Sugar Ray Leonard!
Ray Charles Leonard (born May 17, 1956), best known as “Sugar” Ray Leonard, is an American former professional boxer, motivational speaker, and occasional actor. Often regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all time, he competed from 1977 to 1997, winning world titles in five weight divisions; the lineal championship in three weight divisions; as well as the undisputed welterweight title. Leonard was part of “The Fabulous Four”, a group of boxers who all fought each other throughout the 1980s, consisting of Leonard, Roberto Durán, Thomas Hearns, and Marvin Hagler.
“The Fabulous Four” created a wave of popularity in the lower weight classes that kept boxing relevant in the post–Muhammad Ali era, during which Leonard defeated future fellow International Boxing Hall of Fame inductees Hearns, Durán, Hagler, and Wilfred Benítez. Leonard was also the first boxer to earn more than $100 million in purses, and was named “Boxer of the Decade” in the 1980s. The Ring magazine named him Fighter of the Year in 1979 and 1981, while the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) named him Fighter of the Year in 1976, 1979, and 1981. In 2002, Leonard was voted by The Ring as the ninth greatest fighter of the last 80 years; BoxRec ranks him as the 23rd greatest boxer of all time, pound for pound.
Leonard, the fifth of seven children of Cicero and Getha Leonard, was born in Wilmington, North Carolina. He was named after Ray Charles, his mother’s favorite singer. The family moved to Washington, D.C., when he was three, and they settled permanently in Palmer Park, Maryland when he was ten. His father worked as a supermarket night manager and his mother was a nurse. He attended Parkdale High School, Leonard was a shy child, and aside from the time he nearly drowned in a creek during a flood in Seat Pleasant, Maryland, his childhood was uneventful. He stayed home a lot, reading comic books and playing with his dog. His mother said: “He never did talk too much. We never could tell what he was thinking. But I never had any problems with him. I never had to go to school once because of him.”
Leonard started boxing at the Palmer Park Recreation Center in 1969. His older brother, Roger, started boxing first. Roger helped start the boxing program, urging the center’s director, Ollie Dunlap, to form a team. Dave Jacobs, a former boxer, and Janks Morton volunteered as boxing coaches. Roger won some trophies and showed them off in front of Ray, goading him to start boxing.
In 1972, Leonard boxed in the featherweight quarterfinals of the National AAU Tournament, losing by decision to Jerome Artis. It was his first defeat. Later that year, he boxed in the Eastern Olympic Trials. The rules stated that a boxer had to be seventeen to box in international competition, so Leonard, only sixteen, lied about his age.:1 He made it to the lightweight semifinals, losing a disputed decision to Greg Whaley, who took such a beating that he wasn’t allowed to continue in the trials and never boxed again.
When Leonard decided to turn professional, Janks Morton introduced him to Mike Trainer, a friend of his who was an attorney. Trainer talked 24 of his friends and clients into underwriting Leonard’s career with an investment of $21,000 to be repaid within four years at 8% interest. Trainer then made Leonard the sole stockholder in Sugar Ray Leonard, Inc. Angelo Dundee, Muhammad Ali‘s trainer, was brought in to be Leonard’s trainer and manager. Many of the people being considered wanted absolute control and a cut somewhere near the manager’s traditional 33%. Dundee had a different proposition. Although he would prescribe the training procedures, he would leave the day-to-day work to Dave Jacobs and Janks Morton. He would also choose Leonard’s opponents. For his services, Dundee would get 15% of Leonard’s purse.:65–68
Leonard made his professional debut on February 5, 1977 before a crowd of 10,270 at the Civic Center in Baltimore. He was paid $40,044 for the fight. His opponent was Luis “The Bull” Vega, whom he defeated by a six-round unanimous decision. After the fight, Leonard paid back his $21,000 loan to the investors.:75
In his fourteenth professional fight, Leonard fought his first world-ranked opponent, Floyd Mayweather, who was ranked seventeenth. The fight took place on September 9, 1978. Leonard won by a tenth-round knockout.:93 A month later, Leonard defeated his old amateur nemesis Randy Shields by a ten-round unanimous decision.
On August 12, 1979, Leonard knocked out Pete Ranzany in four rounds to win the NABF Welterweight Championship. The following month, he made his first title defense against Andy Price. Price, an up-and-coming contender who was sponsored by Marvin Gaye, had a reputation for prolonged bouts in earlier fights and was believed by sports reporters to defeat or give a long fight to Leonard. Although Price landed multiple good blows, Leonard knocked him out in the first round, advancing his record to 25–0 with 16 knockouts.