The great, indeed the incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson – for many THE Sugar of the boxing world, forever, and always, amen – passed away at the age of 67. Yet today, the one man who came closest in terms of earning, deserving and fully honouring the Sugar monicker, Sugar Ray Leonard, celebrates his 67th birthday. And, unlike the greatest to ever do it, Ray Leonard has fully enjoyed his retirement years, his faculties, his all-round health as rich as his bank account, this years after risking oh, so much in the ring as all fighters do.
It has been written how the man born Ray Charles Leonard was “born to succeed.” The quote, I believe, came from either Ring Magazine, or from KO magazine (RIP). In any case, Leonard proved in the ring that success, massive, celebrated success, was something that came natural to him. Not that Leonard didn’t have to work hard for his ring victories. He sure did, and in numerous fights, Sugar Ray (Mark II, if you like) had to dig deep to pull out the victory.
But what was Leonard’s greatest fight? What is YOUR favourite Sugar Ray Leonard fight? Heaven knows, there are quite a few to choose from.
Maybe you, like Mike Tyson, boxing historian that he is, choose the first, epic battle Sugar Ray had with the great Roberto Duran? Maybe you pick the astonishing, destined to always be argued over, win Leonard pulled off over Marvelous Marvin Hagler? Maybe you love the finishing touches an approaching his peak Sugar Ray put to his cerebral, chess match of a battle with Wilfred Benitez?
Or maybe you go for the 1981 Super Fight that was the Leonard-Hearns showdown?
That fight, which saw two peaking welterweight champions risk everything as they put it all on the line in a unification affair, is referred to by some as THE finest welterweight fight of them all. It took place, as you of course know, in September of 1981, and nobody – as in nobody – knew who would win and how when Leonard and “The Hitman,” Thomas Hearns got into it in the year’s biggest fight.
Would Hearns, with his freakish blend of height, reach and punching power, take Leonard out the way he had taken out Pipino Cuevas? Or would Leonard, with his blend of superb boxing skill, accuracy and better big-fight experience, top Hearns?
The fight lived up to all the hype and, after a titanic battle, Leonard, his eye busted up and his body close to exhaustion, showed his majesty in turning around the fight he was losing on all cards. It was a superb comeback win for Sugar Ray, over an even more exhausted Hearns; the 14th round stoppage proving, for the time being, that Leonard was the best welterweight in the world.
These two would of course meet again. Finally. After eight long years. This time, warring at super-middleweight, the veteran versions of Leonard and Hearns fought to a thrilling, and controversial, draw. The two were now, in the words of Leonard himself, “one and one.” There never was a third fight.
Today, Leonard and Hearns are great friends, their bond special as well as not at all understandable to us mere mortals who have never taken a former rival to a dark place only to embrace at the end of the battle.
You can bet that today; Tommy Hearns is one of the first people to give Ray Leonard a call to wish him a happy birthday! But Hearns won’t be the only one wishing Sugar Ray many happy returns.