Alexis Arguello's 38-foot yacht lay at its berth at the King's Bay Yacht Club near Miami, its name, The Champ, lettered in gold on its transom. Also in gold were three crowns painted beneath the name. "You notice how the crowns are centered," Bill Miller, Arguello's agent, pointed out last week. "There's room for two more, one on each side."
But last Friday night before 23,800 in Miami's Orange Bowl and a Home Box Office TV audience, WBA junior welterweight champion Aaron Pryor made sure there would be no more crowns for Arguello, at least not now. In one of the fiercest title fights in recent memory, he stopped Arguello's bid for the immortality of a fourth title at 1:06 of the 14th round with an attack so furious it left the 30-year-old WBC lightweight champ unconscious for four minutes.
In so doing, Pryor, a 27-year-old Cincinnatian, established a beachhead of respectability for himself. He has been something of a conundrum, a brooding, irascible man. Though he was 31-0 with 29 knockouts, Pryor felt he had been denied his full due.
In the meantime Arguello had become renowned for his boxing skills, his knockout punch and his gentlemanly behavior. Now he was trying to do what no one—not Henry Armstrong, Tony Canzoneri, Bob Fitzsimmons, Barney Ross or Wilfred Benitez—had done: attain the distinction of having won titles in four different weight classes. Of course, Armstrong had held the featherweight, lightweight and welterweight titles simultaneously. For that, Arguello, in exile from his native Nicaragua and living now in a Miami suburb, had dedicated this fight to the 69-year-old Armstrong, who was in the Miami crowd.
As planned, Arguello, who was getting $1.5 million to Pryor's $1.6 million, came out cool and composed, but like a snarling wolf Pryor was upon him. Stunned, Arguello did what he had warned himself not to do: He joined Pryor in the trenches. Early in the round Arguello caught Pryor coming in with a snapping straight right that met an iron chin. Slowed but for a moment, Pryor hammered Arguello with a flurry of rights. At the end of the first three minutes Pryor had thrown 130 punches, Arguello 108. It would prove to be Arguello's best round of the fight, and he had lost it.
There is an adage in boxing as familiar as the smell of liniment: When a puncher moves up in weight he can't bring his punch with him. Arguello had been devastating as a featherweight (126 pounds), a junior lightweight (130) and, of course, as a lightweight (135). But at 138½ pounds to Pryor's 140, he may have made one jump too many. Time and again his right-hand rockets never fazed Pryor.
Moreover, Arguello was fighting Pryor's fight; his vaunted body attack was all but forgotten in his obsession with Pryor's head. Pryor's seemingly reckless style makes his head appear to be vulnerable, but he never stops bobbing and weaving. And his nonstop punching never permits his opponent to get set. If there's a better chin in the world than Pryor's, it has to be on Mount Rushmore. Twice Arguello caught him with crushing right hands in the second round. The first one caused Pryor to take a half-step back; the second, of the thunderbolt variety that had laid out so many of Arguello's 80 opponents, didn't even buy a blink. "That punch," Miller said later, "would have decapitated anybody else."
After the second round, Panama Lewis, Pryor's trainer, reached for one of two bottles in the corner and gave Pryor a slug. Later, Artie Curley, Pryor's cutman, would admit that the bottle contained peppermint schnapps.
"Aaron ate a big steak at 5:30," Curley said, "and then he took a nap. It made him burp all night. The schnapps was just to settle his stomach."
After the third round, Lewis popped an ammonia cap under Pryor's nose. It was the first of many the corner used during the fight. Pryor has a problem breathing through his nose, and even in training his handlers use a steady supply of caps to keep his nostrils clear.
In the sixth round Pryor opened a 1¼" cut on the edge of Arguello's left eyelid. Lewis watched Eddie Futch, Arguello's trainer, apply ice to the eye. "Don't go to sleep," Lewis told Pryor. "He's a blind fighter. Fight your fight. Go get him."
By the 12th round, both men had given up all pretense of defense, and at 1:27 of the 13th, Arguello took his last best shot. Catching Pryor coming in, he nailed him with a tremendous right hand. Pryor appeared to be hurt but as Arguello pressed forward, Pryor stopped him with two stiff jabs and ended the round with a straight right hand to the head. Despite Arguello's feeling of frustration, he was still very much in the fight. At this point Referee Stanley Christodoulou of South Africa and Judge Ove Ovesen of Denmark had Pryor ahead by only 127-124. Judge Ken Morita of Japan actually had Arguello in front, 127-125.
Between rounds 13 and 14 HBO's microphones caught Lewis saying, "Give me the other bottle, the one I mixed." Two ammonia caps were popped and Pryor drank from each of two bottles.
Coming out quickly for the 14th round, Pryor snapped Arguello's head back with a hook and then threw an overhand right, jabbed once, fired both hands to the body and then moved up to the head. Next a short right hook inside crashed against Arguello's head and sent him into the ropes.
Pryor moved in quickly. Two right hands pinned Arguello to the ropes, and 10 more slammed into Arguello as he tried to cover up with his arms. The next punch, a right uppercut, crashed against Arguello's chin and his mouth popped open as his hands dropped. Pryor fired two left hooks and a straight right to the head, a right and a hook...in all, he threw 23 punches before Christodoulou stopped the fight. Arguello was still on his feet, but slowly he began to sag. He sat down and rolled over, out cold.
Two doctors worked on Arguello. One of them touched his neck, checking his pulse. Another gave him oxygen. After four minutes he regained consciousness. In another minute he was sitting on a stool. Then he walked, with assistance, to his dressing room. As he entered the room, Arguello's son, A.J., asked Miller, "Will he get a rematch?"
"He's a great champion," Pryor said. "I felt his power. He let me know he was in there. He taught me things. Do I feel like I stopped history? I can't say that, because the man has already made history; he's a three-time champion."
A visitor asked if Pryor thought he had surprised Arguello.
Pryor grinned. "I know of at least one surprise," he said. "My stomach was upset. One time we were in close and I burped. He stepped back and had this strange look on his face. I almost burst out laughing. But I think I surprised a lot of people. I proved I can box. And I proved I can go 14 rounds."
Miller went to Arguello's home early the next day. He was depressed about the loss, but otherwise, Miller said, Arguello was fine. A nasty cut under the left eye, which Pryor opened in the final round, required eight stitches; the one opened in the sixth required none.
"There's just one thing," Arguello told Miller. "I owe Pryor something. It's a debt I'm going to pay back."
A few hours later Miller was filing a protest with both the WBA and the Miami Boxing Commission because of illegal substances Pryor allegedly had taken during the fight. It is hardly a case Miller expects to win. No tests were taken after the fight. Miller was just laying the groundwork for the rematch little A.J. had spoken of. For a really sweet payday, Pryor would probably be happy to oblige—and share the schnapps.
This Pryor right was the start of a 23-punch barrage that sent Arguello down and out.
In the end Arguello crumpled and then lay unconscious four minutes before reviving.