For many, Sugar Ray Leonard is the greatest welterweight in the history of the sport bar the simply incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson; the boxing immortal Ray was named after (his Christian name, along with his middle name, being given to him by parents who worshipped Ray Charles). And it was 63 years ago today in Wilmington, North Carolina, that Leonard – recently named Greatest Living Fighter by Ring Magazine – was born.
Still very much in the public eye, Leonard is an incredibly well respected and admired person. All he has he earned came due to his bravery and incredible ring talents, and these days he rightfully basks in the glory of a boxing career that was nothing short of exceptional.
Fans, both young and old, know the Ray Leonard story. How he dazzled America and the world with his amateur career, an amateur career which culminated with the capturing of a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. How he then threatened to retire even before throwing a single punch in the pro ranks. Only to change his mind and go on to capture world titles at five different weights.
And who will ever forget the great fights Leonard thrilled us with as he collected world title after world title? Legendary, never to be topped boxing classics against the likes of Wilfredo Benitez, Robert Duran, Thomas Hearns and Marvelous Marvin Hagler followed in his storybook career. All of these encounters are of course the stuff of legend, and for each and every one of these genuine super fights the world stopped to watch.
Blessed with incredible speed, balance, timing, power, heart and courage, along with a superb chin in his sublime prime years, Leonard overcame all styles. Beating master boxers like Benitez and Hearns (who could punch like a mule but also had quite underrated boxing skills), proving too much for warriors like Duran and Hagler, and getting past murderous punchers like Hearns, Leonard adapted to all his opponent’s strengths. Only one man beat him during his all too short peak (a peak that was cut short by a damaged retina in his right eye), and that loss, to Roberto Duran, was immediately avenged (albeit in controversial “No Mas” fashion).
Forced to retire shortly after his mega fight unification showdown with Hearns at welterweight due to his eye trouble, Leonard made one of the most audacious yet brilliant moves in boxing history when he had the nerve to come back and challenge Hagler for Marvelous Marvin’s middleweight crown in 1987. One of the greatest comebacks in the sport of boxing later, Sugar Ray was back on top of the world. His greatness now proven without a doubt, Leonard could have, indeed should have, retired for good.
But comebacks were now part of Ray Leonard’s life, and he made a further three – having varying degrees of success as he did so. With age having caught up with him, and his speed and reflexes, not to mention his ability to take a hard shot, compromised, Leonard would lose twice more – one time by the once unthinkable result of a KO.
Finally quitting for good after this sole KO loss (to Hector Camacho) in 1997, Leonard left the sport with a fine record of 36-3-1(25). Had he not tempted fate as often he did by making comebacks, there would have been just one result in his loss column – perhaps making him an even greater fighter in the eyes of many. Despite his setbacks in the later years of his career, however, Ray Leonard is seen to today as THE best fighter of the 1980s, as well as being recognised as one of the finest fighters of the last fifty or so years.
Here are a few Dream Fights it is great fun to try and picture:
Leonard Vs. Sugar Ray Robinson. How would this one have unfolded? Sure, most fans feel, quite strongly, that the man born Walker Smith Jr. would have got the win. But would it have been a tough night for both Sugars?
Leonard Vs. Meldrick Taylor. The fastest welterweight hands in boxing against the second-fastest welterweight hands in the sport? Maybe. And this one would have surely had an absolutely incredible punch output!
Leonard Vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. Leonard beat Floyd Senior, but would he have beaten “Money?” Fans often debate this one quite strongly. But for many (this writer included) Sugar Ray would have been too much for Mayweather in either a 12-round or a 15-round affair.