Picture contributed by Aaron Pryor. Click the above photo to visit Aaron Pryor's Official Homepage
FORMER CHAMP PRYOR NOW GIVING GUIDING HAND
By BILL KOCH Published in Wansports
CINCINNATI - Aaron Pryor had one eye on a group of kids doing sit-ups, another on the ring where his son, Stephan Pryor Mitchell, was sparring with Bobby Lewis. Pryor didn't like what he saw. His son was dancing and weaving, ducking and faking, but not punching.
"You know what you've got to do to win a fight," Pryor shouted in the basement of the Millvale Community Center the other night. "You've got to throw punches. What's wrong with throwing punches?" In the prime of his boxing career, Aaron Pryor was a Randy Johnson fastball, a Pete Sampras serve, Jim Brown with a football tucked under his arm. He came at you with everything he had and dared you to do something about it. Pryor was never big on technique. He understood the footwork and mastered the punches, but he took boxing for what it is. The bell rings, you walk into the ring and relentlessly beat on your opponent until he can't stand up. Not a whole lot of strategy involved there.
"Just attack," Pryor says. "That was part of my game. People want to see you throw punches."
No one threw more punches than Pryor. He approached a fight with a rage unmatched until Mike Tyson came along. From 1980 to 1984, Pryor was the World Boxing Association junior welterweight champion. Until 1990, when he lost to Bobby Joe Young during a rather feeble comeback attempt, he was unbeaten as a pro, with 35 knockouts in 39 fights. In 1996, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. You wouldn't recognize him now. He walked into the gym and his son had to point him out. He weighs 185 pounds, up 45 pounds from his fighting weight. But he's sober and coherent and that in itself is a major victory.
"Not many men could have done what he did," Stephan says.
He's not talking about Pryor's boxing record, but about his recovery from the cocaine addiction that shortened his career. Along the way, he had been shot by his wife, charged with assaulting his mother, arrested several times and jailed and was in and out of rehabilitiation centers. He also had a detached retina that made him legally blind in one eye and ultimately forced him out of the ring. Stephan, one of three Pryor sons, barely knew his father when he was growing up other than to watch him fight on television occasionally and to read and hear about how he was ruining his life. Aside from the fact that Pryor was a great boxer, all Stephan knew about him was that, "I didn't want to follow the direction he was going in." About seven years ago, when he decided he wanted to take a shot at boxing, he turned to his father for help. Still dependent on drugs, Pryor had nothing to offer. "I couldn't help him," Pryor said. "I couldn't help myself. As soon as I got my life together, I started helping him." Pryor is trying to make up for some of those lost years now. His kid is a 160-pound junior welterweight with a 15-6 record as an amateur. He hopes to turn pro next year. "He's got a chance to have a good professional career," Pryor said.
Until now, we have had only two images of Aaron Pryor - relentless attacker in the ring and helpless drug addict outside. There has never been any middle ground. Certainly, we never thought of him as someone's father.
"We're tight," Stephan says.
"We've left the past alone. I'm a grown man now. Nobody's perfect. Everybody goes through a little problem now and then." Stephan, 22, proudly demonstrates some of the moves his father has taught him. He has the quick feet, the overhand right that Pryor used so effectively and the left jab. What he doesn't have, at least not yet, is Pryor's attack mentality. Aaron Pryor made his name with it. For four years, no one was better.
He's 42 now, thick around the middle, his face worn with middle age and the toll that drugs have taken. He's a far cry from the boxer they used to call The Hawk. It's his son's turn now, his time to try to replicate his father's feats in the ring and to avoid his mistakes outside it. "Other coaches, they're just there for the sport," Stephan said. "Let me learn from my father. He can teach me things nobody else could."
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