It's a boom time for boxing, with one of the sport's finest years in recent memory barely two-thirds finished and a handful of blockbusters still to come before the calendar flips again.
With Floyd Mayweather Jr. defending his pound-for-pound crown against Mexican darling Canelo Alvarez on Sept. 14, Juan Manuel Marquez taking aim at a fifth title against welterweight belt holder Timothy Bradley Jr. on Oct. 12, and Manny Pacquiao preparing to bring world-class boxing to China against Brandon Rios on Nov. 23, there has never been a better time to celebrate the pomp of the must-see prizefight than right now.
And so, in the next several days, we'll be counting down boxing's top superfights of the ESPN era (since Sept. 7, 1979, for those of you scoring at home), as picked by our panel of boxing experts. Of course, we know there can be, ahem, disagreement on such a subjective topic, so we'd like to know what you think about our choices, get your picks and hear any other comments you might have related to our project. Just tweet using the hashtag #ESPNsuperfights, and we might feature your comment below.
On the face of it, they could not have been more different. Alexis Arguello, the mild-mannered future mayor of Managua, and Aaron Pryor, a product of the mean streets of Cincinnati who would become locked in an ultimately victorious battle with cocaine, ostensibly had little in common other than their shared profession of boxing.
Even in the ring, they stood in stark contrast. Arguello was a long, lean, cerebral assassin, a boxer-puncher whose lanky frame provided vicious leverage for his punches and who often took his foes into deep water before holding their heads beneath the surface. Alfredo Escalera (twice stopped in 13 rounds by Arguello), Ruben Castillo and Rafael Limon (taken out in 11) and Ray Mancini (gone in 14) were proof.
Pryor, on the other hand, was a compact whirling dervish of perpetual motion, a bobbing and weaving ball of relentlessly offensive energy whose aggression occasionally would lead to him being dropped for a short count. But almost invariably, it would result in his opponent receiving a longer one. Outside of two early foes who lasted the full eight rounds, none of the other first 34 opponents made it to the final bell.
When the two collided in a Miami ring on Nov. 12, 1982, it was Pryor, the defending 140-pound champion, who imposed his style at the beginning. He tore into Arguello from the opening bell with a blistering sequence of jabs, left hooks, right hands and uppercuts. Then he did it again. And again.
But it was Arguello who scored the most emphatic single blow of the first round, a straight right hand that seemed to stun Pryor and slow him down just a fraction before the American resumed his assault, rattling the reigning lightweight (and former featherweight and 130-pound king) with a combination and leaving observers breathless after just three minutes of action.
By the second, Pryor already seemed weary from throwing so many punches, and Arguello, cool and collected, waited for his chance, hoping to counter his foe off the ropes and when in center ring, keep just enough distance to allow his longer arms to work to full effect. Pryor recovered to land a sequence of right hands in the third and again in the fourth. By the middle rounds, the bout began to settle into a pattern, with Pryor circling, probing, looking for a way in and darting in with heavy combinations, and Arguello, hands held high, trying to keep Pryor at middle distance with a jab and then land a sudden left hook or overhand right that would stop the Ohioan in his tracks.
Back and forth it went, each man trying to impose himself with his own particular style, the action and ferocity steadily increasing as fatigue made an enemy of technique. By the 13th, Pryor had a lead on two of the three scorecards, and he began that round by mauling Arguello in close. But then the Nicaraguan landed a left and a right and an uppercut to the body that took the starch out of Pryor.
Then, halfway through the frame, a straight right snapped back Pryor's head. He withstood it and fought back strongly over the second half. As the bell rang for the start of the 14th, Arguello now seemed the one on his last legs as Pryor came out with renewed purpose. About 50 seconds in, a right hand at the end of a combination rocked Arguello badly. He retreated to the ropes, where Pryor teed off on him, looking for an ending, which came when referee Stanley Christodoulou stepped in to halt the contest.
And that should have been the story: titanic struggle produces dramatic conclusion. But this is boxing, and so controversy was just around the corner -- or, more accurately, in Pryor's corner.
After the 13th round, HBO microphones picked up Pryor's trainer, Panama Lewis, telling cutman Artie Curley, "Give me the bottle, the one I mixed." Curley insisted afterward that it was peppermint schnapps, to settle Pryor's stomach. The notion that it might have been something more nefarious -- theories ranged from antihistamines to cocaine -- was reinforced by the fact that in 1986, Lewis was imprisoned for removing the padding from the gloves of another of his fighters, Luis Resto, prior to Resto's June 1983 bout with Billy Collins.
Pryor and Arguello fought a rematch, which Pryor won with a 10th-round stoppage. Each man briefly retired, staged an unremarkable comeback and retired again. Then each returned to his separate world and his very different life -- which, for Arguello, ended in 2009 (tragically, in suicide). But however different the circumstances from which they came and to which they returned, because of that one night in Miami, their names will be synonymous forever.
— Jeffery Lakes (@JefferyLakes) August 29, 2013