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When the strike of a hawk breaks the body of its prey, it is because of the timing.
What every boy should be taught before he first laces on a pair of boxing gloves is that a championship isn't an automatic pass to love and respect. They'll gird you with a championship belt, but if a boxer is to gain a greater esteem, he must earn it outside the ring. That has been a lesson harshly learned by Aaron Pryor, the WBA junior welterweight champion.
That he is the most exciting fighter in the world is without question. He hammers away at opponents in frenetic three-minute bursts until nothing upright remains to be hammered. As an amateur, the Hawk, as the 27-year-old Pryor is called, won all but 16 of 220 fights. Fifty of those never got past the first round. As a pro he is 31-0, with 29 knockouts, the last 23 in succession.
Pryor's life-style outside the ring is, unfortunately, as confusing and destructive as his tactics within it. Pryor hungers for love and respect, but he trusts no one, so he goes unnourished. And in his zigzagging wake is the debris of people he easily embraced, and just as easily abandoned. His first wife divorced him, his second shot him. He recently lost a paternity suit and gained a son. He changes lawyers and promoters the way Liberace changes clothes. In his entourage seniority can be gained in a few weeks, and lost in a wink. He recently tried to fire his manager, Buddy LaRosa, for the fourth—or maybe it was the 40th—time.
A few weeks ago at the Great Gorge Americana Hotel in McAfee, N.J., where Pryor was training for his Nov. 12 defense against WBC lightweight champion Alexis Arguello, Pryor wondered why anyone would care about his personal life. "They write that I had a pack of lawyers," he said. "It was like three or four. Anyway, whose business is it but mine? And people say I had a pack of promoters. I only had two: Madison Square Garden and Don King."
And a group formed by Cincinnati businessman Bob Elkus, and LaRosa, and Don Elbaum, and Harold Smith, and now Bob Arum.
"And I've always fulfilled my obligations," Pryor went on. "I do what I'm supposed to do. But I'm not obligated to one man for the rest of my life."
Pryor was born out of wedlock in Cincinnati on Oct. 20, 1955. Subsequently, his mother, Sarah Adams, married a man named Pryor, and Aaron took his stepfather's name. "Look," says Harold Weston, the Madison Square Garden matchmaker, "I've known Aaron a long time and he's a very warm, nice guy. But his whole world has always been right out there on the street corner. People look at Ray Leonard and say, 'Gee, he's got class.' But they look at Aaron Pryor and say, 'Christ, why does he act like that?' It's not his fault. It's the way he was brought up. He's reaching out for love and attention and so he does crazy things to get them."
Pryor would have you believe that his life began at age 13, the day he first walked into a gym. But at Great Gorge he cracked open the door to his earlier years. "I had four brothers and two sisters," he said, "but I had a different father from the others. I was the kid nobody paid any attention to. I was neglected and completely lost. Some nights I just said to hell with it and slept in a doorway somewhere. Wasn't anything at home for me anyway."
He was roaming the streets in 1968 when he wandered into a gym at the corner of 14th and Republic. Phil Smith, who trained amateur fighters, remembers, "He was just a scrawny little thing, but he said he wanted to be a boxer. I told Aaron to get in with a kid named John Howard. I wanted to see what Aaron had. Well, Howard knocked him out of the ring. But Aaron climbed back and took off after Howard. I knew I had something special.