Sugar Ray Leonard

Sugar Ray Leonard
Born May 17, 1956 (age 57)
Rocky Mount, North Carolina, USA
Nationality American

Known for his agility and finesse, Sugar Ray Leonard is a retired professional boxer. He filled the boxing void left when Muhammad Ali retired in 1981. He was the 1976 Olympic boxing gold medalist and went on to win championships in five weight classes as a professional.

Personal Life

Sugar Ray Leonard was born on May 17, 1956, in North Carolina to a simple middle-class family. His father, Cicero Leonard, was a supermarket night manager, and mother, Getha Leonard, was a nurse. Leonard was a shy child, who spent most of his time reading comic books and playing with his dog. He had seven siblings.

Leonard’s parents were not financially well off and he had to negotiate times which were financially stressful. At times, he had to walk from North L Street to Washington Monument and he used to check trash cans to see if there were some leftovers to be eaten.

Leonard later revealed that, as a child, he was also a victim of sexual abuse by coaches he had trusted. Leonard turned to drugs and alcohol to suppress his shame and anger of being a victim of child abuse.

Introduced to Boxing

Leonard was introduced to boxing by his brother Roger, who was in the welterweight category. Roger was the athlete in the family and he used to be involved in multiple sports along with his other brother, Kenny. It was Roger who inspired Leonard to begin boxing in Palmer Park in 1970.

Juanita Wilkinson was Leonard’s high school girlfriend. Juanita became pregnant in 1973, before the couple was married, and they decided to have the baby. However, they postponed their marriage until 1976, so that Leonard can focus on preparing for the Olympics. Juanita lived with her parents until then to raise the child.

However, she had to go through financial distress and even filed for child support shortly before the Olympics, but she did not disclose all this to Leonard as she did not want to disturb his preparations. After the Olympics, Leonard’s parents suffered medical complications and could not work, which meant Leonard had to take financial care of his parents, his wife, and his child. This financial crunch made Leonard rethink about his career plans and brought him into the world of professional boxing.

Boxing Career

Sugar Ray LeonardLeonard started his amateur boxing career at the age of 13. By his mid-teens, he had won 145 of 150 bouts and garnered two National Golden Glove Championships (1974), two Amateur Athletic Union championships and a gold medal at the 1975 Pan American Games.

In 1976, Leonard entered the U.S. Olympic team as a light welterweight representative, along with Leon and Michael Spinks, Charles Mooney, Howard Davis and John Tate. This team was considered the best and the strongest Olympic team in the history of Olympics. Leonard won the Olympic Gold Medal. Just after winning the Gold Medal in the Olympics, Leonard changed his plans for the future and planned to study business administration and communication.

However, things changed and Leonard decided to become a professional boxer. He started his training under Angelo Dundee, Muhammad Ali’s trainer and made his debut presence as a professional on February 5, 1977, at the Civic Centre in Baltimore in the presence of more than 10,000 people. Leonard defeated his opponent – Luis “The Bull” Vega – by six rounds. The fight with world rank opponent, Floyd Mayweather, was Leonard’s 14th professional fight and Leonard defeated him in a 10th round knockout.

Becoming a Champion

On November 30, 1979, Leonard fought for his first world title, the WBC Welterweight Championship, at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. This highly competitive fight was against Wilfred Benitez and Leonard won the battle tactfully. In 1979, he was named the Fighter of the Year by the Ring Magazine and the Boxing Writers Association of America.

His fight against Roberto Duran (world lightweight champion) was held at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. Leonard was defeated in the fight. The rematch was held in New Orleans in November of 1980, where Leonard won the match by a technical knockout. He defended his title a second time against Larry Bonds.

Comeback and Legacy

In 1988, he made a comeback against Don Lalonde in Las Vegas. He lost his lightweight championship title to Don Lalonde.

Sugar Ray Leonard is widely considered as one of the best boxers of all time, defeating Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler and Wilfred Benitez, all of which were the International Boxing Hall of Fame inductees. He was also named as the Boxer of the Decade for the 1980s. He entered the decade as a champion and left a champion.

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