Sugar Ray Leonard: The Demons & The Final Victory

Sugar Ray Leonard: The Demons & The Final Victory

Harry Mullan, the former editor of Boxing News, once wrote of Sugar Ray Leonard:

“The last thing a fighter loses is his punch. It is not true: the last thing he loses is his ego, which in Leonard’s case is gargantuan.”

Leonard did have an ego of some proportion, in many ways, a great fighter has to. Leonard had incredible self-belief which often crossed the line into arrogance and much more.

Mullan wrote those words as Leonard prepared to launch another one of his infamous comebacks. Leonard was 40 in 1997 when he decided he was different to everybody else. Terry Norris in 1991 had already told him quite brutally that he wasn’t.

Hector Camacho predictably stopped Leonard in five rounds, further proof that boxing life rarely begins at 40. Even though as one writer said, ‘Leonard’s dreams were shattered beyond repair,’ he still considered more of the same.

Thoughts of yet another return were still in the mind of Leonard just days after his humiliating loss to Leonard. A rib injury against Norris and a calf injury the mind cited as the reason for his defeats. The injuries were undoubtedly a contributing factor. Old age was a bigger one. Leonard eventually succumbed to the reality that he was done.

But the fight with Camacho and many others in the twilight years weren’t exclusively down to ego. The endless ring returns were in reality an attempt to mask far greater problems that had consumed Leonard for the majority of his adult life.

Leonard had fought an often losing battle with drink and drugs throughout much of his career. Just simply being Ray without ‘Sugar’ wasn’t enough, something was missing in his life, or so he thought. And Leonard was battling even darker demons.

“I didn’t drink to socialise. I drank to numb myself.”

The public persona and the golden million-dollar smile gave way to something else once the cameras stopped clicking and Leonard had to face the grim reality of his past, and even his present, behind closed doors.

He was sexually abused by a former coach, and after Leonard had won his biggest fight so far with one set of demons, Leonard decided to open up and deal with one that had long been lingering.

“I realised I would never be free unless I revealed the whole truth, no matter how much it hurt.” Leonard had been running and hiding from many things in his life. Leonard was about to face his toughest opponent.

The ring was his place of comfort, maybe his only solace in a life that was never quite what it seemed from the outside. His way of releasing the anger that was deep within. His way of escaping the pain. Leonard felt he was in control in the ring, outside of it, he wasn’t.

At times ‘Sugar’ was simply a character to hide plenty. Make no mistake it was a masterpiece of a creation.

“I went through real darkness but the ring was my light. That was the one place I felt safe. I could control what happened in the ring. My heart turned icy.” Leonard told Donald McRae in an interview for The Guardian.

Leonard grew up surrounded by his brother and sister’s heroin addiction and Leonard too had a near-miss with heroin. A battle even Leonard might not have won. Cocaine and the bottle were eventually vanquished and Leonard sought to learn from mistakes from the past.

Hardly a model husband from his first marriage, Leonard now seems a changed man. And a far happier one. Someone who is now content to leave the past where it belongs and look to the future and appreciate what he has at hand.

Leonard told McRae:

“It’s been a hell of a ride but I got off that rollercoaster in one piece. I wouldn’t change anything because the mistakes and the hurt are as important as all the great fights. They made me who I am today. Sugar’s still there, in the background, but Ray’s here now. I’m just Ray Leonard. It’s as simple, and as sweet, as that.”

From a distance, Leonard seemed to have it all, but the reality was, he could quite easily have lost it all. The story could have ended very differently. A smile can hide many things. Leonard, unlike many of his contemporaries, has kept his wealth, and more importantly, his health and he has finally found his peace.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

2 thoughts on “Sugar Ray Leonard: The Demons & The Final Victory

  1. Leonard is still one of my pound for pound all time greatest fighters and I’m glad he found the courage to get through all he’d been going through to where he is today which is in a great space. God is good!!”…💯🥊


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