Lee Groves

10: Notable July 4 fights

7. 1982 — Aaron Pryor KO 6 Akio Kameda, Riverfront Coliseum, Cincinnati, Ohio

For an aspiring superstar the fight before the Big Fight is often the toughest hurdle to clear, especially when it comes to the mental side of the game. Ever since destroying Antonio Cervantes in August 1980 to capture the WBA junior welterweight title, Pryor’s dynamic whirlwind attack had blown away his four previous title challengers. Gaetan Hart fell in six while Lennox Blackmoore, Dujuan Johnson and Miguel Montilla fell in two, seven and 12 rounds respectively. Those inside-the-distance victories extended Pryor’s KO streak to 22 fights and his 30-0 (28) record — along with his surging TV ratings — was enough to stir interest in a superfight with legendary three-division champion Alexis Arguello, who just happened to be seated at ringside.

Standing in the other corner was Kameda, a law school graduate who didn’t start boxing until his senior year in high school. His 17-0 (14) record was numerically impressive but it was built on almost exclusively domestic opposition. His best-known victim was onetime title challenger Shoji Tsujimoto (KO 5), who was stopped by then -WBA welterweight king Pipino Cuevas in six rounds 18 months before meeting Kameda. The loss proved to be Tsujimoto’s final fight as a pro.

Besides the gulf in talent, Kameda faced another mountainous challenge – weight. The 5-11 southpaw had been the Japanese welterweight titlist for more than four years, registering eight defenses along the way, and he hadn’t fought at 140 since his third pro fight. The opportunity to capture a major title – as well as a sizable purse – motivated Kameda to boil down to 139½, only a quarter-pound heavier than “The Hawk.”

Pryor opened the fight in typical windmill fashion while Kameda coolly fended him off by circling and launching right hooks and lefts down the middle. With less than a minute gone, Kameda stunned everyone – including Pryor – by dropping the champion with a flush left-right-left. Pryor executed a playful back somersault, sprung to his feet and even landed a left to the chest before referee Ernesto Magana pulled him away and administered the standing eight-count. It was the third time Pryor had suffered an opening round knockdown – Cervantes and Johnson also turned the trick – and with Arguello in the audience the fall was a source of embarrassment. Pryor tried to laugh it off and by round’s end he had regained his equilibrium.

Pryor earned a measure of revenge in the opening moments of the second when a lead right to the chin and a sweeping hook floored Kameda and a series of rights in the final seconds scored a second knockdown. A straight right to the chin stiffened Kameda’s legs and a left to the ear decked Kameda as round three neared an end but the gutsy Kameda, whose left eye was swelling rapidly, continued to churn away in round four. An accidental butt in round five opened a tiny cut over Pryor’s right eye and the prospect of having the Arguello fight postponed ignited a wave of seriousness in Pryor in round six.

Two rights to the side of the head forced Kameda to a knee for a seven count while another power burst garnered a six-count moments later. A three-punch combo capped by a final hook prompted Magana to intervene at the 1:13 mark.

“He was ranked number one in the world (so) that made him a great contender,” Pryor said of Kameda. “They hid him in Japan, they knew he was fighting (and) they got him in the best shape of his life. Thank God I was in the best shape of my life. If I didn’t win that fight I couldn’t get what I want…and you know what I want because I’ve been asking for him for the past two years and that’s Leonard and Arguello. I think I got Arguello, he signed on the line and I’m just waiting.”

When asked about the impact of the cut, Pryor said, “I felt like it was time to go into business there because I knew that ARGUELLO was looking at me and I want him bad. Bob Arum has already signed for the fight and if you think you saw something today, God don’t know and he don’t know I want him. Arguello, you’re mine.”

But as soon as a tuxedo-clad Arguello approached Pryor and shook his hand, the volcano quieted.

“I’m so glad you signed it ain’t funny,” Pryor said. “You’re going to fight a man this time. I’m a man, you fought that 19-year-old Boom Boom Mancini…”

“Congratulations,” a smiling Arguello said. “God bless you, and I know you are a man and a good boxer.”

“Thank you,” a far calmer Pryor replied. “You are too. I’m just like Duran; I was born with no shoes on. You’re a great champion.”

Happily for boxing fans, the friendliness only extended outside the ring. What Pryor and Arguello did inside the squared circle would rival any July 4 fireworks display….and more. But that’s another story for another day.

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