Aaron Pryor told people when he was a teenager that he would someday be a boxing champion.
By the time he was 24, the Cincinnati native was the junior welterweight champion. Pryor had a 39-1 record during a professional career that began in 1976, after serving as an alternate on the U.S. Olympic team.
Pryor was surrounded by family members when he died early Sunday at his Cincinnati-area home after a long battle with heart disease, his wife, Frankie, told The Enquirer. He was 60 and had been in hospice care since July.
In an op-ed published in June after the death of his boxing hero Muhammad Ali, Pryor said when he was growing up, he dreamed about becoming a boxing champion.
“When I wasn’t running in the morning or spending hours training at the gym,” he said, “my favorite pastime was listening to boxing matches on the radio.”
After turning pro in 1976, he was managed by Buddy LaRosa, founder of the LaRosa’s Pizzeria chain. Pryor dominated the lightweight and junior welterweight ranks, and in 1980 battled Colombian Antonio Cervantes at Riverfront Coliseum. Pryor won that fight in four rounds, becoming world champion.
Two years later, in what The Ring magazine called the fight of the decade at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Pryor defeated Alexis Arguello in a 14th-round technical knockout. According to an account published in The Enquirer, it took Arguello's handlers about five minutes to revive him. Pryor also won a re-match against Arguello the next year, in 1983.
As world junior welterweight champion, Pryor earned $5.2 million between 1980 and 1985, according to Enquirer archives.
He was most proud of his induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996, Frankie Pryor said. The Associated Press named him the greatest junior welterweight of the 20th century.
"Aaron was loved around the world by millions of fans," she said. "But to us, he was Aaron. He was a wonderful husband, dad and grandpa."
Pryor's boxing career unraveled because of cocaine use, although he eventually overcame his addiction. By the late-1990s, he told The Enquirer he had little money left and wanted only to be a boxing coach and referee. In 1998, he was working as an assistant coach, helping young boxers.
Pryor also traveled around the world, his family said, making personal appearances and speaking out against drugs.
In a statement, LaRosa called Pryor's death "a sad day for boxing."
"Aaron was such a tremendous fighter and a fierce competitor," he said. "It will be his hall of fame career that boxing will always remember as his legacy."
Pryor is also survived by three children, sons Aaron Pryor Jr. and Antwan Harris, and a daughter, Elizabeth Wagner.