"FIGHTING IS WHAT I DO BEST. IT'S WHY I WAS BORN"
Cynics will say it was inevitable, and they're probably right: The boxers who make the biggest deal of retirement are the ones likeliest to unretire. And Sugar Ray Leonard had made a big deal of it, announcing on Nov. 9, 1982, after an operation six months earlier for a partly detached retina of the left eye, that he was quitting because "I simply don't want to fight anymore." So what was the former world welterweight champion doing last Saturday night fighting two three-round exhibitions at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C. and declaring afterward, with a MacArthuresque flourish, "I am back"?
Denying that he was returning to the ring because of a craving for money or adulation, Leonard said, "I'm coming back because fighting is what I do best. It's why I was born. It's as simple as that." Although Leonard has been repeatedly assured by doctors that his eye is healed, he admitted that the development of the thumbless glove figured prominently in his decision. He will probably insist on the use of thumbless gloves in fights and will certainly wear them in sparring.
"I studied my old training films," Leonard said. "I realized I wasn't being hurt during fights; I was being hurt during training. I'm convinced it was during a sparring session that I got the detached retina. Sparring partners are always figuring out new ways of defense. Some are scared and do things like sticking their thumbs in your eyes."
There's no question that Leonard was bored after spending 13 months on the wrong side of the ropes. He made TV commercials and did commentary for HBO and CBS, but he never got out of shape. At first he was content to run mornings, but a few months ago—he won't say exactly when—he began to work out. To judge by his sharpness in the exhibitions at Andrews, the 27-year-old Leonard has done more than a little sparring in recent weeks. Weighing 151 pounds and wearing thumbless gloves, he dropped light heavyweight Herman Epps with a right cross in the third round and then showboated his way through three rounds with middleweight Odell Leonard, who is no relation.
Leonard can contemplate fighting in any of three divisions. He plans to launch his comeback in February, against either a ranked welterweight or junior middleweight, then go after one of the welterweight champs, either the WBA's Donald Curry or, more likely, the WBC's Milton McCrory ("I haven't forgotten what he said when I retired; that...if I hadn't retired, he would have gone for the eye"). If Leonard wins one of those titles, he might defend against Colin Jones, the tough young Welshman. After that he could fight Aaron Pryor, who would be asked to move up from junior welterweight; either of the two junior middleweight champions, Thomas Hearns or Roberto Duran; and finally the middleweight champ, Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Some observers assumed that Leonard was returning because of the prospect of a showdown with Hagler, but Sugar Ray insisted that the impulses that drew him back into the ring—against the wishes, incidentally, of his wife, Juanita—weren't so narrow. As he put it, "I have just come back to fight, and I don't care who it is."
HE'S GOT MOVES EVEN ON THE PHONE
Six days before his team's 21-7 victory on Sunday over the Los Angeles Rams, New England Patriots Coach Ron Meyer, who coached the Rams' Eric Dickerson at SMU, took a call on his Boston radio talk show from a man with an exaggerated Southern accent. "Is this Coach Meyer?" the caller asked.
"Yes, it is."
"Yeah, this is John Dawson from Waco, Texas, and I want to know, how do you plan to shut down that Mr. Dickerson?"