A Boxing Memory: Sugar Ray Leonard
There is no doubt that Sugar Ray Leonard outstayed his welcome. Like many before and since, Leonard couldn’t accept his day in the sun was over. The retirements and subsequent comebacks became tiresome and his last few fights did nothing for his legacy or indeed his reputation.
We didn’t need a second fight with Thomas Hearns or a third fight with Roberto Duran. On a night when the fans said No Mas’ and left before the his final fight with Duran was over, we knew then that the publics love affair with Leonard was drawing to a close.
Terry Norris battered Leonard for 12 rounds at the mecca of boxing in New York, but even that wasn’t enough. Leonard returned one final time when he was now 40 in 1997, only for Hector Camacho to put the final nail into his career.
But we should not judge Leonard on those fights, or even his cynical manipulation of the system fight with Donny LaLonde.
Others will of course have different opinions, but for me Sugar Ray Leonard is the greatest fighter we have ever seen, an almost complete fighting machine.
Leonard had a golden era of talent to deal with, and he did. Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Leonard were labelled the fabulous four, and Leonard beat all of those fearsome rivals. Throw in the criminally underrated Wilfred Benitez, who Leonard beat to claim his first world title in 1979, and that is some resume.
A fighter’s legacy is judged by who they have beaten, Leonard sets a very high standard indeed.
Hagler always resented Leonard, Hagler had to earn everything, but so did Leonard, in different ways of course.
I once had the pleasure of meeting Leonard, and when someone asked him what makes a great fighter he said:
“Guts, you can’t buy guts.”
Leonard had to show that very same quality many times in his career. The first fight with Hearns a classic example, but in losing to Duran in Montreal he showed the size of his heart.
Leonard got drawn into Duran’s pre-fight trash talk and tried to fight Duran at his own game, and he very nearly pulled it off. In one of the greatest fights of all time, both fighters traded blows toe to toe for the full 15 rounds, Leonard only losing by a extremely close decision.
Sometimes you learn more from a fighter when they lose, we learned a lot about Leonard that night.
Leonard showed similar qualities in his welterweight unification clash with Hearns. Hampered by a rapidly closing eye, being outboxed, behind on the cards, Leonard turned slugger and went gunning for the Hit Man.
Inspired by Angelo Dundee’s words of wisdom in the corner, Leonard turned the fight right around to stop Hearns in 14 rounds.
But his crowning moment was his Superfight with Marvelous Marvin Hagler in 1987.
Leonard hadn’t fought since he was dropped for the first time in his career in 1984 by Kevin Howard, in one of his many comebacks. Leonard rallied to stop Howard, but his laboured performance promoted him to retire again.
But after seeing Hagler struggle with John Mugabi in 1986, Leonard felt the time was right to challenge Hagler.
Leonard went straight to Hagler, no warm up fight, defying logic Leonard just wanted Hagler.
The result will always be argued about, many convinced Hagler was robbed. But Hagler will always regret his slow start, giving Leonard the early rounds, and despite coming on late against a tiring opponent, Hagler couldn’t close the gap on the judges cards.
The win gave Leonard a world title in a third weight division, and that would have been the ideal time to leave the sport forever.
But Leonard made several more attempts to recapture what he once had, but nothing did or could ever top that April night in Las Vegas.
Leonard left the sport with a 36-3-1 record, winning only 1 of his last 4 fights. But we should judge a fighter in his prime, not in his decline.
Fighting in perhaps the greatest ever era, Leonard stood above his peers, the best of the best. Others might claim to be the best ever, but Leonard should not be forgotten as time goes by.
Leonard against Floyd Mayweather would have been some fight, but I have a feeling the Sugar Man would have found a way to win.
A true once in a generation fighter, the like of which we are unlikely to see again.