The first boxer to win over $100 million in purses and win in 5 weight divisions.
Sugar Ray Leonard was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina May 17th 1956. He is the first boxer to earn more than $100 million in purses and won world titles in 5 different weight divisions. Sugar Ray was also able to defeat five future International Boxing Hall of Famers Wilfred Benitez, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler. Leonard received the Mark Grossinger Etess Award for “Boxer of the Decade” for the 1980’s.
Sugar Ray is a philanthropist, motivational speaker and an ambassador of goodwill. He was International Chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s “walk for a cure” fundraiser. He and his wife Bernadette founded the Sugar Ray Leonard Foundation to support juvenile diabetes research. Leonard has definitely come a long way from his humble beginnings.
From Leonard’s childhood to the Amateur Ranks
Ray Leonard was born the fifth child of seven children in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Name after the singer Ray Charles, Leonard grew up near Washington, D.C in Palmer Park, Maryland. For most of his childhood, Leonard led a quiet, mostly solitary life as a shy kid, who played with his dog and read comic books. His life was a far cry from winning the Olympic Gold medal that made US gambling news.
As a teenager, Leonard began boxing at the Palmer Park Recreation center. Although his brother Roger entered boxing first and started the boxing program at the center, he was instrumental in encouraging Leonard to pursue boxing seriously. In a few years time, Leonard was fighting in the featherweight quarterfinals of the National AUU Tournament. Although he lost, he was still only 16 years old at the time.
Soon he would compete in the Eastern Olympic Trials. Leonard, who was forced to lie about his age to enter, progressed all the way to lightweight semifinals where he lost in a decision. The extent of his physical damage to his opponent influenced him to never fight again. The assistant coach of the U.S Olympic Boxing Team said that Leonard was “as sweet as sugar.” The name stuck and people kept it alive every since.
In 1973, Leonard’s girlfriend was pregnant with his first child. Leonard would continue to take on the responsibility of fatherhood unmarried as he strove to win 1976 Olympics. On his way, Sugar Ray amassed 7 amateur titles with two major defeats from bouts held in Russia and Poland. Finally in 1976, on what many consider the greatest U.S Olympic boxing team in history, the gold medal in the light welterweight division.
The Sugar Ray’s Strive for Professional Excellence
Sugar Ray’s personal life was still hindering his career progress. Leonard’s girlfriend slapped him a paternity suit demanding payments at the same time his father had meningitis and his mother had a heart attack. The negative publicity lawsuit, deterred most commercial opportunities. Fortunately, Leonard found someone to invest $21,000 into his career and arranged Angelo Dundee, Muhammed Ali’s trainer, to be his coach.
Angelo Dundee left training to Dave Jacobs and Janks Morton, while giving training procedures and choosing Leonard’s opponents. Leonard was able to pay his investment from the winning of his first fight in 1977. It wasn’t until his 14th fight that Leonard would fight a world class competitor. Floyd Mayweather, father to undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., was defeated by Leonard in a 12th round knockout.
• Sugar Ray Leonard was the first boxer to exceed $100 million.
• Sugar Ray Leonard won 5 different divisional titles.
The last fight Leonard fought was at 40 years old again Comacho.
Leonard was able to secure the NABF Welterweight championship in 1979. At this point Leonard had a record of 24 wins and 0 losses. The first million dollar match and true test of Leonard’s skill was the WBC Welterweight Championship against Wilfred Benitez whose record was 38 wins and 0 losses. The fight went well and it wasn’t until the 15th round, that the referee stopped the fight securing the title for Leonard.
Leonard final experienced a loss in his title defense against Roberto Duran in Montreal in 1980. At the time Duran, light heavyweight for 6 and half years, had a record of 71 wins with 1 lost. Although the fight was won by decision, Duran was more impressive and took the Welterweight title. The rematch, which took place that same year, earned Leonard $7 million. An incredible feat considering that was before online sports betting in the U.S .
Sugar Amidst the Duran Performance and Beyond
Leonard’s rematch with Duran may have been the greatest display of fighting in his career. Dave Jacobs was against fighting Duran so soon which led to him and Leonard falling out. As Sugar suspected, Duran was close to 50 lbs overweight and sweat it off at the last moment. Leonard was in constant motion throughout the fight with the highlight being in round 7 when he wound his right arm like a windmill, then hit Duran with his left. Duran complained of stomach cramps and Leonard was hailed has the victor.
Leonard started to move up in the divisions from light middleweight to junior middleweight. Then Leonard fought in a welterweight unifying championship again Thomas “Hitman” Hearns. Making $11 million, Leonard had a gruesome time with this undefeated welterweight until the 13th round when he came back with strong flurries to end the fight in round 15.
On the eve of this second title defense, Leonard was diagnosed with having a detached retina and the fight was cancelled. After his surgery, Leonard announced retirement. A year later, Leonard would come back and work his way to fighting Marvin Hagler, the top fighter of that time. After fighting two fights, Leonard retired again until 1986 when he finally faced Hagler.
With the odds favored for Hagler, according to US gambling laws, the world was shocked when Leonard won in a much contested decision winning the World Middleweight title and earning $11 million. After he gained the Super Middleweight title, then defeated Duran, and Hearns in rematches finally retiring in 1991. Briefly coming back in 1996 at age 40, Leonard fought Hector “Macho” Comacho which ended in the first and last knock Leonard ever had in his career. Leonard remained retired.