By Ted Sares – I was 6 feet tall and wrong-handed, just what all the other fighters fear,” Seales said. ”When I was young, I was all arms and legs. They told me that’s the way Sugar Ray Robinson was when he started out; that’s how I got the nickname. –Sugar Ray Seales
We’d [Marvin Johnson] love to find a good young lefthander and teach him what we know…Watching a young fighter develop…….man, that would be something. –Sugar Ray Seales.
… Ray Seales’ story—one of naïveté, botched opportunity, exploitation and, especially, reckless ambition—should be required reading for Ray Leonard. –William Plummer (1984)
Sugar Ray Seales had a fantastic amateur record of 338-12 and came from a boxing family (his father, a former Army boxer who was 31-1, helped teach his four sons to box). With a rapid-fire jab and solid power, he became the only American fighter to win a gold medal in the 1972 Olympics by defeating Bulgarian Anghei Anghelov. A “bolo punch” floored Anghelov in the second round, clinching the win. But unfortunately for him, this Olympic victory came at a time when an Olympic gold medal did not guaranteed real gold for fighters who turned professional. As an aside, his teammates included Duane Bobick, Marvin Johnson, Ray Russell, Reggie Jones, Jesse Valdez, James “Bubba” Busceme, Ricardo Carrera, Louis Self, Tim Dement and Davey Armstrong. These, of course, were the Olympics that involved the tragic Black September raid
Unlike today’s coming out parties, he turned pro with little fanfare in 1973, winning an eight rounder over one Gonzalo Rodriguez. He won his first 22 bouts fighting throughout the Western states before losing to Marvin Hagler on points in 1974 in Boston in a fight for which he and his manager were ill-prepared. He then put together an unbeaten streak of six fights, including a highly respectable draw with the tough Hagler. Then in December 1976 in England, he fought Alan Minter, a tough Brit who had garnered notable and credible victories over big-name opponents including nine Americans. This was a fight that many thought would propel Seales to a title shot, but it was not to be. He was TKOd in the fifth by the determined Englishman who caught Seales in a furious exchange and prevailed.
Sometimes in a boxer’s career there comes a pivotal fight, one that turns his fortunes for the good and sends him to bigger and better things, as was the case when Irish Mickey Ward suddenly and unexpectedly knocked out heavily favored Alfonso Sanchez with a deadly left hook to the body in 1997on HBO. But there are two edges to this knife and one cuts more deeply than the other. When Sugar Ray lost to Minter, his career took a detour the nature of which never led him back to the championship road. More to the point, he would never again fight at the same level of competence and was destroyed by Hagler in one round in their fight in 1979, being dropped three times. Later, in a 1980 fight with tall Jaime Thomas, he was thumbed in the eye, tearing his retina, and he gradually went blind, even while continuing to fight.
Perhaps the best way to describe Seale’s change in direction is to focus on his trilogy with Hagler: Sugar Ray won his first twenty-one fights until losing a close decision to Marvin Hagler in Boston in 1974. Later that same year, he held Hagler to a draw that could have gone either way. Seales then fought and lost to Minter in 1976.After losing to Ronnie Harris in 1977, he went undefeated in his next 16 before losing a close MD to future World light middleweight champion Ayub Kalule in Denmark. He then met Hagler in 1979 for the third time (again in Boston) and suffered the aformentioned savage first-round KO. While the early draw gave Hagler a means by which he could test his progress, as he later chilled Seales, it also gave Seales the means by which to gauge his own lack of progress.
Sugar Ray then went 10-2-1, winning the NABF Middleweight Title in 1981 by icing hard hitting Sammy NeSmith and beating bomber John LoCicero in 1982 after which he amazingly went 12 competitive rounds with James Shuler–amazingly, because he could barely see when he went into that fight. He ended his career with a one round icing of Max Hord (26-14) and finally retired in 1983.
As Robert Mladinich puts it in a December 19, 2006, article in the SweetScience.com entitled “Sugar Ray Seales: Take pride in what you do:”
“(Eye operation) numbers one and two were good, but after three and four things got much worse,” said Seales, who would eventually have seven eye surgeries, three on the right and four on the left. Eventually he was declared legally blind and became an unwitting poster boy for boxing abolitionists.”
Upon retiring Seales hit tough times. One account had him working with autistic students at Lincoln High School in Tacoma. Another had him hanging around the gyms in Tacoma encouraging the fighters, but reportedly the trainers and older fighters never really included him in the “inner circle.” At any rate, he moved to Indianapolis in 2006 with his wife, where he currently resides and maintains a close relationship with Marvin Johnson.
Seales ended up with a fine 56-8-3 record and was only stopped twice in 67 bouts. He fought in 22 different states and 5 countries. In 2005, he was inducted into the Tacoma-Pierce County Sports Hall of Fame. In many respects, Ray risked his eyesight to become a World Champion, and while he lost that gamble, he managed to wear his nickname with respect.
“Sugar” Ray Seales was the third “Sugar Ray.