Boxing Across the Nation: Florida-Pryor vs Arguello Showered in Controversy
Boxing has been apart of the American sports scene since the 1700s by way of England. It started by infiltrating the larger port towns before eventually working its way into the lexicon of America. Boxing started as an illegal sport which saw it’s athletes arrested. Now it showcases some of the most talented combat sports athletes in the world. We will embark on a 50 part saga exploring the best boxers representing the United States. Some states will have more athletes to choose from than others but the journey will be quite the ride. Let’s embark on the journey looking at an interesting fighter from each state.
Check out the eight states we have covered by clicking below:
State nine in our Boxing Across the Nation journey brings us to Florida. There have been several high profile fighters from the state such as Roy Jones Jr, Ray Mercer, and Antonio Tarver. Aside from these great fighters and the numerous championship bouts fought in the state, “The Battle of the Champions” is arguably one of the greatest (and most notorious) bouts in the sport’s history. The bout itself between Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello is known as an amazing battle, but the actions between the 13th and 14th rounds are, unfortunately, what lives forever about this bout.
The Leadup to the Fight
Top Rank promoter, Bob Arum, is credited as the mastermind for booking this contest. He is the one who gave the bout the nickname, “The Battle of Champions.” Arguello was a three-division champion and Pryor was the current The Ring and WBA light-welterweight champion. The fighters could not be any more different. Alexis Arguello was the crowd-favorite, nicknamed “The Gentleman of the Ring.” He had the sentiment of the public as he sought to become the first four-division champion in history. Aaron Pryor was an intimidating fighter, pointing his glove at his opponent during ring introductions.
23,000 fans would pack the Orange Bowl, then the home to the Miami Dolphins. “Going in there, I was scared,” Pryor stated in an interview with Boxing Monthly in November 2005. “The odds against me were real big and the whole Latin community, and most of society, wanted Alexis to become the first man to win that fourth world title. The arena was 80-90% Latin and they were all throwing stuff at me. It was real bad.”
Leading up to the historic bout, Aaron Pryor was undefeated at 31-0. His last bout was a sixth-round TKO of Akio Kameda for his fifth successful defense of the WBA light-welterweight championship. The “fight of the decade” was almost not to be. Pryor had actually signed to face Sugar Ray Leonard in the fall of 1982. Pryor stated he had already signed a contract for $750,000 to fight Leonard in the fall before his retirement due to an eye injury.
“The Gentleman of the Ring” Alexis Arguello was already a three-division champion, seeking to become the first four-division champion in boxing history. He was an impressive 72-5 going into the Pryor bout. Arguello never lost a championship in the ring. All of his titles were vacated to move up in weight for the next title. The pride of Nicaragua would enter the bout as the huge crowd favorite.
“The Fight of the Decade”
The action itself did not disappoint. The two future hall of famers put it all out on the line and showcased their skills. Pryor landed an amazing 426 of 1,429 strikes while Arguello landed 238 of 798 strikes. Both men came out the gate quick looking to establish themself as the dominant force. Pryor always seemed to be just a step ahead of Arguello heading into the late rounds. Heading into the 11th round, Arguello started to turn the tide. After using a new water bottle given to Pryor by cornerman Panama Lewis, Pryor came out a new fighter in the 12th round. Between the 13th and 14th rounds is when one of boxing’s biggest controversies ever occurred.
Starting in the ninth round, Arguello started to shift the tide of the bout into his favor through the 11th round. Lewis directed a cornerman to give him the water bottle with tape on it, one not yet used throughout the fight. Pryor came out for the 12th round a new fighter. In the 13th round, Arguello landed a huge strike that had Pryor reeling. He was unable to finish Pryor and then we head to the corners to end the round. As the cornerman attempted to give Lewis the basic water bottle, an HBO microphone picked up Lewis stating, “No, not that one. The one I mixed.” Pryor was relentless in the 14th round, landing several unanswered shots. Referee Stanley Christodoulo was forced to step in and call an end to the bout.
The Miami Boxing Commission did not collect urine samples after the bout or investigate the contents of the bottle. In an interview with Boxing Monthly, 20 years after the fight, Pryor claims Lewis told him peppermint schnapps was added to the water to help control gas. Another boxer formerly cornered by Lewis, Luis Resto, stated he was aware of Lewis placing antihistamine tablets broken up into the water, which aid in lung capacity and quicker recovery in later rounds.
It’s unfortunate the fight is clouded with such controversy as many do consider it one of the greatest bouts of its generation. In an article for ESPN, promoter Bob Arum stated, “That was something I will never, ever forget as long as I live. That was one of the most memorable fights I ever did.” The Ring would go on to name it “The Fight of the Decade” and declare it one of the greatest bouts in history. ESPN also named it the #3 superfight of the ESPN era.
A rematch was set up for September 09, 1983, roughly 10 months after their initial bout. Both fighters had completely new trainers. Pryor was forced to replace Lewis, as Lewis had his license suspended for the Luis Resto/Billy Collins Jr incident. Lewis had removed padding from Resto’s gloves which resulted in severe injuries to Collins, ultimately ruining his career and leading to his early death. After an unsuccessful trial with Richie Giachetti, Pryor eventually went with Emanuel Steward.
The rematch lacked the luster and admiration of the first battle. Pryor defeated Arguello via 10th-round knockout. Many said Arguello did not appear to have his heart in the sport anymore. Arguello fought a few more times before retiring and entering local politics in his native Nicaragua.