Pryor, nicknamed The Hawk, had a record of 204 wins and 16 losses as an amateur, and he participated in the 1976 Olympic games at Montreal as an alternate. He turned professional on November 11, 1976, with a win over Larry Smith.
In 1977, Pryor fought eight fights, winning all but two by knockout. Among the fighters he defeated was Johnny Summerhayes. The only two fighters who heard the final bell versus Pryor that year were Summerhayes and Jose Resto. After the fight with Summerhayes. Pryor won 26 fights in a row by knockout, in one of the longest knockout streaks in the history of boxing.
In 1978, Pryor won five fights, and in 1979 he won six. But during '79, Pryor experienced a rise in competition level, and in his last fight that year, he was pitted for the first time ever against a former or future world champion, when he faced former Jr. Welterweight champion of the world Alfonso Fraser, Peppermint, of Panama, who lasted five rounds with The Hawk. After that fight, Pryor entered the WBA rankings.
He only kept on going up in the rankings for the first part of 1980. He beat Julio Valdez, Leonidas Asprilla and Carl Crowley before a world title bout was set up by the WBA, versus two time world champion Antonio Cervantes of Colombia at Cincinnati. Pryor was dropped in round one, but he rose and knocked out Cervantes in round four in front of a national television audience, becoming a world champion. He finished the year knocking out Gaetan Hart to retain his title.
1981 brought Pryor up to the ring against Lennox Blackmore and Dujuan Johnson. Pryor beat Blackmore in two rounds, but had to work more against Johnson, once again visiting the floor in round one before winning by knockout in six.
1982 was the year that would change his life forever. He beat fringe contender Miguel Montilla by a knockout in 12 to begin the year, then put his title on the line versus Akio Kameda. Once again, Pryor went to the floor in round one but got up to knock the Japanese challenger out in round six.
Despite all his achievements, Pryor was a virtual unknown to the casual boxing observer. But all that changed when Alexis Arguello went up in weight to challenge him. In what promoter Don King nicknamed The Battle of The Champions, Pryor beat Arguello by a knockout in 14 in front of an HBO audience. Pryor later received the Fighter Of The Year award by Ring Magazine, and the fight was named Fight Of The Year and later the Fight Of The Decade by the same publication.
The fight sparked controversy, however, because of allegations that Pryor's trainer had introduced an illegal bottle to revive him after round 12, and , after defending his crown against former WBC world champion Sang Hyun Kim (KO 3), Pryor had to defend against Arguello again, this time winning by a knockout in 10 rounds in Las Vegas on September 9, 1983. After the fight, Pryor announced his retirement, and the WBA left the crown vacant. In 1983 also, Pryor and his wife had a public divorce.
Pryor took back his decision of retiring soon after, however, and the IBF immediately recognized him as their world champion. 1984 proved to be a frustrating year for The Hawk. His proposed fight with world Lightweight champion Ray Mancini fell through when Mancini lost his title against Livingstone Bramble, and Pryor was able to defend his IBF world title only once, against Nick Furlano, who became the first guy in 27 fights to last the distance with Pryor, losing to The Hawk on points in 15 rounds at Canada.
In 1985, Pryor would only fight one more time, retaining his title versus future world champion Gary Hinton in 15 rounds ,once again by points.
Pryor retired and began to have drug problems. He ran into trouble with the police a few times and stories of alleged abuse against members of his family made the headlines.
In 1987 he made a short comeback, suffering his lone loss, by a knockout in seven to Bobby Joe Young, a fringe contender of the era.
In 1988 and 1989, he attempted another comeback, winning three fights, all by knockout, against lower opposition. It was discovered, however, that he had been fighting with eye problems, and he was never allowed to box again.
In the 1990s, Pryor turned his life around. He became a born-again Christian and took himself far away from drugs. He opened a gym in his hometown where he helps kids learn boxing and get off the streets, and became a pastor. He is currently ministering at a church in Cincinnati.
He retired with 39 wins, 1 loss and 35 wins by knockout.