The dream flickered but never died.

"The four years I wasn't an active boxer I still was in the gymm training," Roland Pryor was saying. "Sparring, with guys like Emile Griffith. Working out. Looking at people. I got it in my system, 'cause I've been boxing since I was 6 or 7.

"My old man was a boxer, and I'd go watch him. Even now my old man'll try something in the ring, and he can't do it, of course. But he'll try, like it's something you learn and don't ever completely leave you."

When Sugar Ray Leonard lifted interest in area boxers, Roland Pryor, 34, returned to the ring - in December. Tonight there will be a rare comma in his paycheck, because enough of Washington cares whether he or Johnny Gant becomes D.C. welterweight champion in a 12-round bout in the Armory.

There is no official D.C. wrist-wrestling champion. Nobody cared. Until now, according to promoter Nat Williams, who insists this bout has been generating interest for a decade. He adds:

"It's like the old days. Everybody wants to sit at the lunch counter. Then comes integration. Everybody can sit at lunch counter all of a sudden, but when the druggest comes in and says, 'How we doing?' the reply is: 'Ain't nobody in yet.'

"But they asked for this fight."

Both fighters have developed sizable reputations locally, Gant as the native Washingtonian now ranked No. 7 by the World Boxing Association and Pryor as the Pittsburgher who came here for the 1964 Olympic trials and stayed. In truth, they are fighting already, about the degree of their friendship.

"We ran together a couple of times at Hains Point," said Gant, "but we're not close. I know his mind and my mind have been on one day fighting each other, so we've kept our distance. I always knew he wanted to fight me, because he always studied my style."

"He said that?" asked Pryor, perhaps a half-hour later, after Gant had left Finley's gym. "I know him very well. We ran together. We rap together. I have his phone number. We were supposed to hook up in a tennis match, but that hasn't happened.

"I consider anyone a friend I rap with. So he's got a little animosity building?"

That was Gant's word.

"When he signed the contract is when the animosity began," Gant said. "There's so much more each day, to the point now he's my enemy. He's complete enemy."

That verbal jab rocked Pryor a bit.

"That little jive attitude," he said. Pryor has an unnerving habit of laughing in machine-gunlike bursts now and then - and he let go a barrage then. "Now I don't take him lightly. He's in trouble now."

Apparently, this was the seed that led to a tirade yesterday, during a preweigh-in at RFK Stadium, that lasted several minutes.

One never knows about prefight hype.

Neither fighter is to the point he can live from the rewards of his sport. Gant works for the D.C. Department of Recreation and attends the University of the District of Columbia. Pryor has worked construction off and on since 1964.

That four-year absence from active fighting came about because of bad management and partly because he was out of shape, said Pryor, four pounds over the weight limit yesterday but seemingly unconcerned.

Mismanagement?

"Yeah, like for the last fight I had, in '73," he said. "I was hangin' around the gym one day when my managers called from New York and said I had a fight in Puerto Rico in three days. Three days. Well I said all right, because the guy I was supposed to fight had just 17 bouts.

"What they didn't tell me was he had 17 knockout in those 17 bouts." Pryor's memory still a bit foggy about whether it was the third or fourth round that he became Fausta Rodrigeuz's 18th victim.

Pryor laughed again, then became somber and admitted his family was against his comeback after a long period of such solid income in construction for Metro.

"Everybody was against it," he said. "But now they're for it. Thay say, 'Now you can get that title.' Even the trainers who would come around and say I'd lose at first are saying: 'Hey, you ain't missin' too much,'"

Earlier, Gant had watched Pryor's last major workout. He had insisted the peek would be meaningless; his eyes insisted otherwise.

You study long, you study wrong," he said. Moments later, eyes fixed on Pryor sparring four rounds, he added: "The guy in the ring is trying to duplicate me. But he's not as tall.And not as fast. That's to his (Pryor's) disadvantage.

"And another thing. The other guy isn't a fighter. He's a karate man. He doesn't think like a fighter."

With that, Gant and his new friend - animosity - left the gym.