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Sweet 'n Low
Richard Hoffer
March 10, 1997
Sugar Ray Leonard looked all of his 40 years in another ill-fated comeback
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March 10, 1997

Sweet 'n Low

Sugar Ray Leonard looked all of his 40 years in another ill-fated comeback

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This little cuteness would leave him open to cries of consumer fraud after the fight. What was he doing allowing people to sign up for a $35 pay-per-view show if he was damaged goods? He responded evenly that he gave 100% no matter what. And nobody really believes that the fight was a take-the-money-and-run scheme. His $4 million purse, while not incidental, couldn't have been that important to him. Still, if this whole business was a matter of runaway ego—if he believed that a Leonard in any condition is a good value—then he did indeed cheat a lot of people, and maybe himself.

The amazing thing was that this event, as it approached, assumed a kind of importance. People took it seriously, making Leonard a slight favorite to beat Camacho in the days before the fight. Looking back, that doesn't make sense. In the time Leonard had been retired, Camacho fought 28 times. And while Camacho never fulfilled his early promise as a lightweight, squandering his talent on the nightlife, he remained, at 34 years old and 160 pounds, a durable and active stylist.

Veteran trainer Jesse Reid, a late addition to Camacho's typically turbulent camp, kept shaking his head over the match. He couldn't figure out why Leonard would want to involve himself with someone—a southpaw, at that—who was always busy and had the ability to embarrass, if not demolish, you.

Camacho, who might have been overlooked if he wasn't so persistently zany (he stripped buck naked for last Saturday's weigh-in and threw water on Leonard's trainer at an earlier news conference), was scratching his head too. "Look how soft he is," Camacho kept saying. "He's got no energy." Leonard was, in a word, old.

But, as Camacho understood, Leonard was there because "he believes in his history." And because Camacho was grateful for his $2 million purse in a last-chance showcase of his own, he didn't mind that everybody else believed in Leonard too.

But all belief systems went out the window once the fight started. When Leonard was asked afterward when he first realized he was in trouble, he said, "First punch." Camacho, ever cautious, took a while longer before he pronounced it in the bag. He said he knew his punches were getting to Leonard "by the fourth round, when he was going back to his corner."

In the fifth round Camacho stepped in with two left uppercuts that dropped Leonard. He nearly went down again as he struggled to regain his feet. The 11-punch barrage that followed, and caused referee Joe Cortez to stop the bout 1:08 into the round, was anticlimactic. It was the least contested referee's decision in boxing history.

The prospect of a rematch with Norris or a fight with Oscar De La Hoya, bandied about beforehand, now seemed to be so much middle-aged craziness. Leonard had been wrong, and he admitted it up to a point while announcing another retirement. "Inactivity in boxing is a sin," he said. Yet he was quick to add, "I don't feel bad about it. I don't feel embarrassed." That was an amazing insistence. Everybody else there did feel bad about it, did feel embarrassed for him. To see him end up this way? He was too gifted, for too long. Just not quite as long as he thought.

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