62 years ago today in Wilmington, North Carolina, one of the greatest boxers of the last fifty years was born; in fact, a more recent tribute afforded this special fighter, from Ring Magazine, was his being named as the greatest living fighter today.
Ray Charles Leonard is the man, and whether or not you agree that Sugar is the finest surviving fighter today it cannot be denied how Leonard was a very special fighter indeed – very much a one-off.
Still very much in the public eye, Leonard is an incredibly wealthy and admired person. All he has he earned came due to his bravery and incredible ring talents, and these days he rightfully basks in the glory of a boxing career that was nothing short of exceptional.
Fans, both young and old, know the Ray Leonard story. How he dazzled America and the world with his amateur career, an amateur career which culminated with the capturing of a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. How he then threatened to retire even before throwing a single punch in the pro ranks. Only to change his mind and go on to capture world titles at five different weights.
And who will ever forget the great fights Leonard thrilled us with as he collected world title after world title? Legendary, never to be topped boxing classics against the likes of Wilfredo Benitez, Robert Duran, Thomas Hearns and Marvelous Marvin Hagler followed in his storybook career. All of these encounters were the stuff of legend and for each and every one of the super fights the world stopped to watch.
Blessed with incredible speed, balance, timing, power, heart and courage, along with a superb chin in his sublime prime years, Leonard overcame all styles. Beating master boxers like Benitez and Hearns, proving too much for warriors like Duran and Hagler and getting past murderous punchers like Hearns, Leonard adapted to all his opponent’s strengths. Only one man beat him during his all too short peak (a peak that was cut short by a damaged retina in his right eye), and that loss, to Roberto Duran, was immediately avenged.
Forced to retire shortly after his mega fight unification showdown with Tommy Hearns at welterweight due to his eye trouble, Leonard made one of the most audacious yet brilliant moves in boxing history when he had the nerve to come back and challenge Hagler for Marvelous Marvin’s middleweight crown in 1987. One of the greatest comebacks in the sport of boxing later, “Sugar” Ray was back on top of the world. His greatness now proven without a doubt, Leonard could have, indeed should have, retired for good.
But comebacks were now part of Ray Leonard’s life, and he made a further three – having varying degrees of success as he did so. With age having caught up with him and his speed and reflexes, not to mention his ability to take a hard shot, compromised, Leonard would lose twice more – one time by the once unthinkable result of a KO.
Finally quitting for good after this sole KO loss (to Hector Camacho) in 1997, Leonard left the sport with a fine record of 36-3-1(25). Had he not tempted fate as often he did by making comebacks, there would have been just one result in his loss column – perhaps making him an even greater fighter in the eyes of many.
Despite his setbacks in the later years of his career, however, Ray Leonard is seen to today as THE best fighter of the 1980s, as well as being recognised as one of the finest fighters of the last half-century or so.