Thursday, February 17, 2011

What If: Roberto Duran vs Aaron Pryor

By Randy De La O

Debunking a common fallacy…………..

Almost without fail, whenever the subject of both Roberto Duran and Aaron Pryor comes up, Duran is almost always accused of purposely passing over the junior welterweights in order to avoid a showdown with Aaron Pryor. But the truth is when Roberto Duran moved up in weight to fight Edwin Viruet in April of 1978, it was Antonio Cervantes who held the junior welterweight title. Pryor would eventually challenge Cervantes for that title in August of 1980, almost two and a half years after the Duran vs. Viruet fight, stopping Cervantes in the 4th round.

Aaron Pryor vs Alexis Arguello 1982
Prior (no pun intended) to winning the title against Cervantes, Aaron Pryor had not fought anyone of any real consequence and certainly no one of Duran’s caliber. At the time of the Duran vs Viruet fight, Aaron Pryor was undefeated in 12 fights with 10 KO’s to his name. A fine record for an up and coming fighter but hardly someone deserving of a fight with Roberto Duran, at least not in that era. Even with an amateur win over Detroit’s Tommy Hearns in 1976, Pryor would not even be an after thought as an opponent for Duran. Pryor’s claim to fame was his 14th round KO over three time champ Alexis Arguello in November of 1982. He would fight Arguello the following year stopping him in the 10th round.

Pryor, a fine fighter with an exciting style peaked with the Arguello fight and never in his career came close to being the type of fighter that Duran was. Pryor had six more fights after the second Arguello fight, all of them against mediocre to average competition.

Roberto Duran was the reigning lightweight champ for almost seven years before moving up in weight and setting his sights on the welterweight crown. Duran ended the 70’s with fights against Viruet, Ezequiel Obando, Monroe Brooks, Jimmy Heair, Carlos Palomino and Zeffie Gonzalez. In the case of Viruet, Heair and Brooks, Duran was fighting better than average competition, and in Palomino’s case he was fighting an outstanding former welterweight champion. In his previous fight earlier that year, Palomino lost the welterweight title to the great Wilfredo Benitez by a 15 round split decision. It was Duran’s win over Carlos Palomino that showed he was a real threat to the welterweights.

So the question remains, who would win?

Roberto Duran vs Sugar Ray Leonard I 1980
Physically, they match up well, Pryor standing 5’6” ½ , Duran at 5”7’ a ½ inch taller, but for me this is a no brainer. Duran, a natural lightweight might have lost some of his KO power when he moved up in weight, especially when he moved up to the middleweights, but he would have been right at home as a junior welterweight. Pryor was street tough and aggressive. Duran was feral, savage and primal in his approach. Both fighters could be relentless but Duran had bigger arsenal to draw from. Overall Roberto Duran was a fundamentally better fighter.

Duran was no one hit wonder and his career record will back me up. He is in the top five of almost anyone’s all time great list and certainly in the top ten. Counter punching was the key to defeating Pryor and Duran was a great albeit vastly underrated counter puncher. Duran had angles and was great on the inside. He had too much experience for Pryor. Duran was a well schooled fighter with perhaps the greatest cornermen of all time working in his corner, Ray Arcel and Freddie Brown, Panama Lewis would be in Pryor’s corner. There is no such thing as a sure thing, I know that but I believe Duran had too much going for him.

Duran beat Ken Buchanan to win the WBA World Lightweight Championship at the Madison Square Garden in New York in 1972. In 1980, at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Quebec Duran lifted the welterweight crown from Sugar Ray Leonard in a hard fought and exciting 15 rounds unanimous decision. After the disastrous rematch with Leonard (I can hardly utter the words) and following a dark period in his career, including a 15 round unanimous decision loss to Wilfredo Benitez, Duran rebounded with a win over Pipino Cuevas, winning by a 4th round KO and securing a title fight with junior middleweight Davey Moore. Duran would outclass and out fight the game but overmatched champion Davey Moore in 8 rounds.

Later that year, 1983, Duran would face Marvelous Marvin Hagler for the middleweight title, losing a closer than expected unanimous 12 round decision. It was a fight that brought out all of Duran’s crafty experience. Duran would be knocked out the following year for the first time in his career by fellow legendary fighter Tommy “Hit man” Hearns. For the next several years Duran would have inconsistent success against mostly inferior opponents, including a split decision loss to Marvin Hagler’s half brother Robbie Simms.

In 1989 Duran would once again fight for a world title, facing the ever tough fighter from the Bronx, New York, Iran Barkley in Atlantic City, New Jersey for the WBC Middleweight title. It was a close back and forth fight that saw Duran enduring some great punching by Barkley and drawing upon his experience to knockdown Barkley in the 11th round and securing a split decision win from the judges. This would be Duran’s last great fight.

Aaron Pryor would beat both Antonio Cervantes and Alexis Arguello. The first fight with Arguello was named the fight of the decade by Ring Magazine and is considered one of the classic fights of the 1980’s. Despite fighting many good fighters during his career, in 40 fights in a 14 year career these are the only truly meaningful names on his resume. One, Cervantes, a near great, the other, Arguello, an all time great champion. Juxtaposed against Roberto Duran, whose career records reads like a classic boxing hall of fame roster, Pryor pales in comparison. It’s true that anything can happen in boxing and on any given night any fighter can win or lose, that’s been proven again and again over the years. Still if I had to pick a winner between Duran and Pryor, on their best night, I would pick Duran. When Duran was Duran he was unbeatable.


Roberto Duran's Career Record

Aaron Pryor's Career Record

4 comments:

brian said...

I'm guessing Benny Leonard..would pick Duran;Ray Arcel trained Leonard(for his comeback attempt)-and obviously Duran for my
favorite all-time fight I've watched live-Duran(Ray Arcel & Freddie Brown's)masterpiece in Duran-Leonard I.Duran would fight
anybody-as he later proved;Pryor,barely fought over 140-and not real impressive(maybe drugs were an issue at that point).

Randyman said...

Duran vs Leonard I is my numero uno fight of the 80's. Duran was at his best with Arcel and Brown in his corner but he still did alright as an old man without them. I miss those day!

Hartman said...

Honestly , I don't think this fight would last 4 rounds. Duran would kill Pryor.His style is made for Roberto ,agressive and forword. How many people attacked Roberto Duran at the age of 28?

boxinglover9 said...

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