SANTA MONICA, CA - MAY 20: Former professional boxer Sugar Ray Leonard attends the B. Riley & Co. and Sugar Ray Leonard Foundation's 5th Annual "Big Fighters, Big Cause" Charity Boxing Night at the Santa Monica Pier on May 20, 2014 in Santa Monica, California.
Photograph by: Mark Davis, Ottawa Citizen
On June 12, boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard, 58, is the featured guest at the annual Ringside for Youth dinner (sold out), which raises money for the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa. In advance he talked to the Citizen’s Wayne Scanlan.
Q: Not many boxers script a happy ending, especially regarding their health, how are you doing?
A: Well, I’m holding up, I work out three times a week, four times when I get a little stressed, because workouts for me are therapeutic. It’s all maintenance. People ask me, how do you stay in shape? You know what, I never really got out of shape ever, even when I was boxing. That’s just my nature.
Q: Did it help in the long run to have that semi-retirement in the early ’80s due to a detached retina? It probably saved you a lot of blows to the head.
A: It was a blessing in disguise, kind of double-edged sword. I had a relatively short career when you base it on the type of fights I had (25 KOs). I had two years, three years of hiatus, I was out of the ring, not taking the blows. Who knows (if that helped).
Q: You talk about a double-edged sword, did the time away also hurt you as far as developing lifestyle issues?
A: Well, yeah, drugs. All of a sudden you find new friends. You find substances that make you feel good. Drinking, and all those other things we tend to abuse. You know, I don’t regret any of it. I look at my life as a success. Sure, I had bad times like everybody else. Bad times, dark times, uncomfortable times. But the key is coming out of that. Regaining your – whether it’s sobriety or a sense of self. Because what I was able to accomplish and do, it’s very seductive. I mean, the finances, the fame, that goes along with that it can make you something you’re not. I had good people around me, and that’s who I cherish the most. My family and friends.
Q: So many great fights, Tommy Hitman Hearns, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran. Who was your toughest opponent?
A: Naturally, they were all tough, but if I had to pick one, the big one? – Tommy Hearns. That was one of my defining moments.
A: I’m proud of all my fights. The Hagler fight — there was so much controversy, even to this day people say, Marvin should have won. But that’s what makes boxing – and what makes rematches compelling. But the Hearns fight was a big fight because Tommy Hearns was the WBA champion and I was the WBC champ, it was for the unification of the crown. It was highly anticipated. So was the second Duran fight, the ‘No Mas’ fight. I was in an era where the champions were globally known.
Q: Those were the glory years.
A: Without question. People still talk about it, wherever I go. There’s not a day that goes by, when I leave my house, that I’m not approached by someone saying – I was on my daddy’s lap watching you fight Hearns and Duran . . . it’s humbling. It’s very humbling.
A: On July 4th, I’ll be eight years sober. Alcohol was really the thing that was bringing me down. I had stopped cocaine. I was a toothpick, and I was doing that because – again, I found new friends, and I paid for it. It got to a point, I looked in the mirror and I saw a person I didn’t know. And I said, no more. And I stopped. But it’s hard to admit you’re an alcoholic when you have all the toys, money, people tell you how great you are. But they never tell you how bad you are. Your real friends tell you. It got so I didn’t feel I was the person my parents raised me to become. And I surrendered. It’s been that way for the past eight years.
Q: You didn’t have an easy childhood. (In his book, Leonard tells of an incident in which his mother stabbed his father with a switch blade).
A: No, but I had a great childhood. My parents loved us, they supported us, they fed us, we got by. People say, you had a tough life, well, I don’t think any tougher than my neighbours. People deal with life, and have situations in their life. You think you have it bad? Well, some people have it worse. I look at my life now as wonderful. It’s made me the person I am today.
Q: In your book, you came forward to tell of being sexually abused by an Olympic trainer. How did the incident impact your life?
A: Shock, trauma. There’s such a stigma attached to sexual abuse, you’re afraid to tell anyone because of what they may think. So you keep it to yourself. No matter how successful you become, that nightmare resurfaces in various ways, most of them not good. And I dealt with that for many years until I made the revelation in my book. I’ve been embraced and acknowledged since, now I am very much an advocate.
Q: Tell me about your life today, in L.A.?
A: My foundation is in its fifth year, we’ve had support from Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, Usher, the list goes on. I do a number of things. I try to give back, try to be of service. I have my three dogs – I used to have seven! And I take care of my kids, try to give my kids the best chance of surviving and being successful, not just in business but in life itself.
• Sugar Ray Leonard was the first boxer to earn more than $100 million.
• He held titles in five different weight classes during his career.
• He won the 1976 Olympic gold medal in the light welterweight class.
• His professional record was 36-3-1 with 25 knockouts.
• He was named boxer of the decade during a spectacular era for boxing, the 1980s.
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