The memories of the abuse he endured as a boy are distant, but they return now and again to haunt him and remind him of where he came from and how he got to where he is.
Donny Lalonde hardly remembers the beatings themselves: They were too violent and quick. He recalls instead those moments when he would wake up and find himself lying dazed on the floor, with his stepfather standing over him and his mother rushing to help him. And he remembers, even more vividly, the mounting fear that foretold these brutal storms, and the scrambling under the bed to hide and the waiting....
On Sept. 6, as Lalonde toured the Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C., these memories came back again. Lalonde, a 28-year-old from Winnipeg, Manitoba, who now lives in New Haven, Conn., is the WBC's light heavyweight champion, and he was in Washington that day to do some volunteer work as an official spokesman for the U.S. Public Health Service in its campaign against child abuse. He taped a video for parents as part of the campaign, and then he went to the hospital to see "the kids," as he likes to call them.
Lalonde went from bed to bed, pausing at each one to whisper a quiet word. There was a child on whose back someone had burned BAD KID with a cigarette. And there were children who had been scalded with boiling water. Mostly, there were blank, bewildered, numbed stares.
"Kids with their hands scorched," says Lalonde. "Fried faces. Tons of broken bones. Kids brought in on the edge of death. It makes you want to cry. It made me remember how terrified I felt when I was their age. The memory was of those times when my mother and stepfather would go out at night, and I'd lie in my bed waiting for them to come home and wondering how violent it would be. The arguing. It was very, very scary. I'd lie in bed shaking. I even remember hiding under beds. My stepfather used to beat on me; I remember being beaten up many times. Think about the kids today, hiding in closets and wondering when they'll get beat on next."
Lalonde has been drawing on his own experiences and has been preaching openly against child abuse since Nov. 27, 1987, the day he won the light heavyweight title, which Thomas Hearns had vacated. He knocked out heavily favored Eddie Davis of New York, in the second round of their bout in Trinidad.
Lately, Lalonde has been attracting even more attention to himself—and, thereby, to his campaign against child abuse—because on Nov. 7, in the parking lot at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, he'll climb into the prize ring to face Sugar Ray Leonard, who, at the age of 32, is coming out of retirement for the fifth time. Two titles will be at stake—Lalonde's light heavyweight title and the WBC super middleweight crown (161-168 pounds), which has been vacant since it was created almost two years ago.
If Leonard wins—he is a 3½-to-1 favorite to finesse his way to victory—he will become the first fighter in history to win five championships in a career: welterweight, junior middleweight, middleweight and the pair up for grabs on Monday (though junior middle and super middle are recent creations of dubious merit). The two new titles are merely the powdered sugar on what is expected to be one of the largest cakes ever in boxing.
Leonard's lawyer and adviser, Mike Trainer, is promoting the bout, and he says he has arranged a deal involving pay-per-view and closed circuit TV that guarantees the two fighters will divvy up more than $20 million, of which Leonard's take is expected to be about $15 million. That Leonard could emerge from retirement to fight an obscure Canadian for such extraordinary numbers is testimony to the kind of dollars that the money men will pay up front to put him on a show.
However, two weeks before the fight, local cable operators were reporting that at $29.95 for home viewing and as much as $50 for theater and arena tickets, the public wasn't buying. Obviously, one of the reasons sales have been less than brisk is Lalonde's anonymity.