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Sugar Ray Leonard ( 1956 - )  Category ( Athletes ) [suggest a correction]
 

Sugar Ray LeonardUntil Sugar Ray Leonard came along, America had forgotten all about the lighter weight divisions in boxing. If it wasn't a heavyweight bout, no one seem to care.

But Leonard, a Palmer Park, MD product who won 145 of 150 amateur fights, burst into the public mind in the same manner as Muhammad Ali before him -- the Olympics. In 1976, he won a gold medal in the light welterweight division in Montreal, scoring a 5-0 decision over a heavily favored Cuban, Andres Aldama.

Like Ali, Leonard was a good-looking youngster at the time of his Olympic success, and he had a photograph of his infant son attached to one of his boxing boots. Promoters were drooling.

Leonard, born Ray Charles Leonard (named after the singer), wanted to go to the University of Maryland when his amateur career was over, but his father fell ill and the family needed money. Former Ali trainer Angelo Dundee agreed to come on board as Leonard's trainer and mentor, and the young fighter couldn't refuse.

Indeed, Sugar Ray was a star before he even began fighting professionally, and he earned a record $40,000 for his first pro fight -- a decision over Luis Vega. He soon advanced to the North American Boxing Federation welterweight title with first-round knockouts of Pete Ranzay and Andy Price.

Leonard went from a prospect to a star in 1979 when he scored a 15-round TKO of WBC welterweight champion Wilfredo Benitez, the end coming with just six seconds remaining. Ring Magazine named him Fighter of the Year.

In 1980, Sugar Ray fought two memorable bouts with the menacing Panamanian, Roberto "Hands of Stone" Duran. Duran won the first fight by decision, Leonard captured the rematch when Duran quit between the seventh and eighth rounds (the famous "No Mas" fight), later claiming that he had been suffering from stomach cramps.

A year later, Leonard added another title to his belt collection, knocking out Ayub Kalule to win a share of the junior middleweight crown. But another shadow fell over his fiefdom, cast by 6-3 Thomas "Hitman" Hearns, the WBA welterweight champ.

Leonard won the inevitable clash with Hearns in September of 1981 with a remarkable rally in the late rounds, stopping the Hitman with a vicious flurry of punches in round 14. The downside was that Leonard had suffered an injury to his left eye, which was virtually swollen shut by the end of the fight.

After he defended his welterweight title against Bruce Finch, Leonard was diagnosed with a detached retina and announced his retirement. This led to a rapid decline in his personal life, including a divorce and a struggle with cocaine addiction.

Sugar Ray did return briefly in December of 1983, only to be knocked down for the first time in his career in a loss to Kevin Howard. Stung and embarrassed, he retired again.

Perhaps it was Leonard's well-honed sense of the dramatic that caused him to lace up his gloves again in 1986. This time, the marquee opponent was Marvelous Marvin Hagler, a brawler from Rocky Marciano's hometown of Brockton, MA. Given Sugar Ray's long layoff, Hagler was installed as a 3-1 favorite, but Leonard stayed just outside Hagler's guns, pecked away with his jab, and won a split decision.

Leonard's last hurrah was probably his knockout of Donny Lalonde in December of 1988, giving him the super middleweight title. An uninspiring victory over Duran in '89 only confirmed public suspicion that both fighters were washed up.

It took Terry Norris to prove that, however. After Leonard took 1990 off, he challenged Norris for his junior middleweight crown and received a sound beating. Again, he retired.

The last time the public saw Sugar Ray Leonard in a ring, it was 1997, and he was 40. His opponent was Hector "Macho" Camacho, and Sugar Ray went down in five. It was finally over.

Leonard remained in the limelight after that, however, doing some broadcasting and becoming co-host of the boxing reality TV program, "The Contender."


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