A few days later Pryor joined up with LaRosa, the owner of a chain of pizza parlors and a Cincinnati sports entrepreneur, by signing a three-year personal-services contract with a one-year option. Pryor's winnings would be split 50-50, and LaRosa would pay all the expenses. Then LaRosa hired Pryor as a sports consultant for his business. He paid him $125 a week to start.
"I was warned he would be trouble," says LaRosa. "But I thought I could straighten him out using a combination of love and discipline, reward and punishment. I knew the kid could fight."
LaRosa brought in Elbaum, a veteran promoter, as an adviser, and Pryor worked his way through a string of kids with soft chins and old-timers looking for a payday. It wasn't until Pryor's 22nd fight, in which he earned $10,000 for stopping Julio Valdez on CBS, that LaRosa finally made a claim for his 50% of the purse. "That's when the first tiny signs of trouble between Aaron and me showed up," LaRosa says.
Two fights later, after stopping Leonidas Asprilla and knocking out Carl Crowley, Pryor signed with Harold Smith, the L.A. promoter who soon would be arrested for his role in a Wells Fargo Bank embezzlement scam. "Aaron had just three problems," says LaRosa. "Sugar. Ray. Leonard. He's obsessed with Leonard and said it was my fault because he wasn't like him. But I'll admit Harold Smith came through."
Smith lined up a $50,000 payday against Antonio Cervantes, the WBA junior welterweight champion, for Pryor on Aug. 2, 1980. It was a typical Pryor fight. Cervantes dropped him with a beautiful right in the first round, but hardly had Pryor touched the deck when he was up and trying to get around the referee, who was still counting, to get at Cervantes. Pryor knocked him out in the fourth round to win the title.
"That's when our problems got real bad," says LaRosa. "After Aaron won the title, he demanded the books. His second wife, Theresa, took them over. She's a very intelligent, capable lady, and I figured we were a team again. But Aaron wasn't satisfied. He never is. He has an insatiable lust for fame, for respect; he's got to be like Leonard. He'd throw a magazine at me, yelling, 'He's on the cover.' I'd say, 'Aaron, you have to wait. All you have is a junior title.' "
Once at a boxing dinner Pryor lambasted Leonard for not helping him on his rise to the title. Leonard took him aside and said in essence, "Hey, man, nobody helped me either."
Smith, meanwhile, was working on a $250,000 fight against Saoul Mamby, then the WBC junior welterweight champ, to unify the title. But Theresa got to Pryor first and shot him in the midst of a quarrel. The bullet, a .22, went through his right forearm, grazed his chest and wound up in his coat pocket. Later, Theresa said she had shot him because she loved him, and they later reconciled. Pryor told LaRosa that the incident was LaRosa's fault, because he tried to mediate their domestic problems.
By now Wells Fargo had caught up with Smith, and the Mamby fight was canceled. The next thing LaRosa heard, while watching the television news, was that Pryor had fired him. Pryor had also replaced his attorney of the moment.
"Aaron, what are you doing?" LaRosa asked. "I've got a contract for you to fight Roberto Duran for $750,000."