweight world champion Luis Nery (30-0, 24 KOs) moves up in weight to face Aaron Alameda (25-0, 13 KOs) for the vacant WBC super bantamweight world title. Both fighters are from Mexico.

Former super bantamweight titlists Danny Roman (27-3-1) and Juan Carlos Payano (21-3) meet in a 12-round bout.

In the grand finale WBC super welterweight titlist Jermell Charlo (33-1, 17 KOs) challenges IBF and WBA super welterweight titlist Jeison Rosario (20-1-1, 14 KOs) in a fight for all three belts.

“We lions,” said Charlo.

It’s a very big week for boxing that begins on Wednesday and ends Saturday.

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The Return of Wednesday Boxing Evokes Memories of a Golden Era

Arne K. Lang

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There’s a Wednesday card on the boxing docket this week. The card, which features several undefeated up-and-comers of the sort usually found on Showtime’s developmental series, “ShoBox: The New Generation,” will play out at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles and air on Fox Sports 1.

Not to be out-done, “ShoBox” is returning. The long-running series, which suspended operations in March in obeisance to COVID-19 restrictions, returns on Oct. 7 with a show emanating from Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Casino. The contestants in the main go of the four-fight card, Charles Conwell and Wendy Toussaint, have identical 12-0 records.

It just so happens that Oct. 7 is also a Wednesday. And these upcoming Wednesday shows transported this reporter back to his boyhood when boxing was a fixture on radio and television on Wednesday nights. The Wednesday series sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon beer ran from 1950 to 1960, airing the first five years on CBS and then on ABC.

Fights were all over the TV dial during the 1950s, not that there was much competition. The Big Three — NBC, CBS, and ABC — ruled the airwaves with DuMont a very distant fourth and cable television well off into the future. (For a time, the short-lived DuMont network aired boxing shows on Mondays.)

When televisions first came out, they were a big-ticket item. In 1948, RCA’s cheapest model sold for $395. That’s the equivalent of $10,400 today. By 1954, the cost of the least expensive model had declined to $189 and it came in a bigger box, with a 17-inch screen compared with the 13-inch screen that was standard six years earlier.

With the cost of the coveted contraption beyond the means of many wage earners, saloonkeepers cashed in. Boxing fans flocked to the neighborhood tavern to get their boxing fix. The saloonkeeper could write off his television sets on his taxes as a business expense.

Those were the days, and I date myself, when every town had a TV repair shop and the repairman, like the family doctor, made house calls.

The Wednesday Night Fights were a spin-off of the Friday Night Fights on NBC. The matchmaker for both series (through 1958) was the International Boxing Club which was headquartered at Madison Square Garden. The president of the IBC was James D. Norris (who would come to be seen as a puppet for mobster Frankie Carbo, but that’s a story for another day).

James D. Norris inherited a vast fortune from his father, Canadian businessman James E. Norris. The elder Norris was a big wheel in the sport of hockey and had a financial interest in the arenas that housed NHL teams in Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis. He made these arenas available to his son and the Wednesday fight cards moved around, unlike the Friday fights which were pinned to Madison Square Garden.

Both series would eventually venture out at times into virgin territory, but the Wednesday series was the trailblazer. The first nationally televised boxing show from the West Coast was a Wednesday affair. Jimmy Carter defended his world lightweight title against LA fan favorite Art Aragon, the original Golden Boy, at the Olympic Auditorium on Nov. 14, 1951. Aragon had upset Carter in a non-title fight 11 weeks earlier, but Carter took him to school in the rematch, winning a lopsided decision.

The Friday boxing series, which took the name “Gillette Cavalcade of Sports,” would come to be more fondly remembered, but once the TV became a living room staple, which happened fast, the Wednesday series drew higher ratings. This was predictable as more folks stayed home on Wednesday nights than on Friday nights. And although the Friday series had a larger budget, some of the most important fights of the era were staged on Wednesdays.

One of the highlights of the 1951 season was Ezzard Charles’ world heavyweight title defense against Jersey Joe Walcott at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. It was Walcott’s fifth crack at the title and he was considered ancient at age 37, but he avenged his two previous losses to Charles with a thunderous one-punch knockout.

Carmen Basilio appeared in The Ring magazine Fight of the Year in five consecutive years (1955-1959). The first two — his second meeting with Tony DeMarco and his second meeting with Johnny Saxton – were televised on a Wednesday.

Although he would be quickly forgotten, the Wednesday series brought Bob Satterfield a cult following because of his unpredictability. He certainly left an impression on octogenarian boxing writer Ted Sares who recently named Satterfield his all-time favorite fighter.

To conjure up a portrait of Satterfield, think Deontay Wilder and then fix Wilder with a glass jaw. Satterfield, whose best weight was about 182 pounds, was a murderous puncher, but during his career he was stopped 13 times.

LA’s Clarence Henry and Pittsburgh’s Bob Baker were ranked #3 in the heavyweight division when they ventured to Chicago to tangle with Satterfield, Henry in 1952 and Baker the following year. Henry knocked out Satterfield in the opening round. Satterfield hit the canvas so hard, said a ringside reporter, the resin dust flew up.

The Satterfield-Baker fight would also end in the opening round. Baker out-weighed Satterfield by 34 pounds, but Satterfield flattened him. Later on, in a non-Wednesday fight, Satterfield knocked out Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams in the third round. Williams, 33-1 heading in, was the larger man by 25 pounds.

One bet on or against Bob Satterfield at one’s own peril.

The Wednesday Night Fights had a nice run before the series was cancelled and supplanted in its time slot by “The Naked City,” a critically acclaimed police drama series. Perhaps the return of boxing on Wednesdays augurs well for another mid-week boxing series, but we won’t hold our breath.

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