Mills Lane, the referee, chased Leonard into a neutral corner, then resumed the count. Finch lurched to his feet at nine. Reluctantly, Leonard went after him. "Then he hit me and I forgot all about that dream," Leonard said. A moment later, Finch—either from a Leonard flurry or because he was still dizzy from the first flooring—fell again. He rose at seven and held on until the bell.
The end came at 1:50 of the third round. Finch came out trying to fight, but Leonard assaulted him with straight rights and left uppercuts. A third combination drilled Finch to his knees, where, briefly, he stayed. Somehow he regained his feet at nine, only to reel backward against the ropes. Mills stepped in and wrapped him in protective custody.
Finch accepted the defeat with the grace of a true Reno plunger. "Win some, lose some," he philosophized. At least he didn't shrug.
For Leonard, the major objective now is to pick a credible opponent from the impoverished lists offered by the WBA and the WBC. The top 10 of either group, with the exception of Hearns, who is currently campaigning as a middleweight, is hardly top-shelf.
Leonard's next defense, in late May or early June, will be against Roger Stafford, who once roomed with Sugar Ray during their amateur campaigns. Stafford earned the opportunity with an upset of Pipino Cuevas last November. At the time Cuevas was ranked the No. 1 contender by the WBC.
"We figured Stafford naturally would be moved up to No. 1 and it would be a mandatory fight," says Mike Trainer, Leonard's attorney. Then the WBC issued the latest of its absurd ratings. Cuevas was still No. 1, Stafford No. 4.
"In the welterweights today," intoned Jos� Sulaim�n, president of the WBC, "there is not much difference between No. 1 and No. 10." On that note he approved the Leonard-Stafford fight—providing Stafford defeats David Madrid March 2—and ordered an elimination fight betweeen Cuevas and No. 2-rated Chung-Jae Hwang of Korea, with the winner to fight Leonard, assuming Ray defeats Stafford. Hwang is the WBA's top contender but no one knows why.
Trainer would like one more fight, making four, before year's end. The most attractive opponent would be Alexis Arguello, the WBC lightweight champion, who might be induced to move up a class for a $1 million payday. It would be Arguello's bid for a fourth title; he has also held the world featherweight and WBC junior lightweight titles.
The one fight everyone thought they would see, Leonard against middleweight champion Marvin Hagler, seems to be wishful thinking. Hagler's people want the fight at 160 pounds. Leonard has offered to fight at 154. Neither side is willing to concede an ounce.
"People accuse us of ducking Hagler." says Trainer. "They think it's a matter of a few pounds. Heck, we'll fight Hagler at 160 if he agrees to weigh in at 160 on his way into the ring. But if he weighs in at 160 in the morning, he'll come in at 167 or 168 that night. Ray will weigh 154. All we're trying to do, if they want to fight us, is narrow the gap in weight difference between rounds five and 12 where it really counts."