The Third Chapter: Pryor vs. Argüello I – The Fight
Seconds before the fight began, Pryor ominously glared and pointed at Argüello. The niceties had disappeared as the bell rang to start Round One…
Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida – November 12, 1982
“What you do to them on the way in, they do to you on the way out.”—Alexis Argüello
Although there was a strong Sandinista contingent in Miami that weekend, boxing people disputed the level of political overtures that evening. Some noted the pressure of the Sandinistas who were present, while others insisted that there was no tension among the various Hispanic factions. With the meteoric rise of HBO and the local blackouts, promoters Bob Arum and Walter Alvarez were more concerned about filling the seats. Ringside and low-end ticket sales were consistent, but Alvarez felt that the advent of HBO hurt his middle-range ticket sales.
“I think Duran-Leonard was different,” recalled Barry Tompkins, who broadcast the fight. “Race played a role in that fight. There wasn’t the political overtone like there was in Miami. Pryor was not racial, it wasn’t that us against them mentality with Argüello. Duran was more of a blue-collar guy vs. Leonard or white-collar, not racial.”
For Argüello, the fight represented historic implications. Argüello was preparing to win his fourth title—Pryor’s WBA World Light Welterweight belt—and eclipse other three-time champs such as Bob Fitzsimmons, Tony Canzoneri, Barney Ross, Henry Armstrong, and Wilfred Benítez. Promoter Bob Arum touted the bout as the “Battle of Champions,” and the purists were calling it the classic boxer versus the brawler.
In a panel of 12 boxing writers, only Steve Farhood and promoter Ahmed Bey had Pryor by decision. Pryor, who was 31-0, with 29 KOs, had the ability to throw more than 100 punches per round. Often, Pryor wore opponents down with that accumulation of punches. Conversely, Argüello had won 72 of 77 bouts, and knocked out 62 opponents in the process. The telling stat was Argüello’s 19-1 record in title bouts, a testament to his discipline to training and unwillingness to disrespect a sport that had given him so much. More economical with his punches, Argüello had the power and accuracy to change the perception of the bout with one punch. Outside the ring, Argüello had become a media favorite.
“At the time Argüello was greatly respected, the best fighter of his time,” recalled HBO analyst Larry Merchant, “but who was also getting on in time and fighting a whirlwind at a higher weight. It was understandable that because of his goodwill as a fighter and a personality that he was favored, but I remember clearly thinking that he had a sizable mountain to climb against a guy who was younger and bigger.”
Chaos reigned as Argüello shook himself out in the middle of the ring. A coterie of Pryor followers flooded the ring. Master of Ceremonies Hector Salazar could not silence the fans or bring order to the turbulence in the ring. To add to the hysteria, officials were investigating a threat to Argüello that occurred in the dressing room prior to his entrance. Seconds before the fight began, Pryor ominously glared and pointed at Argüello. The niceties had disappeared as the bell rang to start Round One.
One minute into the fight and Pryor started with an uppercut thrown and landed from a considerable distance, then followed it with a sharp three-punch combination that neither stopped Argüello in his tracks nor stunned him. Yet, over those first three minutes, Pryor asserted himself with speed and his brand of organized chaos as if to continually remind Argüello: “This is what you’re in for over the next 14 rounds.” It was not only the shots that landed that impacted Argüello. Pryor exhausted a standstill Argüello with punches that missed or glanced off limbs. Whether it was a jab, uppercut, a right cross or a running right hand, Pryor unleashed his arsenal and exerted his will on Argüello.
Excuses often surfaced when fighters looked at the prospect of facing Pryor. When presented the opportunity, Argüello wanted to fight the best. Born a fighter, Argüello felt he could handle any young fighter, even a dynamic 27-year-old like Pryor. Yet, at this juncture, it appeared Argüello may have made a tactical mistake. Strong enough to force Argüello to the ropes, Pryor jammed him with a right cross to his neck and a less damaging left hook in that second round. A short hook followed by sneaky straight right in the trenches allowed Argüello breathing room, but not for long.
Experts questioned Argüello’s decision to fight off the ropes in those early rounds. After begrudgingly moving into the middle of the ring, Argüello had no pivot left in his legs. All the power in his punches stemmed from his upper body. Pryor was intelligent enough to recognize the weakness and take advantage of it. Halfway through the third round, Pryor reverted back to splitting Argüello’s guard with rights and lefts. Without having to fight through an Argüello staple jab—dormant to this point—Pryor faced little resistance.
Heading into that fourth round, Pryor had won all three rounds on two of the three scorecards. Judge Ken Morita somehow gave Argüello the second and third rounds. With no discernible jab or efficient movement to put himself in position to punch, Argüello made it too easy for Pryor in that fourth round. Going backwards, Pryor stuck a jab, sauntered in, landed an uppercut, and, later on, the right-left combination proved lethal whether thrown in the middle of the ring or against the ropes. A judge would have been hard-pressed to score but a few punches for Argüello in that fourth round. Although Argüello did land an overhand right at the bell, Pryor returned an uppercut of his own.
Despite the reality of what was occurring in the ring, two judges scored the fourth an even round. One didn’t need to be a boxing aficionado to see that Pryor was dominating the bout. Recently retired Sugar Ray Leonard pointed out that Pryor kept making basic mistakes such as leading with his chin, but it did not matter. This was not the Argüello who fought skillfully to take down Cornelius Boza Edwards or the focused fighter who picked apart an underrated Leonel Hernandez; instead this was an Argüello who did not follow any strategical plan, and, more importantly, was only throwing one punch at a time. At this point, he appeared listless. Not able to cut off the ring, Argüello chased a fresh Pryor around for the first half of the sixth round. Pryor landed a vicious running right hand, stepped to Argüello’s right and then five clean punches later, Pryor was back on the attack. Now, Pryor had a target as he pinpointed a cut that was worsening over Argüello’s left eye. All three judges scored it 10-9 for Pryor.
Futch worked feverishly on the cut above Argüello’s left eye between rounds. To this point, Pryor landed two kinds of uppercuts: one thrown from a distance, but still effective, and the second more powerful uppercut thrown each time Argüello ventured inside. He landed the latter in this round. With 27 seconds left in the round, the real Argüello came out of hibernation to land a right cross that shook Pryor.
For the first time in the bout, Pryor was unable to end the round on his terms in the eighth. A once bombastic crowd had quieted; no longer cheering after every Argüello offering. Yet, in that ninth round, an energized Argüello landed five right hands over the course of the round that were inches away from having devastating effects, but there was no follow-up. He wanted to follow those rights with a left to the body, but he didn’t have it in him anymore. He couldn’t access those punches as easily as he had in previous bouts. As the round closed out, Pryor refused to let Argüello steal the momentum completely as he landed back-to-back three-punch combinations in the middle of the ring.
After a nondescript tenth round, Argüello’s got off first with two right hands. Toward the last minute of the round, Pryor bided his time and walked into an Argüello right that would have destroyed a lesser fighter. Pryor was concerned, but not visibly shaken. Finally in attack mode, Argüello landed another uppercut and a right hand that left Pryor unbalanced, but not hurt. Not done yet, Argüello closed out his dominant performance with a right cross and an uppercut that shifted Pryor to set him up for one more overhand right. Pryor shook his head and glared at Argüello as if to say, “I’m still here.” The damage was done, and willing to take risks, Argüello was back in the fight. Panama Lewis shoved Pryor back to his corner.
The magnificent ebb and flow of the fight continued in the twelfth and would carry over in the next round. Pryor charged out and tried to corner Argüello in the thirteenth round. Dictating the momentum of this round, Argüello landed the harder punches as he turned to the body with uppercuts. Halfway through the round, Argüello landed the perfect right hand that nearly swiveled Pryor’s head completely. That signature right hand is what everyone will remember as Pryor ended the round with his own right between Argüello’s guard. Argüello told his cornermen, “I am throwing everything at this guy, and he won’t budge.” In the other corner, Panama Lewis was calling for and administering his special mixture.
Refueled in that fourteenth round, Pryor ignited the downfall with a straight right and then, as he pushed Argüello to the ropes, landed at least fifteen more punches before Christodoulou stepped in to stop the slaughter. Seconds later, Argüello’s cornermen were cradling their fighter’s head underneath the bottom rope. The beating marked the end of a champion.
“He was like a son to me,” said Don Kahn. “When I saw him going down, my heart broke.”
So did thousands of others.
The First Chapter: Countdown to Pryor vs. Argüello I
The Second Chapter: Pryor vs. Argüello 1 – Preparation for Battle
The Third Chapter: Pryor vs. Argüello I – The Fight
The Final Chapter: Pryor-Argüello Saga – Panama Lewis and the Black Bottle
Christian Giudice is the author of Beloved Warrior: The Rise and Fall of Alexis Argüello and Hands of Stone: The Life and Legend of Roberto Duran. His website is christiangiudice.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.