Sugar Ray Leonard talks boxing, personal demons, and greatest triumphs (part 1)

Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard

The Quintuple Champ, ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard, has won five world titles in five separate weight divisions, lineal titles (defeating undisputed champions) in three weight divisions, as well as the undisputed welterweight title. Leonard is widely considered one of the greatest boxers of all time. In this writer’s opinion, Sugar Ray is the greatest living boxer.

Now 64, Leonard looks like he could still go to war inside the ring and emerge triumphant.

The Palmer Park, Maryland, native sat down for an engaging, eye-opening, and candid livestream interview with BlackPressUSA about his life, career, and the vital role that sports has played, and can still play, in bringing our nation together, especially in light of the current pandemic.

Leonard, who won a gold medal in the 1976 Olympic games, also opened up about a few of his past personal demons.

The interview was streamed live over several of BlackPressUSA’s social media channels, including Facebook and YouTube.

“I called my business partner, Mike Trainer, and told him I wanted to fight (‘Marvelous’) Marvin Hagler, and he asked me had I been drinking,” Leonard reminisced about the time leading up to his 1987 bout with Hagler. The then-retired former champion hadn’t competed in several years after having left the ring following discovery of and surgery for a fight-related detached retina in 1982.

Hagler defeated one of Leonard’s other infamous foes, Thomas (Tommy) ‘The Hit Man’ Hearns in what Leonard called the “most violent three rounds I’d ever seen.” Hagler was also a natural middleweight while Leonard achieved most of his success as a boxer fighting in the welterweight division.

“When I told my brothers that I wanted to fight Hagler, they couldn’t believe I would even think of it,” Leonard said.

“They asked: ‘Who would be my tune-up (for Hagler)?’ and I told them: ‘Hagler.’ I fought Kevin Howard before fighting Hagler, and he knocked me down, and people thought Hagler would kill me. Back then, I was on the wrong side of the street, doing cocaine and drinking heavily,” Leonard said.

Retirement did not sit well with the Champ. “I was sad. I was not myself anymore. I wanted to fight, and the only thing that calmed me down was alcohol and drugs, so that was another reason why my friends didn’t want me to come back, because they knew the other side of me.”

Leonard would come face-to-face with Hagler, who was heavily favored to defeat him for the world middleweight title, at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas on April 6, 1987.

In the months leading up to the fight, Leonard channeled his idol, Muhammad Ali. As Ali had done to opponents many times prior, Leonard began a mind war with Hagler.

“The whole fight was based upon me getting into his head. I wanted to beat him mentally, and we had so many press conferences, and I would say to the media, ‘It’s a shame that you guys don’t see him as a good boxer and not just a slugger,’” said Leonard, sharing his pre-fight strategy for the bout with Hagler.

He counted on getting his opponent out of his comfort zone by getting into Hagler’s psyche. Hagler was regarded as a brawler with incredible power and the sport’s most dominant slugger.Leonard needed Hagler to believe that he had to prove to the world that he could also box.

“Hagler told the press: ‘I may surprise all of you. I may outbox Ray,’” Leonard said. It was exactly what he wanted to hear. “I said: ‘I got him!’” Leonard went on to win a 12-round decision over Hagler and claim the world middleweight championship.

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