Aaron Pryor Ruthless & Relentless Boxing Style | Analysis

Aaron Pryor's Ruthless Boxing Style | Analysis Breakdown

Aaron Pryor very much lived up to his nickname of ‘The Hawk‘, an animal that is ruthless in nature just like he was in the ring! 

Pryor for me probably has one of the most misunderstood styles of fighting due to how erratic and intense he could fight during his so-called HAWK TIME!

In this style analysis blog, I’m going to take a closer look at Aaron Pryor’s Boxing Style. Including his techniques, his ruthlessness, relentlessness, and what made him one of the greatest Light welterweights we have ever seen.

You can watch my video version below or continue reading below:

Background and amateur career

But first up let’s take a quick look at his background and amateur career. Born in Cincinnati Ohio, Pryor was a tremendous amateur winning multiple national championships and earning a silver in the Pan American Games. He even beat the ‘Hit Man’ Thomas Hearns during the successful amateur period.

Former gold medalist and world champion Leo Randolph was quoted saying, Pryor;

“Was the best defensive amateur boxer that I have ever seen. it was astounding to see [him] stand in the middle of the ring and his opponent throw every punch possible and not one of them hit Aaron.”

Leo Randolph

However, as much as he had lots of success, he would fail to make it to the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. And was put on the backup team as he watched Sugar Ray Leonard and Howard Davis Jr win gold.

Pryor would feel a sense of injustice and frustration that he was not the man that went to Canada to show his incredible talent. Many years after he would still be bitter about the fame and money the likes of Leonard were earning.

Despite not going to the Olympics Pryor finished his amateur career having 220 fights under his belt, and a very impressive record of 204 wins, and 16 losses.

There was now only one way to prove his worth and that was going pro.

Aaron Pryor Boxing Style

Source: getty images (Pryor moments before facing Arguello)

Now although Pryor had similarities in the ruthless nature of a Hawk. He could also be just as wild and destructive as a Tornado. 

For me, he was a full-blown action-packed fighter, who could really do it all. He could quite easily box and counter-punch as much as he could fight on the inside as a slugger or swarmer

The wildness at times, I feel, made his opponent very cautious due to the unpredictable nature of Pryor. As It was very hard to read what he would do next.  

But what made him so entertaining to watch was his fast and intense starts. You would be silly to look away in those first few rounds as something was bound to happen at any moment! Even himself getting knocked down! 

In terms of criticisms for his style, he could be quite unorthodox in his approach. Sometimes he could look quite clumsy as he walked down his opponents, losing balance, hitting thin air with wide looping punches, squaring up after throwing the right hand or getting caught on the chin countless times. 

However, despite some obvious flaws – overall his approach seemed to work! Mainly due to the combination of his wildness alongside his very unrated boxing skills and ability. 

But now let’s have a look at some of the great techniques and moves he did in the squared circle that made him successful.   

The Lead Hand

Pryor would use a typical orthodox stance. But would mostly use a lower-half guard similar to the Philly shell stance.

Against orthodox fighters, he would tend to circle to his left while throwing the lead hand and by using level changes. He was also smaller in stature than a lot of his opponents but would take advantage of this by using lead hand attacks from different angles and level changes coming from below his opponent’s vision. Making it very hard to read where his lead hand would target or come from.

Pryor’s lead hand was a big part of his overall offense, and from studying him he utilized almost every trick with a hit. He would use it in the following ways.

  • To prob
  • Feint
  • Double or triple jabs
  • Jabs to the body
  • Throwing the hook off it.
  • The up jab
  • To set up the straight right
  • Gazelle jab
  • Shovel hook

In my opinion, he had a very underrated jab, and the fact he was so erratic in nature with his rhythm at times. Made his lead hand more unpredictable in terms of what type of punch would come next.

Check it out in action below:

Lead right hand

Setting up the lead right was a favorite move of Pryor. But he would also throw the right-hand cross after using a jab, prob, or feint with the lead.

But all of these would also help him be able to throw and land that punch on its own. He would throw this in a number of ways. Including:

  • Hard right hands to the body before going up top.
  • By bending to his right or using a level change, before quickly throwing the right hand from an angle his opponent would not expect.
  • Against southpaws – he would make sure to get his foot on the outside of his opponent.
  • While he would also use it after using footwork when stepping to his right or left before leaping in with it.

All these would make it very hard to predict for his opponents to prepare and defend against.

Shift technique

A favorite trick of Pryor however, often liked to use the shift technique – this is based upon where you move your body’s stride from one stance to another in order to close the distance on your opponent.

It also allows you to apply more power while also pressurizing a retreating opponent to connect with a striking blow. Making it a perfect way for The Hawk to create panic and continue his attack.

The most typical and original shift technique you see Pryor use was just throwing a straight rear-hand punch along with his rear leg following through into the opposite stance. E.g. orthodox to southpaw.

This is then immediately followed up with a left cross, but would also go to the body on occasion.

Many fighters have used the shift technique to cut off the distance quickly against their opponent, get on the inside or catch their opponent off guard. This is definitely a move you should limit but is best used to try to catch your opponent off guard or to close the distance quickly. As it can be very hard to defend against. Learn more about it here.

Check it out Pryor right hand and shifting in action below:


The Hawk’s feinting game was helped by the fact he could be extremely unpredictable. He would give so many different looks with his head and upper body before jumping in with a punch out of nowhere.

He would also use the same feints multiple times without punching, helping to condition his opponent. Before he would suddenly use the same feint but this time was to set up a blow on his competitor.

I can only imagine the struggle to predict what would come next again against Pryor. As his use of feinting helped create a sense of panic about what would come next.

He also often used foot feints, through overly exaggerated jump steps and skips, not only to put on a show for the fans, but it was an art of deception in terms of where he would move next.


Angle changes

In terms of his footwork, it could be a beautiful flow or even a jarring mess at times. But examining Pryor’s moves around the ring really reminds me of a combination of Muhammad Ali floating like a butterfly, Lomachenko’s angle changes, and Juilo Cesar Chavez’s pressure all into one fighter.

In terms of creating angles Pryor would fluidly move continuously in heat of battle.

When up against southpaws he would put his lead foot on the outside before moving off-angle around them quickly before throwing his right hand to the body or head. Similar to how you see the likes of Lomachenko use.

Against orthodox fighters, he would also look to intelligently throw a jab or lead right, usually occupying the opponent’s guard first before quickly turning to their right.

He would do this when he had his opponent up against the ropes or those using a high guard – as it would put him in a position where his opponent was unable to hit back, making them extremely vulnerable to getting hit before they could reset again.

Pressure work

Pryor could also be very good a cutting off the ring which helped due to his very aggressive swarmer approach at times. And he look to trap his opponent on the ropes and corners.

Here he would look to stop them from escaping by throwing their barrage left or right hands to prevent and limit their escape.

Working off the Back foot

Finally, you could see Pryor using gliding footwork like Ali as he would usually look to circle to the left while using his jab waiting to time his opponent or swoop in quickly with an attack. It would also allow him to quickly cover distance while on the outside to reset himself before his next attack. Or he would simply do this to give him a chance to have a breather from his opponent’s attacks.

Watching some of the Prior fights though makes me think he was in a flow state, not really knowing where he would move next. Due to the pace and constant moving, changing angles, and cutting off the ring. It all seemed second nature to him.

See some of his footwork in action below:

Defense and countering

Now a very underrated part of Pryor’s skill set was his very elusive defense.

In the pocket, he was very good at using waist movement and rolling incoming shots where he would dip down and roll his torso. Sometimes he would pivot out to his right, but sometimes by the time his roll was completed, he would return with a counterpunch.

When there was some range he used a slightly wider stance at times and this was where he used a lot of upper body rolls with his waist and shoulder. Here he put his weight on his back leg before coming forward again.

He would also wait to time and slip punches so he could also set up his own slip counter. And a combination of the erratic feints from the feet, body, or punches helped create this hesitation.

While as I just mentioned before, he could quite as easily box on the backfoot as a way to get out of an opponent’s reach.

Swarmer & Inside Fighter

Now, this was the style of fighting Pryor was most popular for most of his professional career. He was an extremely fast starter at times and would often run out to the center of the ring to apply pressure from the first round.

No doubt this helped to add further psychological pressure on his opponents. As immediately it would force them to rush their work, which could therefore lead to mistakes. However, sometimes this was a mistake for Pryor himself as even he would get caught rushing in.

However, this approach seemed to work for ‘The Hawk‘ often, as he wanted to take out prey quickly in there.

Once on the inside, Aaron would use some sneaky tactics to get the upper hand. Such as his use of arms control by pulling down the head of an opponent on the inside. Before firing a sharp uppercut or unleashing a quick combination. Or even control one of his opponent’s arms to stop them from attacking back.

He would also look to use his head at times to press on the opponent’s chest or shoulder before throwing sneaky uppercuts to the body and would often take the wind out of them as they were short powerful shots, that would help to wear down his competitors.

Personally, I think he was best when there was little space between him and his opponent. But you could tell Pryor wanted to cause some pain.

Check out some of his inside fighting techniques I discussed below:

Ruthless and relentless finisher

Out of Pryor’s 39 career wins, 35 of those were scored as knockouts. He had a natural instinct for being able to finish off opponents with a barrage of nonstop stop punches, while moving in and out of range, and changing angles. 

Although he was maybe quite reckless with the number of punches he was throwing at the times. He was still smart in the way he would throw his combinations. He would throw multiple hooks, uppercuts and straight punches all from different angles. And it was helped by the way he would use the leverage of each punch how to generate more power in the next

For example, when he would be on the hunt to finish his opponent, he would go to the body before going up top. He would even just change the location of each punch thrown from different levels and angles. Which made it very difficult for a hurt fighter to defend himself against him. 

In a way, he really does remind me of the way Sugar Ray Leonard would also finish off opponents. And it is such a shame that this fight never happened.

The Battles with Arguello

Pryor vs Arguello 1
Source: Getty Images

To finish off I can’t ignore his famous battles with Arguello!

For me, the first fight has been one the best most entertaining fights to go back and watch. The way both men took each other’s power shots and the high level of boxing skills and technique on display is something that just doesn’t get repeated very often.

For Pryor, we really got to see the best of him in my opinion as he had to put his whole skill set in action to challenge the great Arguello toe-toe in probably his toughest opponent.

Unfortunately, there is always a cloud over this win due to the “black bottle” given to him between rounds 13 and 14, through Pryor’s trainer, Panama Lewis. Pryor suddenly had a rush of energy in the 14th catching and exhausting Arguello before unleashing hell and throwing 20 unanswered punches.

Rightly so there was a rematch, but this time Pryor was cornered by Emanuel’s Steward this time. As Lewis had been banned from boxing due to taking the padding out of the gloves of another of his fighters…Despite this change, Pryor put on another terrific display through his speed, power, and skills. Which ended up being too much for the Nicaraguan.

Despite the controversy around the first fight, it will still always go down as an all-time classic which I highly recommend you go check out below if you have the time.

Final thoughts

Aaron Pryor has to have one of the most exciting styles of fighting I have ever seen. It is a shame that he maybe isn’t considered as great as some others in the era of the 80s.

When you look at the top guys at 140lbs at the time, it simply wasn’t as deep or talented, and although he maybe didn’t prove himself against the top talent apart from maybe Alexis Arguello. You can’t help but think if he got the chance against some other big names in that era he could have won.

I wouldn’t necessarily say, Pryor, is a guy I would recommend you model your style off. As much as he could be effective with a relentless nature he could be reckless. However, you can’t deny heart and ability to be ruthless when it mattered.

Sadly Pryor passed away in 2016, and his legacy will surely live on for many years due to his unreal amount of talent, heart, and ability to put on a show for the fans. Or should I say HAWK TIME!

If you want more like this why not check out my Alexis Arguello or Sugar Ray Leonard breakdowns?

Thank you for reading


Aaron Pryor. (2022, December 3). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Pryor
Hawk Time Forever, The Fight City https://www.thefightcity.com/hawk-time-aaron-pryor-boxing/
Aaron Pryor, Box Rec, wiki https://boxrec.com/wiki/index.php/Aaron_Pryor

Jamie - Boxing Life

I'm a boxing analyst, amateur boxer, and blogger looking to pass on my boxing experiences and passion to anyone looking to learn or find out more about the sport of boxing. Whether that be gear reviews, fighter analysis, news, training tips, or my own personal journey, I'll be covering it on 'Boxing Life'.

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