Ray Charles Leonard (born May 17, 1956) is a retired American professional boxer. Named Fighter of the Decade for the 1980s, he is widely considered to be one of the best boxers of all time, winning world titles at multiple weights and engaging in contests with such celebrated opponents as Wilfred Benitez, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler. He was named after the singing legend Ray Charles. Leonard was given the nickname "Sugar" by one of his amateur coaches in his hometown of Palmer Park, Maryland.
In the Montreal Olympics, Leonard fought with photos of his high school sweetheart Juanita Wilkinson and their three-year-old son taped to his shoe. It made good copy, but he was not favored to win the gold. Leonard faced a rematch against Kazimierz Szczerba in the Olympic semifinals and defeated the Pole with a clear decision win.
A lot of amateur boxing observers thought that the great Cuban knockout artist Andres Aldama would defeat the 20-year-old Leonard in the Olympic final. Aldama was virtually a pro and had scored 5 straight knockouts to reach the finals. Ray Leonard proved that he was a great boxer by winning with an impressive 5-0 decision. Leonard brought Aldama to his knees with a left hook to the chin. Twice during the final bout, the referee had required Aldama to take a standing eight-count to prove that he was able to continue the fight. Although Aldama persisted in the match, Leonard emerged the victor and won the gold medal for the United States. It was Leonard's 145th victory as an amateur boxer.
After winning the Olympic gold Leonard announced to the press, “The journey is over, the dream fulfilled” and he retired from boxing, telling the public that he wanted to go to college. Leonard had hoped to cash in on endorsements but they never came. With the bills piling up and sickness in his family he decided to turn professional.
Angelo Dundee, Muhammad Ali's trainer, was brought in to be Leonard's trainer and manager. Long-time coaches Janks Morton, Dave Jacobs and lawyer Mike Trainer made up the rest of Leonard's team. Promoted by ABC TV as their replacement for the aging Ali, Leonard made $40,000 for his first professional fight (then a record) against Puerto Rican Luis Vega. The fight was televised nationally on CBS-TV, and the novice Leonard won by a 6 round unanimous decision.
Leonard won his first 25 pro fights. In Sugar Ray's most impressive performance to date, he knocked out Pete Ranzany in 4 rounds to win the North American Boxing Federation (NABF) welterweight championship. This bout took place in August 1979. A month later, a 1st round KO of respected contender Andy Price followed. Price had won his last four bouts, three of them in 1979, but was decisively beaten by Leonard. Leonard then signed to meet the undefeated WBC World Welterweight Champion Wilfred Benitez in November.
In a highly competitive battle, Leonard became world champion with a technical knockout in round 15, with the referee stopping the fight in Leonard's favor with six seconds left. Leonard led by 2, 4, and 7 points on the three judges' scorecard at the time of the stoppage.
The Ring Magazine named Leonard the Fighter of the Year for 1979.
In March 1980, Leonard won his 1st defense by easily beating British challenger Dave "Boy" Green with a devastating 4th round knockout in Landover, Maryland. Green had been a very busy fighter, having fought 6 times in 1979, winning 5 of them.
Next, Leonard went back to the Olympic Stadium in Montreal to defend his title against former World Lightweight Champion Roberto Duran, in the first superfight of the 1980s that was dubbed "The Brawl in Montreal" by Sports Illustrated. In a long, grueling contest, mostly fought against the ropes or in corners, the more experienced Duran outmauled Leonard in a very close fight and captured a majority decision. Leonard surprised many observers by standing flat-footed with the Panamanian slugger.
Their rematch was held in New Orleans on November 25, 1980. This time around, Leonard used far more lateral movement and jabs, staying off the ropes whenever possible. In round 7, Leonard taunted Duran, dropping his arms and winding up with a bolo punch. Neither fighter had absorbed much punishment, but Leonard had a narrow lead on all three scorecards after 7 rounds. In round 8, Duran turned around, walked to his corner and gave up. Although Duran is widely remembered for the now famous words, "no más," he never actually said them. It was actually commentator Howard Cosell who uttered the phrase, which inspired an angry comment from Duran in a 2005 article about the fight (however, the article makes it clear that Duran did quit, as he actually said the Spanish equivalent of "I can't continue"). Regardless, the sports world was stunned by Duran's actions. The controversy regarding this bout and Duran's motivation for quitting continues to this day. However, in an interview with ESPN, Duran had stated that he had started to get stomach cramps and felt it better to quit now than suffer through it. Trainer and TV commentator Gil Clancy opined that perhaps Duran had to defecate. In an episode of FOX Sports's Beyond The Glory, Duran's trainer said that Duran had turned to him and said "I won't fight anymore with this clown." Duran's manager, Carlos Eleta, said, "Duran didn't quit because of stomach cramps. He quit because he was embarrassed." Leonard was a world champion again and, after avenging his only defeat, once more was on top of the boxing world.
In March 1981, Leonard scored a routine 10th round TKO of unheralded Larry Bonds in a welterweight title defense.
On June 25, 1981, Leonard fought Ayub Kalule, the undefeated WBA World Junior Middleweight Champion. Kalule gave Leonard a tough fight, but Sugar Ray won via a 9th round TKO.
Undefeated arch-rival Thomas Hearns, meanwhile, was tearing apart the welterweight division and had won the WBA world title by knocking out Pipino Cuevas in the 2nd round. Hearns seemed unbeatable, having scored 30 KO's in 32 fights with no losses. A unification bout was set for September 16, 1981 at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Hearns unexpectedly weighed in at a very light 145 pounds, causing many to speculate he over-trained. "The Showdown" was televised on closed-circuit and pay-per-view outlets throughout the world.
Hearns (32-0) controlled the early rounds with his jab, keeping Leonard (30-1) off-balance. In the middle rounds, Leonard got inside and seriously hurt Hearns with left hooks. From rounds 8-12, Hearns rebounded and took charge by becoming the boxer, using side-to-side movement, steady jabs and occasional right crosses. Leonard's left eye, injured during a sparring session two weeks earlier, began to swell up. By the end of round 12, it was almost completely closed.
Warned by trainer Angelo Dundee that he was "blowing it," Leonard roared out in the 13th round and seriously hurt Hearns with a barrage of punches and knocked him down. Hearns barely survived the round. In the 14th, a combination of blows prompted the referee to stop the fight. At the time of the stoppage, all 3 judges had Hearns ahead on points. Leonard was now the undisputed welterweight champion, and had greatly increased his popularity and respect among some sports fans. However, another group of boxing fans thought the fight was stopped prematurely, as Hearns was not seriously hurt enough to stop the fight, but Hearns's manager and trainer, Emanuel Steward, agreed with the stoppage. Steward said, "I was talking to Tommy and all of a sudden his head slumped down. He was out of gas. I knew right then it was over."
Some disagreed with the judges' scorecards, arguing that rounds six and seven should have been given to Leonard by 10-8 margins. In those 2 rounds, Hearns was badly hurt but didn't go down. All three judges scored those rounds 10-9 for Leonard.
Sugar Ray was later named Fighter of the Year by The Ring Magazine for 1981, and they also tabbed his fight with Hearns as Fight of the Year. In addition, Ray was named ABC's Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year and Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.
Ahead were very difficult times: Leonard admitted to a stint with cocaine that lasted from 1982 to 1986. He fell victim to the drug, and reports surfaced of violence against his wife Juanita. Leonard admitted that his problems were caused by a need to be involved in the sport of boxing during the periods he was away from it, and immaturity.
Missing the limelight and the competition, Leonard announced in December 1983 that he was returning to the ring. This was the first of what would be several boxing comebacks during his career. Leonard boasted that he would re-claim his welterweight titles, and then take on Aaron Pryor, Donald Curry, Milton McCrory, Duran, Hearns and finally Hagler. This decision was met with a torrent of criticism from fans and the media, who felt Leonard was taking unnecessary risks with his surgically repaired eye.
A bout with Philadelphia's Kevin Howard was scheduled for February 1984 in Worcester, Massachusetts. This was postponed until May 11th when Leonard had minor corrective surgery on his right eye. This latest eye injury further fueled the flames of those who opposed Leonard's comeback.
The Leonard-Howard bout was televised live on HBO. Howard knocked Leonard flat on his back in the 4th round. It was the first knockdown of Leonard's professional career. The fight had a disputed ending, with some feeling that the referee stopped the fight prematurely. At the post-fight press conference, Leonard surprised everyone by announcing his retirement again, saying he just didn't have it anymore.
In May 1986, Leonard shocked the sports world once again when he announced he would return to the ring for one more fight: against World Middleweight Champion Marvin Hagler. This announcement generated a lot of controversy because of Leonard's inactivity and eye injuries. Yet it also excited many sports fans, who had wanted to see this match for years. Hagler took a few months to decide, then agreed to the match, scheduled for April 6, 1987 at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas.
Leonard had a very long training camp for the Hagler fight. After the Hagler fight, it was revealed that Leonard had a number of full 12 round fights behind closed doors. These were officially sparring sessions, but with a few major differences. There were no headguards used, small gloves and the sparring partners were told to try their best to win over the full 12 rounds. They were basically REAL fights.
The bout against Hagler was marketed by the promoters as "The Superfight". In exchange for more money, an over-confident Hagler agreed to a 12 round limit (which guaranteed WBC sanction) and Reyes gloves, and a big ring. The 12 round limit would haunt Hagler later on. Leonard-Hagler was broadcast on pay-per-view TV and closed-circuit outlets all over the world and was a huge money maker.
Hagler was a heavy favorite, the odds starting at 4-1, then settling at 3-1. Leonard had only fought once in five years, and had never fought as a middleweight. It was only Hagler's third fight in two & a half years as he entered the twilight of a glittering career. Leonard used the same tactics as he did in the 2nd Duran match, lateral movement, jabs and clenching when he was in trouble. Hagler had trouble keeping up with the fleet-footed Leonard. In general, Hagler landed the harder blows and Leonard landed more punches and the flashier ones. Neither fighter was knocked down. Leonard was warned repeatedly for holding by the referee, but no points were deducted. The decision went to Leonard via split decision. Hagler bitterly protested the result, and many boxing fans and writers have argued about the decision since.
Despite pleas from Hagler's camp for a rematch, Leonard announced his retirement a month later.
On November 7, 1988 Leonard came back and fought Don Lalonde. In a tough, bruising battle, Sugar Ray suffered a 4th round knockdown and was cut on the nose. Yet he recovered and knocked out Lalonde in the ninth round to win two world titles in one fight, the newly created WBC Super Middleweight Championship, and Lalonde's WBC Light Heavyweight Championship. This arrangement was somewhat controversial because light-heavyweight LaLonde had to weigh-in at or below the super-middleweight limit of 168 pounds.
In 1989, Leonard fought two old rivals. In June, he battled Hearns again at Caesar's Palace. In an exciting battle, Leonard was knocked down twice, but the decision by the officials was a twelve round draw. It was controversial, as most onlookers thought Hearns deserved the decision. Years later, Leonard said he too thought Hearns won the fight and he considered their rivalry tied at one win each. Nevertheless, the draw decision enabled Leonard to retain his WBC Super Middleweight title. Six months later, in December 1989, Sugar Ray fought Roberto Duran for a 3rd time. This matchup took place at the new Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas. Leonard used constant lateral movement and won by a lopsided twelve round unanimous decision over a listless Duran. In a fight that many considered to be very boring, both fighters were booed often by the fans and many left the arena before the decision was announced. Pat Putnam of Sports Illustrated wrote, "Leonard gave them artistic perfection when they wanted heated battle, and they booed lustily. Most fight fans would not spend a dime to watch Van Gogh paint Sunflowers, but they would fill Yankee Stadium to see him cut off his ear."
Around this time, Leonard's job as a boxing commentator with HBO came to an end. His association with CBS had ended a few years earlier.
In 1997, at age 40, Leonard launched what has so far been his final boxing comeback against former lightweight champion Hector 'Macho' Camacho. Years past his prime, Leonard was easily stopped by the smaller, usually light-hitting Camacho in 5 rounds. After this humiliating defeat, it was finally enough for Leonard, and he has not fought since.
He was a recurring cast member of the American action television series, L.A. Heat in the role of Det. Benny Lewis.
He is currently involved in the TV reality boxing series, The Contender and has served as host and boxing mentor to the aspiring fighters. His former co-host Sylvester Stallone was one of the executive producers, along with Mark Burnett.
On 27 September 2008 Sugar Ray visited the ground of English football (soccer) team Stoke City F.C, the Britannia Stadium, to watch their match against Chelsea, which they lost 2-0. He paraded near the dug-out next to the 'John Smiths Stand' and signed a Stoke City away shirt. He then put on a home shirt with his name on.