Sugar Ray Leonard: The Real Baby Faced Assassin

By Ted Sares:

You're blowing it, son! You're blowing it!

-- Angelo Dundee

I think I've become one of the best finishers in boxing; if I hurt a guy, I normally take him out

Sugar Ray Leonard

Many fighters have a distinct talent for ending matters decisively once they have their opponent hurt. Carlos Zarate, Wilfredo Gomez, Pipino Cuevas, and the great Khaosai Galaxy were among the more notable. So was a prime Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto. Their victims often paid dearly from the ferocity of their power. Broken noses, broken eye sockets and broken jaws were not uncommon when these men finished their work.

But when Sugar Ray Leonard saw a weakness or detected that his opponent was hurt, he was on the case faster than you can say ”closure.” No one could exploit an opponent’s weaknesses better. His starching of Donny LaLonde, Andy “The Hawk” Price (who a few years earlier had beaten Pipino Cuevas), Dave Boy Green, and Bruce Finch were a testimony to ring brutality. Yet Sugar Ray’s affable appearance belied the pure assassin behind the face—one who would engage in as much savagery as required. There were few better and more ruthless closers in boxing history.

Donnie LaLonde (41-5-1)

Donnie LaLonde was doing a number on Sugar Ray at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on Novemebr7, 1988. I was shocked at what I was witnessing. BAM! He put Leonard down in the first with an overhand semi-cuffing right and, stealing a page out of Leonard’s book, lifted his hands to salute the stunned crowd. Sugar Ray was visibly shaken and went on the defensive as LaLonde pressed the attack.

Leonard looked dejected and concerned as he slowly headed for his corner at the bell. Engaging in furious exchanges during the next several rounds, the fight appeared close, though LaLonde had tallied that big knockdown in the first round. Finally, toward the end of the seventh, Leonard started backing Donnie off with sharp counters and then the tide turned, though imperceptibly. In the eighth, LaLonde landed some bruising lead rights and used his long jab effectively to keep Ray off him.

Finally, the Golden Boy from Canada uncorked a barrage of shots in the ninth and went for the kill, but LaLonde was no closer. Leonard slowed him down with a crunching punch to the rib cage generated by his unbelievable hand speed. He then launched his own relentless attack. After Ray’s vicious assault, LaLonde hit the canvas and Leonard, as is his wont, lifted his hands high as he did against Tommy Hearns years before and against other opponents who faced the inevitable end. Ray always knew when the fight was over before anyone else knew. Referee Richard Steele unwisely let this one continue and it was now time for Sugar Ray to put a halt to the slaughter.

Quickly backing the defenseless Canadian into a corner, Leonard hurt him with two savage rights and finished him with a brutal left hook that landed on LaLonde’s throat. He went down and stayed down for several minutes. It was an ugly sight.

Bruce Finch (29-10-1)

Again, after being hit while against the ropes in the second round of their 1982 fight in Reno, Ray said enough was enough and lowered the boom on Finch (who was riding a ten-fight winning streak) with incredibly crisp and punishing shots which forced a mercy ending by Mills Lane in the third stanza. Finch would lose 7 of his last 8 fights; the loss to Sugar Ray had ruined him.

Tommy Hearns (61-5-1)

Until the 13tth round when Ray unloaded with a malefic assault on “The “Hitman’s” body, this 1981 classic was in doubt though Ray had dictated the pace and controlled the action. . When Ray hammered Tommy into the ropes in the 13th stanza, he raised his hands in triumph, but he was a bit premature as a game Hearns survived the round, though just barely. Then, with 1.49 to go in the 14, Sugar Ray uncorked a menacing sweeping right that staggered Hearns and this time Ray raised his hands with more assurance. He proceeded to stalk and bludgeon the undefeated Hearns in a far corner until referee Davey Pearl halted the brutal assault. If ever a fight brought out Ray’s aggressive instincts, this was the one.

At the time, Hearns was leading by the hard-to-fathom scores of 124-122, 125-122, and 125-121, and many (me included) believed the scoring was terribly distorted.

Andy Price (33-8-3)

As soon as Ray had “The Hawk” stunned on the ropes in this 1979 encounter in Las Vegas, he just unloaded on him with incredible combinations the power of which were generated by even more incredible hand speed. This one is a study in how to finish.

There are many other examples of Ray’s savagery in the ring, but these three illustrate what Sugar Ray can do when aroused. He was a great ring technician who could fight inside or outside and had every move in the book including an extremely high ring IQ, but when he wanted to, he could crunch. Once Sugar Ray had his man hurt, he gave different meaning to the word “closure.”

Article posted on 20.01.2011

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