A Boxing Memory: Sugar Ray Seales
The 1972 Munich Olympics are largely remembered for the lives lost in the so-called ‘Munich Massacre’ that left a long-lasting scar on the sporting spectrum.
Sport largely lost its importance in the reality that life matters more. It is hard to imagine the backdrop that the athletes of those games had to endure.
For many reasons, there are forgotten moments, forgotten athletes, Sugar Ray Seales is one such competitor from those tragic games. Seales was only 19, the trauma unimaginable for someone so young. He was 4-0 in Munich and just one fight away from realising his dream when the tragedy struck. That gold medal carried more meaning than most.
The American’s have taken many great teams to the Olympics, and 1976 in particular was an elite squad of talent. Five American fighters brought home gold medals. But four years earlier things were very different. Only one American, Seales, won a gold medal.
In 1976 another Sugar, Ray Leonard claimed gold and went to a professional career littered with world titles and the millions he would go on to earn. But the professional glory and riches alluded Seales, the names had obvious similarities, but their boxing stories had very different endings.
Seales would take his gold medal everywhere, his pride and joy stayed in his pocket, it would be his career high. Boxing for all the good still takes many victims. Seales is one. The sport left him broke. It left him blind. Shattered dreams, a broken body. A thumb in the eye that caused a detached retina, too many subsequent beatings. A refusal to stop. Another sad story. There are many similar stories. There’s an acceptance it will get worse. Much worse. Too many punches taken always come back to do further damage in the later years, sometimes before. Young men become old men. A brutal sport. An unforgiving sport.
Seales didn’t achieve anywhere near what his career once promised. An amateur record of 338-12 amateur record was incredibly impressive, only his age stopped him going to the Olympics in 1968, Seales looked set for a golden future. Seales did manage to win the NABF and USBA middleweight titles, but it seemed a case of it should have been so much more.
By the time he was 31 he’d lost most of his vision in both eyes and would later be declared legally blind, and at 33, he was bankrupt.
The riches from the Olympic gold never came. An inexperienced team managed his career, who Seales claimed were small-minded, contributed to a career that didn’t achieve what was once promised. A professional debut earning $1,000 was a far cry from the $40,000 Sugar Ray Leonard would earn on his professional debut.
Seales is perhaps best remembered for his three fights with Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Seales managed a draw in one of those fights, he always claimed he beat Hagler in that fight, but lost the other two. Hagler ended the 21 fight unbeaten start Seales had managed at the start of his professional career when they first met in 1974. The former Olympic champion knew little of Hagler prior, afterwards, he knew plenty.
In the third fight in 1979, Seales was stopped quickly. Seales by that time was well into his decline. A loss to Alan Minter in 1976 had left him drifting in a sport with nowhere to go, hoping for a win that would change everything. It never came. The wins still came but the defeats mattered more.
After his career finally ended with a 57-8-3 record, Seales spent 17 years doing work with special-needs kids in Tacoma before a move to Indianapolis to coach young fighters. The sport might have left him a broken man, but not a bitter one, despite everything, he still couldn’t leave it behind.