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THE WORLD ACCORDING TO RAY
Gary Smith
December 04, 1989
RAY LEONARD DREAMS OF PEACE AND DETACHMENT, AND HE KNOWS ONLY ONE WAY TO KEEP THE DREAM ALIVE: BY RETURNING AND RETURNING ONCE AGAIN TO THE RING, THIS TIME TO MEET ROBERTO DURAN
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December 04, 1989

The World According To Ray

RAY LEONARD DREAMS OF PEACE AND DETACHMENT, AND HE KNOWS ONLY ONE WAY TO KEEP THE DREAM ALIVE: BY RETURNING AND RETURNING ONCE AGAIN TO THE RING, THIS TIME TO MEET ROBERTO DURAN

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He and his wife separated. He could not believe that he could not heal the rupture, that scar tissue had formed that he couldn't rub away. No one, he vowed, would ever get close to him again.

He didn't need anyone. Beating Marvin Hagler, he was certain, had changed his life. Finally, he could retire and not lose his self-esteem. He could be content, yes, he was sure of it. "To achieve greatness, you must be selfish." he said, "but once you become great, you can be unselfish. That's where I am now. That fight gave me happiness, maturity, independence. That fight gave me balance."

And yet, he didn't stop. He had captured as much of the dream as a man's fists were built to grasp, and yet—this was his greatness and his curse—he kept grasping. Who? Who, from the heights where he now floated, was worthy of combat? Who was foe enough to keep life like a dream, to elevate Ray Leonard higher? Donny Lalonde, he decided. Who? the people asked. Donny Lalonde, a higher weight class, a chance to take the WBC super middleweight and light heavyweight crowns. Surely that would be a grand quest, surely that would fling the cellar door open. So why did he never quite feel it during that Nov. 7, 1988, fight, why did it never quite happen? Why did he land once on the seat of his pants?

Thomas Hearns, that would do it—the first time they met, hadn't Hearns been ahead on all three judges' cards after 13 rounds? Wasn't there a more perfect dream to be dreamed there? So why did reporters keep asking Leonard what was the point of the match, keep insisting that Hearns was finished as a fighter? Why did fighting never once feel like crying that night last June? Why did he feel no motivation, why did he twice land on the canvas?

Roberto Duran, then—yes, surely Roberto Duran. Hadn't Duran said "No más" nine years ago in the eighth round of their second fight? "Duran has quit. Duran has quit!"—not "Leonard has won!"—wasn't that what Howard Cosell had screamed the moment it happened, wasn't that what all the world had talked about? Surely there was a better fantasy there, a finish more thunderous and Thor-like....

Ray. Ray. Could he hear himself? Surely he knew what all boxers know—that to make a man lose his will in the ring is more than to make him lose his consciousness. That to make a champion quit is a fighter's ultimate fruition.

He shut his ears. He did not need fruition. He needed the dream. He needed a reason to keep boxing. He clenched his teeth during press conferences. How could he explain to people, or even to himself, that the ring was the one place where he could have it both ways, where he could be human and god at once, completely vulnerable and completely in command? Couldn't they see he was a happier, more relaxed man now that he was boxing again, that he was able to spend three whole weeks in the Bahamas without packing and running? Couldn't they see he wasn't surrounded by quite so many people now, that more and more he was going on road trips with his five-year-old son, Jarrel? And maybe, just maybe, he was chasing down something he wasn't even aware of—that in order to bear the last half of his life perhaps he needed to be made human, perhaps he needed to lose, and that was why his life kept moving, as if by absolute predestination, toward....

"No, he'd never fight Michael Nunn—Nunn's as quick at 160 pounds as Ray was at 147 eight years ago," said trainer Eddie Futch. "Ray's too shrewd for that, it would be crazy. You name the odds, as high as you want, Ray will never...."

The dreamer raged: "I can't believe it. People have put me in an obituary." The dreamer, who used each criticism as psychological fuel, needed to hear more of it and more....

"Sugar Ray blew it," said NBC analyst Ferdie Pacheco. "He had a chance to set a precedent and lead boxing into a new era of safety, to quit rich and famous, as one of the most heroic figures ever. But he's doing boxing irreparable harm. He can no longer get away from his opponent in the ring, he's getting hit by punches he never used to, he's lost his chin. That's the definition of a shot fighter. If Duran's in shape, Ray better get the number of a good neurologist, because he's going to need one in 10 years."

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