Ricardo Williams Jr. is supposed to be the next Ezzard Charles. The next Cincinnati Kid. A classy boxer. Slipping into immortality by sticking and jabbing and moving. A kid with a father for a coach and a rock for a mother, poised to dance into America's living rooms at the 2000 Olympics.
Complete with a Sugar Ray Leonard smile and wink.
But that's not Sugar Ray the kid put up on the wall. That's not old Ezzard staring back at Rick Williams from a wall of the gym at the Millvale Community Center. The autograph on the black-and-white poster doesn't say Tony Tubbs or Larry Donald.
A long time ago, Aaron Pryor wrote his name on the poster, the one with the world junior welterweight championship belt around his waist.
"Yeah, I put it up there. He's an inspiration to all the fighters down here," Williams says. "Not just to me. It shows fighters what we can do. When I'm out doing my running, I see him in my mind."
This week in Biloxi, Miss., Williams, 16, a 139-pounder, hopes to do what Pryor did -- win a national Golden Gloves open championship. Williams won his first entry into the open division a few weeks ago at the U.S. nationals. He is a two-time Junior Olympic champion. What waits is something Pryor was supposed to do but never did. Make the U.S. Olympic team.
"Hey," says Aaron Pryor, staring at himself on the wall. "That's nice. I don't even have one like that."
Pryor doesn't have much these days, except his sobriety, his Lord, and the sweetness of a deacon, a job he holds at the New Friendship Baptist Church.
He says it has been five years since he gave up cocaine, after it exploded in his stomach and nearly killed him in the hallway of a Walnut Hills crack house.
His boss, Buddy LaRosa, the pizza baron and his old boxing manager who went to court against Pryor frequently in the 1980s, should know. He gives Pryor a random drug test about once a month, and Pryor has been clean.
Clean enough to be a $150-a-week assistant coach for Cincinnati Golden Gloves, helping head coach Mike Stafford.
Clean enough to put on his Sunday best and speak to about 10 kids at the Salvation Army about the evils of pushing.
Clean enough to drive an Olympic hopeful like 17-year-old James Helms to the gym while warning him about how making the wrong choices in life can take a world champion worth millions and put him in a 10-year old car that can't go faster than 30 miles an hour.
Clean enough to meet you at 9 a.m. for a two-mile run around the Taft High School track.
Clean enough to admit he has no money left, lives in a West End apartment with no phone, and says the only job he wants is in boxing as a coach and referee.
"That's OK," Pryor says of submitting to drug tests. "I'm the one who had the problem."
For years, Pryor had a problem dealing with the 1976 Olympic Trials. Never mind the cocaine haze, the lawsuits against promoters, getting shot by his wife, the entourage that sucked him dry, flushing $5.2 million down the drain.
Before all that he was supposed to be on Rolly Schwartz's Dream Team that went to the Montreal Olympics in 1976, with Sugar Ray and the Spinks brothers.
Schwartz, a Cincinnatian, was the little man with the white hair running the Olympic team. The same Schwartz whom Pryor approached as a 13-year-old and told him, "Remember my name. Aaron Pryor. I'm going to be world champion."
Aaron Pryor helps Rico Bradley, 14, put his gloves on.
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They even had the Trials in Cincinnati. No one had beaten the brawling street kid from Over-the-Rhine internationally. And he never really got over his loss, that close decision to Howard Davis, until last month when he found himself speaking at Schwartz's funeral.
"It's been haunting me," Pryor says. "I finally let it go at Rolly's funeral. How I let that nice old man down. They wanted someone who had a mom and dad. I didn't know my dad and my mom, she didn't too much support me boxing. They played (Davis' family) that up through the Olympics. I had a very rough image. I think it hurt me." Tough image? Pryor didn't meet his father until he was 16. He said one day he came home and found his mother had shot his stepfather five times without killing him. Did ABC-TV want to get up close and personal with that? Plus, he wasn't the pretty Olympic boxer over whom Howard Cosell could gush.
Williams' coach in the ring is his father. Big Rick. Ricardo Williams Sr. Little Rick turns to Pryor for endurance and exercises, the psychological branch of the game Pryor dominated with iron conditioning and a will to match. He used to run backwards up the Eden Park hills and spar four-minute rounds before burying foes in three.
"I get my killer instinct from him," Little Rick says. "Finish a guy off. Go out and get him."
Killer instinct? Pryor was 39-1 as a pro, 35 wins by knockout. In the Boxing Hall of Fame only Rocky Marciano has a better percentage. So you can see Pryor bustling around the gym, urging fighters not to stop and talk between drills.
"You should train all the way through, no stops," Pryor says. "Three minutes seems like nothing. You should go 40 or 45 minutes straight."
Pryor has finally figured out this is where he belongs and where he is needed. Just last week, he received his referee certificate after participating in a day-long clinic. He is practicing what he'll say the night he meets two fighters in the ring before a championship bout: "All I'm going to tell you is three things: Box, break and stop."
He is still a proud man, but he no longer immerses himself in it. He says he belongs to Jesus now, so you have to pick up the hints of pride:
He was worried last week because he had been pulled over by the police for running a light he thought was yellow on Central Parkway. That was $75 he just didn't have, and he had to pay it before he left for Biloxi today because a no-show in court would get him back in the headlines.
He wants to shed at least 20 pounds before going back into the ring as a ref. He's 195 pounds, 55 more than his fighting weight. "The kids made me quit smoking two years ago on those out-of-town trips we were in the car. I paid 27 bucks a week for a (nicotine) patch and I quit in a month."
He also wants to get his left eye fixed, the one Alexis Arguello's right hand set fire to early in their 1982 classic, the first of Pryor's two victories over Arguello.
Pryor's detached retina was fixed 10 years ago, but the eye is still crossed and he can barely count fingers through the blur. He is tired of it not looking right, and he doesn't want to keep wearing sunglasses all the time.
Pryor's outgoing personality used to get him in trouble, but lately it's found him the right kind of friends.
Dr. Rick Abrahamson, a Fourth Street eye doctor and boxing fan, has examined him for free and is willing to do the surgery for nothing. He figures a hospital bill would be about $5,000, but he's also hoping some kind of contact lens straightens out the eye and avoids an operation. "A lot of money. $5,000 for an operation. I can't afford that," Pryor says. "I'd really like to see one more time out of my left eye. I'm 42. I want to be able to keep driving back and forth from the gym." That's where he feels most comfortable. He trains a handful of pro fighters but he gets a kick out of the amateurs. He knows they're listening.
"I listen to him and think that's not the route to go down," Helms says. "He said he used be to a rich man and lost everything. You have to be careful who your friends are."
Helms, 17, of Millvale, shadow-boxes a mirror, but some people think they see a young Pryor on the other side. Helms is making his first appearance in a national open tournament. At 132 pounds -- Pryor's Olympic Trials weight -- he's a straight-ahead fighter who continually puts on the pressure.
Ken Hawk, the Wilmington, Ohio, banker who is Pryor's long-time benefactor, got chills when he saw some Golden Glove regional bouts a few weeks back.
"All of a sudden, one of these guys would make a move and I'm thinking, "Aaron Pryor's the only fighter I've ever seen do that,' " Hawk said. "It might have been a little feint or something like that, but you can tell they've been listening. It makes you feel good." It makes Pryor feel good, too.
"I mean something to these guys," Pryor says. "I might not mean something to people outside boxing, but in boxing I mean something. I feel like my life means something."
The Olympics still mean something, too.
"I went as high as I could in boxing. I was world champion," he says. "That's my dream, to be associated with somebody who is able to win the Olympics. It's something I missed. I'd like to know the feeling."