They held the Who-Is-Going-To-Fight- Sugar Ray Leonard-In-The-Big-One auction last week in Syracuse, N.Y., and except for the intrusion of a fistfight, it went rather smoothly. Steven Wainwright was there representing the financial interests of undisputed middleweight champion Marvin Hagler. And Emanuel Steward, the manager of Thomas Hearns, the WBA welterweight champion—Leonard, of course, holds the WBC title—dropped in for two hours of secret talks at the airport. The case for Pipino Cuevas, second-ranked among WBC welters, was made by Manager Rafael Mendoza. Cuevas was a long shot, but Mike Trainer, the mastermind of Leonard's financial empire, likes to keep alternatives in reserve.
They all agreed on one thing: the big payday for one of them will be in the fall. Leonard is already committed to pursuing Ayub Kalule's WBA junior middleweight title in late June. In Syracuse they were jostling to see who would next prosper from Leonard's multimillion-dollar drawing power after he fights Kalule. The talk was about a pot of $60 million or so, and the winner would be whoever figured to help build it to that level and conceded the lion's share to Sugar Ray.
To relieve the tedium of the negotiating table, Larry Bonds, a lefthanded garbage man, was imported from Denver and paid $100,000 to go a few rounds with Leonard in the new Carrier Dome on the Syracuse University campus. Bonds had not had a fight since April of last year and had fought less than 10 rounds in the last 18 months. Still he was somehow rated No. 6 by the WBC, and so nobody complained when the bout was billed as a title fight. Bonds certainly didn't care what they called it; his biggest purse before last Saturday night had been about $1,500.
When Bonds' credentials as a title contender were questioned, Trainer told critics to look elsewhere to find the blameworthy. "All we are doing is following the rules," he said. "We wanted to fight Clint Jackson, which would be a better fight, but he isn't ranked. And the WBC says a champion has to fight every four months against a rated fighter."
WBC ratings in hand, Trainer began making calls in "February. Wilfred Benitez, whom Leonard first beat for the title, said no thank you, and fourth-ranked Randy Shields took himself out of contention by asking for $450,000. The manager of Argentinian Alfredo Lucero said he thought his kid needed a few more fights first. Trainer already was saving Cuevas as a fall alternative. Fifth-ranked Jorgen Hansen is 38 years old, and that would be an embarrassment. Finally, a call was made to Bobby Lewis, one of Bonds' co-managers.
Says Bonds, who was thinking of retirement: "My manager called me March 2. I was at home shooting eight-ball pool with my wife, Gloria. I didn't get too excited...although I did lose the game to her."
When Bonds was packing to go east, his three children came into the room with a request. Would he please bring them back Leonard's autograph? Sure, he told them. Shortly after arriving in Syracuse early last week, Bonds asked Leonard for three signed photographs and dutifully mailed them to his family.
"But my kids still want me to win," said Bonds with a small grin. "I told them that if I won, I'd take them to Disneyland. And I told them that if Ray won, he wouldn't do that."
For a 29-year-old who had spent most of his pro career in small clubs in Nevada, Bonds seemed unaffected by the pressure of a title fight. "You call this pressure?" he asked. "Hey, I spend eight hours a day in the alleys with people watching me all the time to see if I throw their garbage cans. Now that's pressure. Besides, people don't think I'm here to win, people just think I'm here. I don't even know why Leonard is training."
Bonds has always had trouble getting fights. He's a southpaw, which makes him undesirable enough, but worse, he's a southpaw who fights with a lot of movement. Nobody looks good against a jitterbugging lefthander. "I've been rejected by some of the best fighters in the world," Bonds said unhappily.