It was a real privilege to chat to boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard this week from his home in the United States as the five-weight world champion discussed his career contentment and the sport in the present day.
The 1980’s icon, who fought epic battles with the likes of Thomas ‘Hitman Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran during a stellar ring stint, was in relaxed mood as he looked back on his achievements with the kind of pride that comes with being remembered as one of the all-time greats.
Leonard won his first world title in 1979, just over three years on from his Olympic gold medal feat at the 1976 games in Montreal, and has enjoyed status at boxing’s top table ever since compiling a C.V of just three defeats in 40 bouts.
Despite being highly active when unifying the welterweight division against Hearns in 1981, Leonard fought sporadically in the years that transpired, engaging just once in over five years between 1982 and 1987 before coming back to beat the best around at the higher middleweight limit in the formidable Hagler.
Another victory over Robert Duran on the back of a loss and triumph in 1981 followed a rematch draw with Hearns in 1989, before Leonard finished off his career with defeats six years apart to Terry Norris and Hector Camacho.
Seven world titles between 147 and 175 pounds over a nine-year period represents a remarkable achievement for Leonard, who was firstly asked how he reflects on what he managed to accomplish in his standout years lacing up the gloves.
“I have a wall in my gym from my amateur days right up the end of my career – in order from the beginning, so I see that every day that I come in here,” Leonard exclusively told World Boxing News.
“Amongst it, there’s a picture of my father and I from before the Olympics and it reminds me of why I decided to box as we had nothing growing up and I needed to do something. I had to make money so I began boxing and as it turned out it went pretty well for me.
“I’m 59 years old now and I have children, grandchildren who I focus my attention on, but when I look back at my career I’m happy with what I did, you know.”
Leonard currently serves as an analyst for Premier Boxing Champions so remains right in the mix of the big fight action and had some advice for the new generation when asked how he compares the sport from his own heyday to the present time.
“These days, there are a lot of young fighters who I give advice too and just tell them to be humble and stay grounded. Some fighters don’t have that humility and can forget that they had fans when they were on the way up. They don’t realise that they were always there from the beginning when they do get to the top,” he said.
“I remember my career progressing and how fast things changed. I was flying on private jets and it took time to adjust from where I came up from to dealing with the pressures of professional boxing.
“When I fought with the likes of Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler, these guys took pride in being a champion and wanted to fight the best out there.
“If I could give any fighter out there advice it would just be to keep that humility and don’t forget how you started,” added Leonard.
Look out for part two and three from the Sugar Ray Leonard interview on World Boxing News over the coming days as the former pound for pound star talks Floyd Mayweather, Klitschko, Gennady Golovkin and more.