The crowd had swelled to about 50 by the time Arguello, the former great champion from Nicaragua, went through his paces. I was a few feet away from him. He looked grim, like a man counting down to the days to his execution. His workout lacked fire. He was, in other words, going through the motions. I groaned inwardly.
No way he beats Pryor.
Arguello worked out for an hour. He left as quietly as he entered. The ballroom was now loaded to the rafters. We were all waiting for “The Hawk” to show.
As the noise grew for Pryor’s arrival, Donna Summer’s beat-driven "She Works Hard for the Money" started blasting from the room’s speakers, with Aaron Pryor and his entourage headed for the ring. Pryor danced into the ring and lead the crowd in a chorus. He was smiling and pointing.
It felt more like a revival than a training session.
The contract with Arguello was appalling. Pryor was the man who had sent 24 opponents to sleep, and everyone, including Arguello knew it. A week later he again defeated Arguello, this time by a stoppage in Round eight.
Pryor had captured the super lightweight title three years before by knocking out Antonio Cervantes. His reign had been explosive and controversial. But the guy could fight. Over the course of that year, I had grown to appreciate the talent, energy and grit that he brought into a boxing ring.
He was, in other words, a tremendous fighter, in a time when a number of great fighters existed. He defeated Tommy Hearns in the amateurs and almost fought Sugar Ray Leonard a few years later. A fight against Leonard, or Roberto Duran, would have been a donnybrook.
Pryor never took a backwards step.
He was awkward and hit fighters with punches they never saw coming. He could box when he needed to.
Pryor seemed to lose interest in boxing after the Arguello rematch. He briefly retired. When he came back, some of his fire was gone. Unknown to most fans was that Pryor was battling a drug problem.
How he had managed fight so well despite his dependency is amazing.
His final record shows 39 victories in 40 matches, with 35 big knockouts. Pryor was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991 and the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 2001.
By that time, he had knocked out his most difficult opponent, drugs, and was helping others with similar problems. Pryor’s childhood had been a difficult one, but he had fought his way out of poverty and become a world champion.
Everyone who met him replied at what a kind, modest and considerate man he was.
"I have great love, respect and admiration for my long-time friend," Sugar Ray Leonard said. "He will be greatly missed by so many."
I can still see him serenading the crowd at Caesars.
It was amazing, as was his boxing career.
Rest in peace, Champ.