Pryor-Copy1By “Bad” Brad Berkwitt

(June 26, 2013) The date was November 14, 1981. Ronald Reagan was in his first year of a very popular Presidency, and Lee Iacocca was helping the Chrysler Corporation rebound from dismal sales in the late 1970s for their cars. You do remember Chrysler K Cars? I think every Government official including myself, drove one in white during the late 1980’s on the job.

During those early years of the 1980s, while Iacocca was bringing back dismal sales for his cars, there wasn’t a thing dismal in the junior welterweight division in the boxing world. In fact, sales were way up for a fighter that would go on to be a legend years later by the name of Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor.

Pryor was defending his World Boxing Association (WBA) Junior Welterweight Championship for the third time against WBA number 2 rated Dujuan Johnson, out of the famous Kronk Gym in Detroit, Michigan.

The fight was shown live on CBS TV. Yes, I said CBS who along with NBC and ABC showed boxing as a regular staple in their programming. Tim Ryan, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Gil Clancy had the gig that day calling the fight from the Cleveland Public Hall, in Cleveland, Ohio.

In fact, they earned their money because for whatever reason, Pryor delayed coming out of his dressing room for a good 15 minutes after Johnson already had entered the ring.

When Pryor finally made his entrance into the ring with his entourage chanting, “It’s Hawk Time”, the excitement was in the air. Pryor danced right up to Johnson and started shadow boxing with him, with Dujuan returning the fire. The sold out arena knew just then, there was a war about to break out in the ring between these two fighters.

The pre-fight instructions were just as intense with both fighters getting right up in each others mug and not giving an inch. When the bell finally rang for round one, Johnson the Emmanuel Steward protégé ran out of his corner to meet the dancing champion head on. It was give and take for about the first minute of the round, but just as Sugar Ray Leonard said, “There is going to be an early knockdown”, Johnson did indeed score one with a huge right hand that dropped Pryor to the canvas.

Within seconds, Pryor was back on his feet doing the Ali Shuffle, and went right after Johnson changing his style from boxer to slugger landing some decent shots, but before the bell, Johnson landed some more big right hands flush on Pryor.

Round 2 saw Pryor being once again rocked by big right hands from the challenger, but in the second half of the fight, scored with his own shots with Johnson still landing the better of the two.

Rounds 3 and 4 were great rounds for the young challenger who at 20, looked much older. Johnson landed his right hands which seemed at will, on Pryor which staggered him a couple of times in both rounds. Pryor as he proved throughout his career could take huge shots and still come back.

Going into round 5, I had Pryor down 40-35, with an extra point in round one for Johnson because of the knockdown. Pryor sensed he was down in the fight going into this round, and engaged in some great infighting which he was famous for. Johnson stayed in the pocket with Pryor which was to “The Hawk’s” advantage, and I gave Pryor round five on my scorecard.

With the momentum turning in the previous round, Pryor really started coming on strong in round six and Johnson, who now had a growing welt under his left eye from the arsenal of punches landed to it by Pryor felt the heat. Johnson hung in there, but with his mouth starting to hang open, it seemed it was just a matter of time before Pryor was going to catch him and get him out of there. Stamina was going to play into this fight as it did in most of Pryor’s fights that went more than five rounds.

Pryor the “King of Stamina”, came out for round seven looking the fresher of the two, and was dancing from left to right around Johnson. Within the first minute of the round, Pryor pinned Johnson with his back to the ropes, and launched a missile of a right hand catching the challenger flush on the jaw, clearly hurting him. Pryor known as a great finisher once his opponent was hurt, did not disappoint when he jumped on Johnson, landing several hard lefts and rights that were unanswered causing the referee to step in, and stop the fight. Johnson stood dazed, but felt he could have still went on as so many fighters always do.

In the post fight interview with Tim Clancy, Pryor called out Sugar Ray Leonard, and Alexis Arguello. Pryor would never meet Leonard during his career which no doubt, would have been a great fight for boxing fans.

Pryor after the Johnson fight

Pryor went on to defend his WBA Junior Welterweight Belt five more times with two big wins over Alexis Arguello in 1982 and 1983.

In their first meeting, Pryor stopped Arguello in the 14th round of what was called the “Fight of the Year”, and has been voted as the “Greatest Fight of All-time” by many boxers, and fans of the sport. Pryor would stop Arguello in their second meeting four rounds earlier knocking Alexis down, in the tenth round, and Arguello taking the full ten count, while sitting down on the canvas, knowing he couldn’t take anymore punishment to his body.

After the second Arguello fight, Pryor retired, but came back less than a year later as the International Boxing Federation Champion (IBF) Junior Welterweight Champion. Pryor defended his belt two times with decisions over Canadian Nicky Furlano and American Gary Hinton. Pryor would face his only defeat in the ring against former contender Bobby Joe Young on August 8, 1987, when he was knocked out in the seventh round.

Aaron, only a shell of himself in the Young fight, was now in a greater battle with Crack Cocaine outside of the ring that fought him harder then any of his former opponents inside the squared circle had in the past.

Pryor would fight on after this loss, but not with any of the excitement that was so evident in his career from 1976- 1983. On December 4, 1990, he faced journeyman Roger Choate, whom he stopped in the seventh round, as he did Johnson nine plus years before.

Pryor was still in the clutches of his battle with Cocaine after his last fight in the ring for several years, but in 1994, he finally went the distance with his disease, and as so many times before in his amazing boxing career, he knocked his opponent out.

In my boxing book, Boxing Interviews Of A Lifetime (Published in 2002) I asked Aaron why during his WBA reign he never unified with any of the WBC Champions? Those champions were Saoul Mamby, and Leroy Haley, who beat Mamby for the WBC belt.

Pryor said, “The reason the unification bout didn’t happen with Leroy Haley was they only wanted to pay $500,000 to unify the title after I had already beat Alexis Arguello. The interest just wasn’t there from the promoters to hype that as a big fight. As for Saoul Mamby, he was too old at that time and beating him would not have furthered my career — and also no big money was offered for that fight as well. All the big promoters thought that would have been a very uninteresting fight to the public”.

Johnson after the loss to Pryor

Dujuan Johnson would go on to fight for two more years, but never had the same success as he did in the first four rounds in his only challenge for a world title against Aaron Pryor. Johnson’s last fight came in June of 1984, when he knocked out Brain Janssen, in the ninth round of what was described as an exciting fight over in Brisbane, Australia.

Tragically, Johnson was murdered just a few months after the Janssen fight at the age of 23 during a robbery in Detroit, Michigan. If only for a short moment in his young life, Johnson stood tall in the ring against many boxing experts pound for pound greatest junior welterweight of all-time, Aaron Pryor. The boxing world will always remember Dujuan Johnson for that. Rest in Peace.

By Actor