Arguello vs. Pryor: When the “Thin Man” Met the “Hawk” Twice!

By Boxing News - 06/17/2022 - Comments

By Ken Hissner: I would like to examine the careers of both Alexis “The Thin Man” Arguello and Aaron “Hawk” Pryor that led up to not only their first meeting that had a mysterious ending still untold today to the rematch.

Arguello, at the age of 9, ran away from his home in Nicaragua to work on a dairy farm. At 13, he immigrated to Canada to help provide for his family. While in many street brawls, his sister Marina married a boxer that young Alexis to an interest in the sport and compiled a 58-2 amateur record.

Arguello got off to a somewhat rocky start turning professional in 1968, winning his first three bouts but then losing back-to-back ones. He then won sixteen in a row before a hand injury and cut dealt him his third defeat.

Arguello would come back to win twelve fights in a row, including three stoppage wins over Kid Pascualito, 81-25-19, from Paraguay, followed by Mexico’s Octavio Gomez, 45-9-5, and former WBC World Featherweight champion Cuba’s Jose “Pocket Cassius Clay” Legra, 129-10-4, putting him into retirement.

For only the second time in Arguello’s 31-3 career to venture out of Nicaragua for his first world title attempt losing to Panama’s WBA World Featherweight champion Ernesto Marcel, 39-4-2, in Panama City. This decision sent Marcel into permanent retirement in February of 1974.

Arguello, 35-4, would win four straight and earn his second attempt at a world title against the Mexican knockout king WBA World Featherweight champion Ruben Olivares, 78-4-1, with 70 knockouts, in the thirteenth round at the Forum, in L.A. in his US debut! Olivares would eventually be inducted into the IBHOF.

In Arguello’s third title defense, he went to Japan, knocking out Royal Kobayashi, 18-0, in five rounds. In his next nine fights, he made one defense and then stopped the arrogant Philly boxer Jerome Artis, 16-1-4, at Madison Square Garden, in New York, in two rounds in September of 1977. Artis was one of the few amateurs to have defeated “Sugar” Ray Leonard.

Two fights later, Arguello moved up in weight to capture the WBC World Super Featherweight title stopping Puerto Rico’s Alfredo Escalera, 40-7-2, in thirteen rounds in Puerto Rico. In February of 1979, in Mexico, he would repeat this win in the same thirteenth round.

Several fights prior to the second win, Arguello lost a non-title majority decision to Vilomar Fernandez, 22-6-2, in July of 1976, at MSG. It wouldn’t be until February of 1983 that he would defeat Fernandez in a non-title bout.

Arguello had impressive title wins at Super Featherweight over Mexico’s Rafael “Bazooka” Limon, 43-8-2, Bobby “Schoolboy” Chacon, 42-4-1, Ruben Castillo, 43-0, all by stoppage! In his final title defense at that weight, he stopped Filipino Rolando “Bad Boy Dadiangas, 36-6-3.

Arguello would then enter the lightweight division with a stoppage of future WBC World Super Featherweight champion Uganda’s Cornelius “Boza” Edwards, 27-1. Then a split decision win over future WBC World Lightweight champion Mexico’s knockout artist Jose “El Zurdo” Luis Ramirez, 67-2, with 57 knockouts.

In June of 1981, Arguello traveled to the UK, winning his third division world title, defeating Scotland’s WBC World Lightweight champion Jim Watt, 38-7, putting him into permanent retirement. Watt, in his two previous fights, had defeated in title bouts American’s Olympic Gold Medalist Howard Davis, Jr, 13-0, and Sean O’Grady, 73-1.

In Arguello’s next fight and first defense in Atlantic City, New Jersey, I had the honor of meeting him the day before his title defense against Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, 20-0, at the weigh-in. As Mancini busted through double doors with his entourage, Arguello sat there with arms folded and legs stretched out in his fatigue jacket, eyeing up his opponent who had said he idolized him. I was fortunate to have a signed picture from him.

Mancini made a game effort before being stopped in the fourteenth round. A year later, Mancini would win the WBA title stopping South Korea’s Deuk Koo Kim, who would die four days later which would lead to eventually fifteen-round title fights being reduced to twelve.

I would meet the cocky Mancini after his retirement years later and have an argument about who eventually was the only boxer to defeat Pryor. I made a phone call to a fellow writer who verified I was right in naming Bobby Joe Young.

Four stoppages after the Mancini fight Arguello, 72-5, would encounter moving up to a fourth division taking on WBA World Super Lightweight champion Aaron “Hawk” Pryor.

Now let’s examine the career of Pryor. Like Arguello, he got off to a rocky start as an amateur going 3-3, starting in March of 1972, fighting out of Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1975 he lost in the finals at the Pan Am Games to Canada’s Chris Clarke by DQ in the second round for a low blow in the finals at lightweight. In a conversation years later, 1976 Olympian Davey Armstrong, who would take Gold at featherweight, watched Pryor and “Sugar” Ray Leonard, who took the Gold Medal at super welterweight, sparring in preparing for their bouts. Both felt Leonard had a slight edge afterward.

Years later, as professionals, Pryor turned down $500,000 and $750,000 to fight Leonard wanting more money. Later agreed to the $750,000, but Leonard would suffer a detached retina, and they would never meet.

Pryor won the National Golden Gloves in Miami, Florida, in March of 1976, defeating Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns. In the semi-final round of the Olympic Trials, he defeated future world champion Hilmer Kenty earning a championship fight with Howard Davis, Jr., was 125-5, of which shows 45-4 of those, with Pryor’s record, was 204-16, of which shows 42-7 of those.

Pryor would lose and three weeks later, in a box-off, lose again to Davis. Years later, when I interviewed Davis, I brought up his meeting with Pryor (not remembering which fight of the two), telling him I thought he was fortunate to get the win. He wasn’t happy with that statement which I should have known better than saying.

Pryor won his first nineteen bouts after turning pro, then stopped former WBA Light Welterweight champion Panama’s Alfonso “Peppermint” Frazer, 42-13-3, in five rounds in Cincinnati, in October of 1979.

It would take almost a year in August of 1980 before Pryor challenged the WBA World Super Lightweight champion Antonio “Kid Pambele” Cervantes, 63-10-1, of Colombia, coming off the canvas in the first round, knocking Cervantes out in the fourth round for the title, in Cincinnati. It was my feelings that World Lightweight champion Roberto “Hands of Stone” went from that weight to welterweight, avoiding a match with Cervantes at super lightweight and defeating “Sugar” Ray Leonard for his title. That’s how good Cervantes was, in my opinion.

Pryor had seventeen previous straight stoppages and five title defenses when he met Arguello in their first meeting in November of 1982 at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida. After thirteen rounds, the judges had Pryor ahead by a split decision. In between rounds came the famous black bottle. His trainer Panama Lewis said, “give me the other bottle, the one I mixed.” It was Ring Magazine’s “Fight of the Year.”

Legendary matchmaker Don Elbaum claimed to me years later he mixed what went into that bottle but refused to tell me or anyone else I am aware of to this day what was in it.

Pryor’s cut-man Artie Curley claimed there was peppermint schnapps in it to settle Pryor’s upset stomach. In the 2008 documentary, Lewis revealed he would break apart antihistamine pills and pour the medicine into the water, giving him greater lung capacity in the later rounds to his fighter Luis Resto.

In June of 1983, Lewis would be suspended for removing the padding from the gloves of his fighter Luis Resto before defeating Billy Collins, Jr., which was reversed to a no contest. Collins took enough of a beating he would never fight again.

Pryor, 32-0, would have a defense before a rematch with Arguello stopping South Korean Sang Hyun Kim, 42-3-3, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, putting him into permanent retirement. Now we get to the rematch with Arguello with Pryor’s new trainer Manny Steward in the corner.

In September 1983, at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada, Pryor had Arguello down twice early in the fight. After nine rounds, Pryor was ahead on the scorecards 86-83, 85-83, and 87-82. In the tenth round, he would knockout Arguello to retain his title. Arguello, always the gentleman would embrace Pryor after the fight congratulating him for his victory.

Arguello would win his next three fights, including stopping former WBC World Super Lightweight champion Billy Costello, 31-1, in four rounds. In his final bout, he would lose to Scott “Pink Cat” Walker, 17-3-1, by decision.

Pryor would have two more defenses after giving up the WBA title, refusing to fight Johnny Bumphus, the No. 1 contender. In March of 1985, he won a split decision win over Philly’s Gary Hinton, 23-2-1, for the IBF World title, dropping Hinton in the fourteenth round and announcing his retirement, or did he?

It would be twenty-nine months when he returned to the ring in August of 1987, losing for the first and only time in his career. His opponent was Bobby Joe Young, 29-6-1, out of Steubenville, Ohio.

After over a year, he would return, scoring three stoppages over non-contenders like Darryl Jones, 13-13, of Philly, in three rounds. Before the fight, he had a cataract removed and repaired a detached retina. He was also ordered to undergo two years of treatment for drug abuse.

States California, Nevada, and New York wouldn’t give him a license after that. Then in December of 1990, after defeating Roger Choate, 6-3, in seven rounds, he retired. By 1993 Pryor kicked his drug habit.
Pryor was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996. His final record was 39-1 with 35 stoppages. He passed away in October of 2016 at the age of 60.

I would meet Pryor years later in, of all places, a men’s room in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and he didn’t seem to look so sharp after my “how are you champ,” just nodding his head. I understand he was at one time homeless living in Wisconsin after his career was over. He would become a Deacon in his church.

In the case of Arguello, it was reported he took his own life on July 1, 2009, by a self-inflicted gunshot to the chest. He was a politician with the Sandinista National Liberation Front and was planning a departure from this group at the time of his death.

In 1992 Arguello was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. His final record was 77-8, with 62 stoppages. He died on July 1, 2009, at age 57.

Years later, at a boxing event in Atlantic City, New Jersey, one of the WBC officials told me “he was killed by the Sandinista.”

After boxing, both Arguello and Pryor became great friends, per Pryor in an interview.

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