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Sugar Ray Leonard

Ringside Politics

Because of the existence of two prominent worldwide boxing organizations, a subsequent bout between Leonard and another world welterweight champion, Pipino Cuevo, was anticipated. Cuevo at that time was the sanctioned champion of the World Boxing Association (WBA), and representatives for the two fighters went into negotiations almost immediately. As talks convened to schedule a two-way championship fight, WBA officials inexplicably refused to sanction the bout what-soever—even the notion of a non-title bout between the two title holders was diffused, for reasons never stated.

When negotiations for the Cuevo fight stalled, an interim bout was scheduled, pitting Leonard against Davey "Boy" Green of Britain. The fight nearly ended in tragedy when Leonard in the fourth round dealt a KO punch that dropped Green onto the mat where he remained motionless for many seconds. Green regained consciousness after some minutes and left the ring with assistance.

As an alternative to the Cuevo fight, a contest was set for June 20, 1980, in Montreal, between Leonard and a prominent Panamanian fighter, Roberto Duran. Duran's reputation as a vicious street fighter was well founded. He had boxed in amateur matches since the age of ten and had entered professional competition at age seventeen. Originally classified as a lightweight, Duran lacked the self-discipline to maintain the weight requirement and was forced to fight against men much larger than him in stature. Duran was notorious for his wild, aggressive, and animal-like boxing style by which he cornered his opponents into serious jeopardy, forcing them against the ropes with no chance for escape.

In preparation for the bout with Duran, Leonard went into training at his personal facility in New Carrolton, Maryland. Bookmakers set odds at 9-5 in favor of Leonard, but fate was to side with the underdog. Duran pummeled Leonard, winning the fight by a unanimous decision and taking the world welterweight title in the process. The loss was the first of Leonard's professional career.

The Leonard camp pressed Duran representatives for a rematch, and a second meeting was set for the New Orleans Superdome on November 25. Bookmakers were more cautious for the second encounter, laying odds at 3-2, albeit still in Leonard's favor.

Leonard appeared for the rematch dressed in black trunks and shoes, in a stark and pointed contrast from the signature white outfits that he habitually wore. As the match got underway, Leonard assumed a menacing posture. It was a rare attitude for Leonard—he mimicked Duran's own aggressive boxing style and used it against him, besting Duran at his own game. In a surprise conclusion, Duran threw in the towel. Ceding the fight in the eighth round, he begged, "No more," and Leonard was proclaimed welterweight champion for the second time.

Duran returned to his native Panama in disgrace, with no explanation for his apparent cowardice. The fight was Duran's final appearance in the ring. He was ordered by the WBC to pay a $7,500 fine for failing to perform in compliance with council standards. No further explanation was ever given for the curious fight.

Where Is He Now?

Leonard's later attempts to recapture the titles were vainglorious but served as a testament to his love of the sport and to his indefatigable spirit. In 1989, a rematch with Hearns ended in a draw. Two years later, in February 1991 at age thirty-five, Leonard challenged WBC junior middleweight champion Terry Norris to a title bout. After losing to Norris, Leonard announced his retirement for the third time.

In Atlantic City on March 1, 1997, lured by the agony of defeat, Leonard endured a final, ill-fated comeback. In a title challenge bout, against Hector "Macho" Camacho for the middleweight championship of the International Boxing Council (IBC, formerly WBC), Leonard was bested by TKO in the fifth round of the contest.

Leonard was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame on June 15, 1997. In 2001 he embarked on a venture as a television-based impresario, with the establishment of Sugar Ray Leonard Boxing, Incorporated.

Leonard's personal life upended in 1990 when his marriage to Wilkinson ended in divorce after ten years and two children. At that time he moved to a house in Pacific Palisades. On August 20, 1993, he married model Bernadette Robi.

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