Sugar Ray Leonard talks boxing, personal demons, and greatest triumphs (part 2)

Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard

Leonard couldn’t believe that 2020 marks the 40th anniversary of his famous ‘No Mas’ humiliation (this writer’s words, not Leonard’s) of Roberto Duran in New Orleans.

For any true boxing fan that was alive at that time, Leonard/Duran 2 was a pivotal event in sports history. You remember details about that fight:

  • Where you were.
  • Who was with you when you watched the fight.
  • Ray Charles’ rendition of ‘America the Beautiful.’

Anyone who saw that fight live and tells you that their jaw didn’t fall open when Duran (who was completely unhurt physically at the time) waved his hands and walked away, is straight up lying to you!

In that fight, the rematch following to the duo’s first bout earlier that year in Montreal, where Duran won a 15-round decision.

Similar to Leonard, Roberto Duran is also a boxing legend and a hero in his native Panama. Duran held world championships in four weight classes: lightweight, welterweight, light middleweight and middleweight.

Instead of employing the ‘toe-to-toe brawler’ strategy that likely cost him the first match. Leonard relied on his superior speed (and Duran’s pride) to defeat his opponent. During the bout, Leonard was able to hit Duran at will, employing a strategy of taunting and mocking him.

In the eighth round, Duran stopped fighting altogether, signaling to the ref that he would not continue. Leonard won by technical knockout.

“I knew I had him from round 1. Ray Charles, my namesake, sang ‘America the Beautiful.’ Afterwards, (he) walked over to me and said, ‘Kick his ass,’” Leonard said.

Following Duran, Leonard’s next major battle would take place in Las Vegas against Hearns to unify the welterweight title. The fight was dubbed, ‘The Showdown at the Palace.’

“It was a war,” Leonard said, recalling his famous trainer Angelo Dundee’s iconic words between rounds 12 and 13. “You’re blowing it, son, you’re blowing it,” Dundee told Leonard, who responded by attacking Hearns in the 13th round, knocking him down, and eventually knocking him out in the 14th round.

While it was clear that Leonard has shared many of the stories several times over the decades that have passed since his heyday, he became somber at one point during the interview, reflecting that boxing “saved my life.”

“It gave me an opportunity to provide for my parents, help my siblings, help my friends, and help my community,” said Leonard. “I’m a blessed man. I won the Olympics in 1976 and had every intention of going to the University of Maryland to further my education and get a good job.

“I had no intention of turning pro because I heard about fighters getting taken advantage of financially. My father was in the hospital, my mother was crying, my family was crying, and my mentor, Janks Morton, said I should turn pro.

“I made the right decision to take care of my family.”

During the interview, Leonard spoke about his family often, including noting that he is a grandfather. He mentioned that he and his wife have worked to prepare and provide opportunities for their children, and though he never mentioned it specifically, it was clear that the quality of his own strong upbringing by his parents, not only shaped his character but also enabled him to regain his center after the dark periods in his life.

“My dad passed away just a couple of years ago, and my mother is (a spry) 91. Life is what you make it,” he said.

It surely has to be noted that ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard, the first boxer in history to clear $100 million in fight purses, has made the most of his time on earth and, he says, he still has more “great things to do!”

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