An Angeleno for the last two decades, Sugar Ray Leonard has remained a furiously energetic personality both inside and outside the world of boxing. He was, for all intents and purposes, the face of American boxing from his gold medal-winning performance at the 1976 Montreal Olympics through his final title-winning fight against Roberto Duran in 1989.
More recently, Leonard has become a regular presence on television, primarily as the host of ESPN's boxing-themed reality series The Contender. He also appears frequently on Keeping Up with the Kardashians (he is Khloe's godfather), and most recently was a contestant on Dancing with the Stars.
In Leonard's new autobiography, The Big Fight: My life In and Out of the Ring, the fighter credits his unusually long boxing career — his last pro fight, a loss against Hector Camacho, was in 1997 at age 40 — partially to a compulsion to examine fight film and dissect his opponents' various boxing styles and weaknesses.
Leonard's book, which was co-authored by Michael Arkush, is an unusually well-organized and frank memoir of a highly accomplished career in sports that paralleled a troubled personal life. Although the current buzz around the book focuses on Leonard's revelation that he was sexually abused by a prominent boxing coach while training for the Olympics, the author is equally forthcoming about his own flaws. Much of his adult life has been strewn with infidelity and addiction, both of which he examines with unflinching honesty and from the happier perspective of having conquered his demons.
Sugar Ray took some time out of his always busy schedule, and answered a few questions for the LA Weekly with the same swift precision that he brought to the ring. The man himself will be appearing at the Grove Barnes and Noble on Monday, June 13, at 7:00 p.m.
You set up the book with a scene that shows you just before the 1986 Hagler fight (promoted as “The Super Fight”), examining your two selves in a mirror: the charismatic celebrity Sugar Ray, and the flawed man from Palmer Park, Md. Ray Leonard. Is this split identity a thing of the past, or does it continue?
I can never totally get rid of Sugar Ray because we are one and the same, needing each other to exist in life. Sugar Ray pays the rent — so they need to coexist, with more of Ray!
Although it's only a small section of the book, your account of the sexual abuse you experienced while you were a teenager has already made news. What prompted you to finally discuss this painful chapter of your life?
I was able to release that pain and torture of over thirty years because of my program [counseling and therapy].
At various points throughout the book, you talk about boxers who had it worse than you did: Derrik Holmes, Bobby Magruder and Wilfred Benitez in his retirement. What role does luck play in a boxing career, even for those who are very talented?
Luck is a word that's hard to define truthfully. I like the term predestined!
Did obsession play a part in your boxing career? You say in the book that your favorite part of preparing for a fight was trying to pinpoint your opponents' style and weaknesses. It sounds as though watching film of your opponents provided you with a special edge. Do you know if you spent more time doing this than your opponents?
Yes, totally. I prepared for a fight like a lawyer in a case or a doctor doing an operation
You recount a story about your trainer Pepe Correa punching your cornerman Angelo Dundee after Dundee allegedly directed a racial slur at Correa. You say in the book that Correa's actions were wrong, no matter what Dundee said. Why is it okay to punch a man in the controlled environment of a boxing ring, but not out of what some would say is righteous anger?
The answer is simply a controlled environment, when the other guy agrees to engage!
This might seem like a trite and pro-forma kind of question, but I'm interested in your answer: How has boxing changed since your last fight in 1997 — as both a sport and a business? Is the sweet science still sweet? Was it ever?
Boxing has changed in that the commitment, not the talent, has gone astray in the boxing ring. Boxing as a business is huge without a lot of content! [It's] still sweet, always sweet.