Though the bout is expected to be a financial windfall for the two fighters, Leonard's choice of Lalonde as an opponent has generated widespread skepticism. Lalonde, who's awkward, slow and no match for Leonard when it comes to boxing skill, is perceived as strictly a one-armed fighter, with a big right hand that has led to all 26 of the knockouts among his 31 victories (against two losses) and a left hand that's good for swatting flies. Lalonde is seen by some observers as an ideal rival for Leonard—ideal in the sense that he'll make it easy for Leonard to set a boxing record and in the fact that he is white, which presumably means he'll be a better gate attraction.
"I resent this idea that we picked him because he is white," Trainer says. "If he were black—same size, same height—he'd have more credibility. I hate to say that, but it's true." Leonard chose to fight Lalonde, says Trainer, for three reasons. "Number one, he was a free agent," says Trainer. That is, he had no ties to any big promoters, no middlemen hanging on to take a piece of the action. Number two, says Trainer, Lalonde—as a light heavy—offered Leonard the challenge of moving way up in weight. "Ray fighting anyone his size, you wouldn't buy it," says Trainer. And, number three, by fighting Lalonde, Leonard could go for those two titles in one night.
Not incidentally, Leonard's camp insisted that the fight be for the super middleweight title as well as for the light heavyweight crown, which means Lalonde must come in at seven pounds under his normal weight. Controversy has swirled around that potentially damaging concession by Lalonde. Veteran boxing trainer and commentator Gil Clancy says, "I've never heard of a title fight in which a fighter had to come in under his championship weight. It's not right."
None of this bothers Lalonde excessively. "It's the opportunity of a lifetime to fight an alltime great," he says. "I'm thrilled to death. The fight is a springboard for everything I want to do in my life. Acting is one of those things. Helping the kids is another. That's the most significant thing I'm involved in. It's real. Boxing is fun and games. To be glorified for being able to knock out someone else is ridiculous. But that's the way society is. If I could make a dent in the child abuse problem, that would really be significant."
Lalonde fits no stereotype as a prizefighter. With blue eyes, a wiry frame and long blond hair he touches up with highlighters, he looks more like a Southern California surfer than a boxing champion. His diet is chiefly vegetarian; he eschews all processed foods. He drinks juices out of his own squeezer and eats his meals with chopsticks. He trains to the music of Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens. He submits himself daily to the painful rigors of deep-tissue massaging, or rolfing. He stays in his room a lot and reads books with titles like What Zen Masters Do For Play.
He's introverted and extremely well-spoken. He says things like, "I've always felt a strong spiritual connection with the outdoors." He runs marathons, meditates daily and prays before fights that no one gets hurt. He also seems to be comfortable with the abiding irony of his life—that he's an outspoken foe of domestic violence, yet involved in the most deliberately abusive sport.
"Boxing to me isn't an abusive or violent thing." Lalonde says. "I'm not in there to hurt a guy. I just want to debilitate him for 10 seconds or until the referee stops it. Boxing is what I use to gauge my personal growth."
Tell that to Eddie Davis or former WBA light heavyweight champion Leslie Stewart, whom Lalonde knocked out in the fifth round, or any of the other victims of his sneaky-quick, over-the-top right hand.
Lalonde's contradictions and complexities aside, given his early struggles with self-doubt, multiple injuries and shattered self-esteem, it's a wonder he has gotten as far as he has in the game. Lalonde was born in Kitchener, Ont., March 12, 1960, the son of a salesman who left his wife and four children when Lalonde was three. "It really had nothing to do with me, but I took it personally," says Lalonde. "I had that to start with. For quite a few years, I'd walk down the street and look into car windows to see if it was him. I missed him; I thought it was something I did."
When his mother, Jean, remarried, Donny accepted his stepfather, Bob Wylie, immediately. "I thought. Here's my new dad," he says. "And I just loved the guy. We'd go hunting and fishing together."