by Cain Bradley
Julio Cesar Chavez was born in Ciudad Obregon, Mexico in July 1962. Like many of the great boxers, Chavez knew hardship from an early age, growing up in poverty as his parents worked to provide for his nine siblings. His father worked on the railroad and the family lived in an abandoned railroad car. He took up boxing at the age of 16 and turned professional after 15 amateur fights, moving to Tijuana, Mexico. From the beginning, talk of Chavez has centered around his natural ability, confidently throwing the short left hook to the body in his first session.
In 1955 Aaron Pryor was born and he grew up in a poverty ridden dysfunctional family in Ohio. Sleeping in doorways as a pre-teen and feeling unloved at home, his difficult childhood led to Pryor discovering an immense talent in the ring at only 13. As an amateur, Pryor was sensational. The first time he sparred, he was knocked down but got up quickly raring to immediately go back into the fight.
He won the National AAU Championships in 1973 and 1975. His international career was solid having won a Pan American Games silver medal before he was 20. Unfortunately he was in one of the strongest generations of talented amateurs the US have ever had. He beat Tommy Hearns in the 1976 Golden Gloves but would lose in the final Olympic trial to Howard Davis who went on to win the Val Barker Trophy. His final amateur record stood at 204-16.
Chavez was 17 when he made his debut. He rattled off 44 straight wins, including 20 straight stoppages, before receiving a title shot, which came in the form of Mario Martinez and the WBC Super-Featherweight Championship. Chavez was the underdog but dominated throughout and the ref stopped the match in the eighth. Chavez made nine defenses of his belt before vacating it and moving up. Those defenses were very impressive with stoppage wins over Rubén Castillo and Roger Mayweather as well as decision victories over Rocky Lockridge and Juan Laporte. It was the WBA lightweight champion Edwin Rosario who he moved up to box. Rosario was the hard hitting Puerto Rican with a record of 32-2 with only losses to Jose Luis Ramirez and Hector Camacho. Chavez opened as an underdog but by fight night was favorite. In a classic, Chavez recorded one of his greatest performances as he stopped Rosario in the 11th round. He battered and bloodied Rosario and was up comfortably on the scorecards. Both threw over 700 punches in the fight. Interestingly, Chavez describes the aftermath of this bout as the first time he drunk which would have bad consequences later in his life.
Pryor would turn professional in 1976 with nowhere near the fanfare of some of the Olympic team, especially Howard Davis and Sugar Ray Leonard. Pryor would only earn $400 for his first fight which he won by stoppage. Pryor would box eight times in 1977, impressively winning them all. After 19 wins in 19 fights, with 17 coming before the final bell he would face a step up in competition. Former World Champion, Alfonso Frazer was stopped in five rounds leading to him entering the rankings. With neither lightweight title holder willing to fight him, Pryor was willing to move up in weight. Four stoppage wins later and he was the number one contender. He would take on the WBA champion Antonio Cervantes. The Colombian champion entered the fight with a record of 119-13-4 with seventeen defenses of his light welterweight belt. With a sneaky right Cervantes dropped Pryor at the end of the first round. Pryor kept a wild pace in the next two rounds, slowing the champion. He opened a cut up in the third and in the fourth dropped him with a thunderous shot. When Cervantes could not beat the count, Pryor was the new champion.
Chavez’s first defense of the belt would be against Rodolfo Aguilar who he stopped in six. After that he would unify the WBC Title by defeating Jose Luis Ramirez. The fight was halted after an accidental head butt with Chavez comfortably ahead on the scorecards. He would vacate these belts sitting atop the lightweight division. Straight away he would defeat Roger Mayweather to win the WBC light welterweight title in ten. Sammy Fuentes and Alberto Mercedes Cortes were also dispatched before a huge unification bout with unbeaten IBF champion Meldrick Taylor. Taylor took all the early rounds and was absolutely dominant but Chavez would begin to come into the fight late on. The pressure would get to Taylor as he landed a big right on Taylor to hurt him and then dropped him. Taylor would get up but failed to prove to Richard Steele he was in a state to fight which saw the fight stopped with only two seconds to go. Chavez was 69-0 at this point and heading towards his 28th birthday. At this weight he was probably never better. The other time would be a few years later when he beat Greg Haugen mercilessly. This was one of Chavez’s best performances but he was that bit older and had a few more rounds on his body.
Aaron Pryor would struggle to find bouts after winning the title. Offers to fight Sugar Ray Leonard were rejected because of a low purse. An agreed unification bout with Saoul Mamby was then shelved after issues with the promoter. By the time he was contractually allowed to box, he had also missed the opportunity to fight Roberto Duran. Undefeated Dujuan Johnson and Akio Kameda were both stopped by Pryor. He would then sign to fight Sugar Ray Leonard but Sugar would suffer a detached retina in his left eye when beating Roger Stafford in a warm up bout. He got the big fight he desired by boxing three weight World Champion, Alexis Arguello. Pryor was the aggressor with Arguello accurate and powerful. It was an epic bout which swung numerous ways. Pryor was hurt in the 13th but would come out stronger and would land 20 unanswered punches before the bout was stopped. His next two fights were also stoppage wins against Sang Hyun Kim and a rematch against a faded Arguello. At this point his record was 34-0 with 32 stoppages.
Both boxers would experience their first loss not long after. Chavez made 18 defenses of his light welterweight title before moving up. He would face Pernell Whitaker who considered himself unlucky to finish up with a draw. Frankie Randall was the first man to beat him after Chavez lost two points before beating him on a split technical decision in the rematch. He would go on to fight young Mexican Oscar De La Hoya who opened up a cut, stopping in him four. He would retire in 2005 with a record of 107-6-2.
Chavez struggled with battles against alcoholism and drug abuse. Post Arguello, Pryor announced his retirement but he soon returned. Originally it was for a unification bout with Ray Mancini, but as seemed to be Pryor’s fate, fell through when he lost to Livingstone Bramble. He won lackluster decisions against Hinton and Furlano. His life by this point was ruled by drug addiction. He would finally get over the addiction in 1993. By this point he was far removed from the boxing world which he left with a record of 39-1.
Julio Cesar Chavez was a boxer who won on skill as much as he did on will. He never took a step back and came on all fight, putting insufferable pressure on opponent after opponent. His body attack was especially vicious and played a huge role in wearing opponents down. He had one of the best chins in the history of the sport. He also had very good movement which he used to stay within range and cut off his opponent. His instincts for spacing made it hard for even the best movers to escape him. His favorite shot was the left hook to the body. He liked to come in low under his opponent’s jab. Defensively, he may also be underrated as he looked to smother punches and used ducks and rolls well. He had a conventional stance with hands held high.
Pryor is one of the prototype relentless pressure fighters. He fought at an incredible pace, often punching over 100 times a round. Pryor did also have the ability to move and box as he showed against Arguello. He had an ability to make opponents miss with Leo Randolph describing him as the best defensive amateur ever. He had power in both hands and had speed. His will and desire was perhaps as large as any other boxer. Pryor was dropped a few times but never hurt, most of the times he came back stronger and raring to go. His chin cannot be in question from some of the shots he was hit by. He was street tough and aggressive and it showed in his bouts.
This is a bout that Pryor longed for. He was desperate to fight another superstar. Arguello only gave him a taste for this and Chavez would have been definitely the second most impressive name on his résumé. This would probably also have been Chavez’s biggest fight. Rosario and Taylor are perhaps his most impressive wins but Pryor is a different level to this. It would be a fifteen-round fight and the buildup would surely be quite civil. Both were usually respectful and both possibly become more dangerous if they felt disrespected in the buildup. Pryor was more intimidating, his presence and persona were enough to scare any man but surely Chavez would have been unmoved. It would be a 15-round bout and I cannot even tell you who would be favorite. It would probably be Chavez edging favoritism but neither man would have been counted out.
So many interesting questions would be answered in this fight. Could Pryor be slowed by the body attack of Chavez? Can either man dent the iron chin of the other? Could there be 2000 punches thrown in a bout? Is Pryor fast enough to have a substantial advantage? Can Chavez work out the unorthodox Pryor? Chavez was incredible at subtle movements and positioning that made it so hard for a boxer to beat him, that would almost definitely not come into play here. He does not need to maneuver himself cleverly or use his feet to get himself near Pryor. Pryor is easy to find, it is usually on top of you. Are the combinations of Pryor or the body punches of Chavez going to be a bigger factor in the fight?
Come fight night and both are supremely confident. Both weighed in comfortably with Pryor coming in dead on the 140 limit while Chavez was at 139. Chavez was a slow starter while Pryor was anything but. He comes out and sets the pace that he surely intends to keep for the whole fight. Pryor does not get through 100% cleanly with any of his bigger shots but he lands many of his punches. In the next couple of rounds, Chavez starts to up his work rate. Most of the usual tricks he uses to work his way inside are negated here because they just are not necessary. He does begin to look for the body shots and they land. Pryor just stays the course throwing the flurries that Chavez often had trouble with. In the fourth with the round starting in a similar pattern, Chavez would finally get some semblance of timing and drop Pryor with a left hook as Pryor came in. The volume and flurries of Pryor were still given Chavez problems. Especially at a distance, on the inside Chavez was very clever in smothering Pryor and using his head movement. All of Chavez’s good work was coming off left hooks. Pryor got up quickly when he was dropped and as always was raring to go but he was a tad more tentative rushing in the next round.
The fifth round proved that it was just Pryor beginning to work out Chavez as he was more tentative with the rushing but was throwing punches in bunches and not letting Chavez get too near to him. This pattern would continue over the next few rounds with Pryor seemingly pushing the work rate again. The next significant moment would come in the eighth as Chavez landed a patented left hook to the body then went straight to the head. It connected cleanly with Pryor and spun his jaw but the American just smiled back and stepped back onto Pryor. Pryor was well up after 12 rounds but the body shots were beginning to take a toll. Pryor was marked up and bruised around his body area and when Chavez landed a big one in the 13th to put Pryor down. Pryor was not as quick to bounce up from the big punch this time but was up after five. The pressure had slowed for Pryor and Chavez even became more of an aggressor. He dominated the rest of the round but could not drop Pryor. The last six minutes saw all-out fire coming from both opponents. For most boxers it would look like the start of fights as they just did not stop throwing punches. Neither dominated the last few rounds and as the fight ended both corners celebrated expecting victory. When the decision was read it was Aaron Pryor who took a close decision win.
Aaron Pryor defeated Julio Cesar Chavez by unanimous decision with scores of 142-139 twice and 141-140