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2007-08-09
Did Sugar Ray Leonard Duck Aaron Pryor?
Periodically, one may hear or read that Sugar Ray Leonard ducked Aaron Pryor. Being that they never fought, to the uninformed, that could be taken as the truth. But is it? Did the man who defeated Hall of Famers Wilfred Benitez, Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, and Marvelous Marvin Hagler really "duck" "The Hawk"? Why don't we examine the two greats' careers and the related events during that era, then decide?



Leonard won a gold medal at the Olympics in Montreal in 1976 and turned pro in 1977. Debuting as a junior welterweight, he soon grew into a full-fledged welterweight. He rose through the ranks with wins over Dick Ecklund (Micky Ward's brother), Floyd Mayweather (guess who's father), Randy Shields, future WBHOF inductee Armando Muniz, Johnny Gant, Adolfo Viruet, middleweight Marcos Geraldo, junior middleweight Tony Chiaverini, Pete Ranzany, and Andy Price (who owned wins over both Carlos Palomino and Pipino Cuevas). Those victories led to his November 30, 1979 title bout with undefeated WBC welterweight champion Wilfred Benitez at Ceasar's Palace in Las Vegas. Leonard, ahead on all 3 of the judges' cards, stopped Benitez in the 15th round. After a successful title defense in March 1980 against England's Davey "Boy" Green, Leonard lost the title on June 20, 1980 to the legendary Roberto Duran.

Leonard vs Hagler


Pryor turned pro in late 1976 and fought his way through the lightweight and junior welterweight ranks. Among those he beat were former Canadian lightweight champ Johnny Summerhays, tough journeyman Norman Goins, another former Canadian champion Al Ford, fading former world junior lightweight title challenger Jose Fernandez, former WBA junior welterweight champion Alfonso "Peppermint" Frazer, world rated former WBA junior lightweight title challenger Julio "Diablito" Valdez, who owned a win over Alfredo Escalera, and, in what served as a title eliminator, Leonidas Asprilla. On the afternoon of August 2, 1980, in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, Pryor challenged long-reigning, two-time WBA junior welterweight champion Antonio "Kid Pambele" Cervantes. Pryor won the title, knocking out the future Hall of Famer in the 4th round.

Pryor vs Hearns


Later, during the evening of August 2, 1980, in Detroit, Michigan, Thomas Hearns knocked out Pipino Cuevas in the second round to win the WBA welterweight title. Hearns' awesome destruction of the thought-to-be indestructible future Hall of Famer set the wheels in motion for what would be one of boxing's most anticipated showdowns.



Pryor, who would not be involved in that showdown but would have a monumental one of his own in 1982, stopped Danny Myers in a non-title bout November 1. The Myers fight served as a tune-up for Pryor's upcoming defense against Canadian Gaetan Hart. Hart had stopped Cleveland Denny in the 10th round on the Leonard-Duran undercard. The joy of victory turned to grief as Denny died as a result of injuries suffered in that fight. The veteran Hart, though fought on, and outpointed Pedro Acosta Nunez in September.



On November 22, again, fighting before his hometown fans in Cincinnati, Pryor halted Hart in the 6th round.



Three days later, on November 25, 1980, at the Superdome in New Orleans, Leonard regained the WBC welterweight title when Duran quit during the 8th round of the infamous "No Mas" bout.



On December 6, 1980, Hearns defended his WBA title for the first time, knocking out previously unbeaten Venezuelan Luis Primera in the 6th round.



Leonard defended his title at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York on March 28, 1981 against top-ten contender Larry Bonds. Bonds had defeated Bruce Finch, journeyman Babs McCarthy, Howard Jackson (for the Nevada State welterweight title), and veteran Jimmy Jackson. He had also split a pair of 12-round decisions with top-ten rated junior middleweight Rocky Mosley Jr. Leonard stopped Bonds in the 10th round of a fairly one-sided bout.



On April 25, in Phoenix, Arizona, Hearns made his 2nd title defense. His opponent was perennial contender Randy Shields who had won 5 straight since dropping a 15-round decision to then champ Cuevas in his previous title shot. Hearns stopped Shields in the 12th round.



Boxing fans and the press were joined by sports fans in general in demanding a Leonard-Hearns title unification bout. To promote that bout, Leonard and Hearns fought on the same closed-circuit card at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas June 25, 1981. Leonard drew the tougher assignmemt. He challenged undefeated WBA junior middleweight champion Ayub Kalule. To make that fight possible, mandatory junior middleweight challenger Tadashi Mihara was given step-aside money and a place on the undercard against an opponent of his choice. Mihara knocked out a previous victim of his, Ramon Dionisio, in the 5th round, two rounds earlier than he had the first time they fought. On the card also, comebacking Pipino Cuevas won his second fight since losing to Hearns as he bombed out top-five rated European champion Joergen Hansen in the 1st round.



Hearns defended his title against Pablo Baez who was inserted in the WBA's top ten after he signed for this fight. In defense of Baez, he did have wins over Horace Shufford, Zeferino Gonzalez, and former WBC title challenger Jose Palacios (who was kayoed by then champion Carlos Palomino in 1977). However, his overall record was 10-9-1 and his late addition to the ratings raised many eyebrows. Baez, though, fought bravely but lost each round before Hearns stopped him in the 4th round.



Leonard won his second divisional title by halting Kalule in the 9th round of a competitive contest. He later vacated the 154-pound title. (Mihara won the vacant title by outpointing unbeaten Rocky Fratto but lost it in his first defense when he was stopped in 6 by Davey Moore. Moore, after 3 successful defenses including one against Kalule, lost the title to Duran- but enough! Back to Leonard and Pryor!)



Pryor had been calling out Leonard as had the father of recently crowned WBA lightweight champion Sean O'Grady who had dethroned Hearns' stablemate Hilmer Kenty in April of 1981. Neither Pryor nor The Bubblegum Kid, O'Grady, however, were in Leonard's plans. Pryor, two days after the Leonard-Kalule, Hearns-Baez card, stopped his mandatory challenger, Lennox Blackmoore in the 2nd round in Las Vegas. It was an impressive showing but Pryor was still merely a "star". His win was not going to prevent the upcoming meeting of the "superstars", Leonard and Hearns.



Sugar Ray and The Hitman met September 16, 1981 at Ceasar's Palace in Las Vegas in what turned out to be an all-time classic. With knockout artist Hearns becoming the boxer and the slick Leonard becoming the puncher, the bout, Ring Magazine's Fight of the Year, saw Leonard, behind on points, dramatically stop Hearns in the 14th round.



Pryor defended his WBA junior welterweight belt one more time in 1981. On November 14, in Cleveland, Ohio, Pryor stopped another of Hearns' stablemates, previously unbeaten Dujuan Johnson, in the 7th round. Johnson incidentally had scored his best win, a 10-round decision over Miguel Montilla, on the Hearns-Primera undercard 11 months earlier.



A week earlier, at the Hacienda Hotel in Las Vegas, Philadelphia's Roger Stafford upset Cuevas, winning a ten-round, unanimous decision. Stafford then became the top contender for Leonard's unified welterweight title. The division was filled with upcoming contenders. Besides Stafford, there was Hearns' stablemate Milton McCrory, Hartford, Connecticut's Marlon Starling, and British and Commonwealth champion Colin Jones.



Leonard, after his war with Hearns, opted for a relatively easy voluntary defense. Bruce Finch, a top-ten contender and the reigning NABF champion, was picked as the opponent. Finch had previously been defeated by Pete Ranzany, Larry Bonds, and Hearns but was riding an 11-bout win streak during which he had knocked out Victor "Kid Zorrita" Martinez, Zeferino Gonzalez, and the hot-and-cold Pepe Dominguez (twice). He had also duplicated a Leonard accomplishment by outpointing Rafael Rodriguez. Leonard and Finch fought on February 15, 1982 in Reno, Nevada and Leonard retained his titles via a third round TKO. The bout may have been costly because it may have been in this bout that Leonard suffered a detached retina.



The injury was discovered while Leonard was in the early stages of training for a defense against Stafford and it ended his career- at least for awhile. In the past, fighters found to have detached retinas lost their licenses to box. However, many advances had been made in surgical techniques. Leonard retired in 1982 but later underwent successful surgery. His career, as it turned out, was far from over.



On March 21, 1982, in Atlantic City, Pryor met another mandatory challenger, Miguel Montilla. Montilla had won two bouts in a row since losing to Johnson. His TKO in the 3rd round over Domingo Ayala on the undercard of Gerry Cooney's first round obliteration of former WBC heavyweight champion Ken Norton had thrust the veteran Dominican into a third shot at the WBA title (he had lost to Cervantes in 1979 and 1980). Pryor stopped the game Montilla in the 12th round.



Another top-rated contender followed- Japan's Akio "KO" Kameda. Fighting at home in Cincinnati, Pryor suffered an embarrassing 1st round knockdown but rose to batter Kameda until the bout was stopped in the 6th round.



With Leonard in retirement, with a scheduled unification bout with WBC champion Saoul Mamby scratched because of the Harold J. Smith- MAPS- Wells Fargo scandal, and with Hearns, Benitez, and Duran fighting at 154 pounds, Pryor looked in another direction for a superfight. Alexis Arguello, who had held world championships as a featherweight, a junior lightweight, and a lightweight, was seeking a 4th world title. After knocking out Kevin Rooney in his debut as a junior welterweight, Arguello agreed to a match with Pryor for the latter's title.



On the night of November 12, 1982, at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Pryor joined the sport's elite. In a great fight, Pryor stopped the favored Arguello in the 14th round. "The Hawk" had beaten his second future Hall of Famer. This time, his opponent was not a 34-year-old starting to show signs of wear-and-tear but a 30-year-old still very much in his prime.

Pryor vs Arguello


After Leonard's retirement, the welterweight division went through many changes. McCrory went 4-0 in 1982 including TKO'ing Randy Shields and outpointing Pete Ranzany and Roger Stafford. Jones retained his Commonwealth title by halting Sakaria Ve and took the European title by stopping Hans-Henrik Palm.



Donald Curry and Jun Suk Hwang emerged as major forces in the division. Curry went 5-0 in '82. Included in that perfect record was a TKO-4 over Finch for the NABF title, and decisions over Adolfo Viruet and Starling, the latter a split decision that brought Curry the USBA diadem. Hwang, who went 8-0 in 1982, had KO'ed previously undefeated Chung Jae Hwang for the OPBF title and defended that title successfully 4 times.



In 1983, Curry and Hwang met for the WBA title while McCrory and Jones were matched for the WBC crown. Curry won a 15-round, unanimous decision over Hwang on February 13. On March 19, McCrory and Jones fought to a 12-round draw. They fought again on August 13 and McCrory won the vacant championship with a 12-round, split decision.



Leonard, still in retirement, sat out the entire year of 1983 while Pryor defended the WBA junior welterweight title twice. On April 2, he stopped former WBC champion Sang Hyun Kim in 3 rounds in Atlantic City. Seven months later, he fought Arguello for the second time. The bout, held September 9 at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, was competitive during the early and middle rounds but Pryor took over and dominated until Arguello could take no more in the 10th round.



Six days before Pryor-Arguello II, Curry made the first defense of his title in Marsala, Italy, stopping Stafford in the first round.



Politics caused Pryor to "change ships", to switch his allegiance from the WBA to the IBF. When the WBA insisted he meet Johnny Bumphus in his next defense, Pryor relinquished the WBA belt and accepted designation as the IBF's first junior welterweight champion. He fought only once in 1984, defending the IBF title against Nicky Furlano. On June 22 in Toronto, Furlano became the first man to go the disance with Pryor in a title bout. Pryor won a unanimous decision after 15 rounds but he lacked his usual "fire."



Leonard, fully recovered from the operation to repair his detached retina, briefly returned to the ring. In May of 1984, 27 months after he had beaten Bruce Finch, Leonard faced off against Philadelphian Kevin Howard. Howard had posted wins over Robert Sawyer, Dick Ecklund, Bobby Joe Young (a name to remember in terms of this article), and Mao De La Rosa and had lost to Stafford (twice), Starling, and future IBF junior middleweight champion Mark Medal. Leonard suffered a knockdown but rallied to halt Howard in the 9th round. Unhappy with his performance, Leonard resumed his retirement.



McCrory and Curry further established themselves in 1984. McCrory went 3-0 including 2 successful title defenses, TKO wins over Milton Guest and Gilles Elbilia. Curry also went 3-0, successfully defending the WBA title against Starling, Elio Diaz, and Nino LaRocca. He also won the inaugural IBF title when he defeated Starling and defended it in the bouts with Diaz and LaRocca.



Not seeking shots at either McCrory or Curry, Pryor made his only 1985 ring appearance against southpaw Gary Hinton. On March 2, Pryor retained the IBF title with a 15-round, split decision.



Leonard sat out the entire year while McCrory and Curry continued on the path to their eventual December 6th showdown. "The Iceman" went 3-0 with successful WBC title defenses over Pedro Vilella (Unan. Dec. 12) and Carlos Trujillo (TKO-3) sandwiching a non-title TKO-3 over Luis Santana. "The Lone Star Cobra" stopped Jones in 4 rounds to retain the WBA and IBF titles and James "Hard Rock" Green and Pablo Baez in non-title bouts. The most anticipated welterweight bout since Leonard-Hearns did not turn out to be a classic. It seemed anti-climatic when Curry kayoed McCrory in the 2nd round to unify all 3 titles.

Curry vs McCrory


1986 found Leonard in quasi-retirement. Although he did not participate in any actual bouts, he was back in serious training.



Pryor, inactive, was stripped of the IBF title. In April, Hinton outpointed previously unbeaten Reyes Cruz over 15 rounds to become Pryor's successor. Curry, after a successful WBA title defense against Eduardo Rodriguez in March, lost all 3 belts to Lloyd Honeyghan in September.



In April 1987, Leonard defied all odds and won the WBC middleweight title from Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Four months later, Pryor returned to the ring after 29 months of inactivity and was stopped in 7 rounds by top-ten welterweight contender Bobby Joe Young (see why it was important to remember that name?).

Leonard vs Hearns II


Leonard went back into retirement but came back to win the WBC light heavyweight and new WBC super middleweight titles by stopping Donny Lalonde in November 1988. He vacated the light heavyweight title belt but retained the super middleweight title against old foes, Hearns and Duran. In a WBC-WBO title unifier, Leonard retained his title when his June 12, 1989 rematch with Hearns, the WBO champ, was declared a draw. On December 7, Leonard outpointed Duran, then the reigning WBC middleweight champion, in their rubber match.



Pryor fought once in 1988 and twice in 1990, stopping all 3 of his limited opponents. He fought no more.



Leonard made two more ring appearances after 1989. In 1991, he came out of retirement for the 4th time to challenge WBC super welterweight kingpin Terry Norris. Leonard, down twice in the fight, lost a one-sided decision to his fellow future Hall of Famer.



Six years later, Leonard made another ill-advised comeback, losing by TKO to Hector Camacho in a bout contested for Camacho's fringe IBC middleweight title.



So, did Leonard duck Pryor? It doesn't look that way, does it? The two never fought but the only time a Leonard-Pryor bout would have been practical would have been in early 1982 before Leonard was diagnosed with a detached retina. But at that time, Leonard, already established as a superstar, having beaten Benitez, Duran (in their rematch), and Hearns, seemed entitled to an easy optional title defense and Pryor was due for a mandatory defense of his title. Leonard beat Finch and Pryor beat Montilla a month later. Roger Stafford had emerged, with his upset of Cuevas, as the top welterweight contender and was in line to meet Leonard when Leonard was forced into retirement because of his eye injury.



Pryor, at that time was a star but not yet a superstar. He had beaten an aging Cervantes and a bunch of good fighters but no one on the level of a Benitez, a Duran, or a Hearns. That would come later when he stopped Arguello. Unfortunately, when he did, Leonard was retired.



Leonard's 1984 comeback lasted only one fight. Thus any chance of a Leonard-Pryor bout at that time was nil. When Leonard returned in 1987 to fight Hagler, Pryor had been inactive for 25 months. When "The Hawk" did come back four months later, he was TKO'ed by Bobby Joe Young.















Ask yourself a question, when Leonard was beating WBC light heavyweight champion Donny Lalonde, drawing with WBO super middleweight champion Thomas Hearns, and beating WBC middleweight champion Roberto Duran, would anyone seriously wanted him to fight the Pryor who knocked out Herminio Morales?



No, Leonard did not duck Aaron Pryor. The two never fought but there was very little reason for the two to have fought. Pryor did nothing to force the issue in the early 1980's other than verbally call out Leonard. He didn't unify the junior welterweight titles. He never fought Saoul Mamby, Leroy Haley, Bruce Curry, or Billy Costello- the WBC champions while he reigned as WBA and later IBF champ. Nor did he fight Johnny Bumphus or Gene Hatcher who reigned as the WBA champions during his reign as the IBF king. Pryor never beat any rated welterweight contenders and he wasn't a closed-circuit draw until he defeated the favored Arguello in November 1982. At that time, Leonard was retired because of a detached retina.



It should be noted that Pryor not only never fought Leonard, he never fought Cuevas, Palomino, Benitez, Duran, Hearns (as a pro), McCrory, Donald Curry, Starling, or Honeyghan. Did they all "duck" him? No, Pryor was busy in the junior welterweight division, then inactive for nearly 2 1/2 years. From the time he returned in 1987 until he stopped fighting for good in 1990. Pryor fought 4 welterweights- Bobby Joe Young, Herminio Morales, Darryl Jones, and Roger Choate. Only one, Young, was rated and it was to Young that Pryor suffered his only defeat.



That's not to say that Pryor wasn't a great fighter. He was but it was his accomplishments as the WBA junior welterweight champion are what established him as a great fighter and are what got him inducted into both Halls of Fame. His top accomplishents as the WBA champ, his wins over Arguello, came when Leonard was medically unavailable.



Hopefully this puts to rest the myth that Pryor was ducked by Leonard and clearly illustrates that in 1979 through early 1982, there were either much bigger fights for Leonard or valid reasons why other fights took precedence over a Leonard-Pryor matchup.

 
Article By: Ken Pollitt