Pryor-Arguello fight remembered
NEW YORK -- Nearly three decades ago, a ferocious puncher and a brilliant ring tactician waged one of boxing's epic brawls under the twinkling lights of the Orange Bowl in Miami, a fight so big that few remember Roberto Duran was on the undercard.
After 14 back-and-forth rounds, Aaron Pryor brutally knocked out Alexis Arguello to retain his junior welterweight title. The fight on Nov. 12, 1982, left an indelible impression on the 23,000-plus who crowded near the ring in the aging football stadium in Little Havana.
"That was something I will never, ever forget as long as I live," said 77-year-old Bob Arum, who promoted the bout. "That was one of the most memorable fights I ever did."
It became synonymous with the two fighters, continually brought up as Pryor's life spiraled into and out of drug abuse, and as Arguello rose to become mayor of Managua, Nicaragua.
The 57-year-old Arguello was found dead in his home Wednesday with a gunshot wound to his chest. His Sandinista Party's Radio Ya called it an apparent suicide, a tragic ending to one of the most brilliant careers in boxing history.
"It was a great fight we had," Pryor told The Associated Press, not long after learning of Arguello's death. "This was a great champion."
Arguello had established himself well before stepping into the ring against Pryor, beating Ruben Olivares in 1974 to capture the featherweight title. Four years later, he knocked out Alfredo Escalera in the first of their two bouts to win the super featherweight title, and he added the lightweight title by beating Jim Watt in 1981.
After four defenses, including a knockout of Ray Mancini, Arguello moved up in weight again, trying to become the first man to win titles in four weight classes.
He was 77-5, a ring-savvy veteran, while Pryor had never lost in 31 fights.
"It was Alexis pushing the envelope," said Bruce Trampler, who helped make the match. "As he had difficulty making weight, he would move up. He picked out one of the most dominant junior welters, but that was Alexis. He never wanted a cream puff."
The setting was electric, the anticipation building throughout the undercard.
At the first bell, Arguello hit Pryor with a straight right, and the two traded blows through a frenetic first three minutes. By the time the bell sounded again, they'd combined to throw 238 punches -- many of them landing flush.
"It was like a miniature of the Thrilla of Manilla, it went one way, then the other way," Arum recalled. "Pryor was on top, then Arguello demolished him."
Arguello landed a punch in the 13th round that seemed to stun Pryor, and despite trailing on two of three scorecards, the charismatic Nicaraguan had things tilting in his direction.
Pryor had never before been this deep in a fight, and trainer Panama Lewis seemed to realize things were slipping away. HBO was televising the bout and its microphones caught Lewis telling cutman Artie Curley, "Give me the bottle, the one I mixed." While it's unclear what was in the special bottle -- speculation has ranged from chocolate to cocaine -- it seemed to revive Pryor.
He landed at least 15 unanswered blows in the 14th before referee Stanley Christodoulou stopped it. Arguello collapsed to the canvas near the ropes, where he lay for several minutes.
"God knows what he gave Pryor to revive him," Arum said.
Lewis and Pryor steadfastly denied the substance was anything illegal.
"I had, like, 30 knockouts before I fought Alexis, I don't think I needed anything that particular night," Pryor said. "I feel like my ability was doing my talking for me."
The controversy resulted in a rematch, but the savage beating Arguello withstood stayed with him when they met the following year. Pryor dominated Arguello at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, stopping him in the 10th round.
"Arguello is lucky he didn't get hurt," said retired boxing writer Ed Schuyler Jr., who covered both fights for the AP. "The first fight, he was down right above me, and they started cutting his shoe laces to relieve pressure. Pryor was just too fast.
"The second fight was not even close. Arguello probably took it for the money, so when he went down he just sat there and took the count. But no one begrudged him not getting up. He was beaten and he knew it. It was not a shadow of the first fight."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press