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Contrary to what you may have read over the past few weeks—and I have to admit I read much of it with amusement—I am officially and forever retiring from boxing. By the time you read this, I will have made my announcement official and I hope it ends forever all speculation that I will come back to fight Marvin Hagler or anyone else.
While the injury to my left eye—a detached retina—naturally was a factor in my decision, it wasn't the major factor. I simply don't want to fight anymore. Three weeks ago, at my last meeting with Dr. Ronald Michels, who operated on me last May 9 at Johns Hopkins Hospital, he told me: "Although it takes six months to see if the retina has been fully reattached, you're almost perfectly healed. I don't see any reason why you can't fight."
So, you see, he gave me the green light, but I switched on the red light myself. And it will stay on red. I'm glad that it ended this way, that I was able to make the final determination and not have it made for me. But no matter what the doctor said, I've known for a long, long time that I'd never fight again.
I think I first realized that it was time to get out right after the Tommy Hearns fight on Sept. 16, 1981, almost seven months before my eye injury. After beating Hearns and unifying the welterweight title, I had a hard time convincing the public and the press and, most important, myself that the other guys I'd be fighting were legitimate contenders. And I can tell you now that the Bruce Finch fight, my first after the bout with Hearns, was the major factor in my decision to retire. Yes, I knew it as far back as Feb. 15, the night Finch hurt me worse than anyone I had ever fought.
Now a guy like Finch isn't supposed to touch me. You know it; I know it; he knows it. But in the second round he caught me with a combination that hurt me worse than Hearns ever did; worse than Roberto Duran; worse than Wilfred Benitez. I was dazed and I was in trouble, and it wasn't because I wasn't in top shape physically. It was because mentally I just wasn't into fighting a Bruce Finch. I was really shaken, and I backed into a corner knowing full well he'd follow me. I hid that I was hurt, and I knew that with my hand speed and my power, especially to the body, I could get him out of there. I knew I had to get him in close, and I knew I had to knock him out quickly because I couldn't reach him in the middle of the ring. I didn't have the snap in my jab that I expected to have.
I KO'd Finch in the next round and I was grateful that the fight was over. Then came the trip back to the hotel. Normally on the ride back we—my father, Cicero; my trainer, Janks Morton; my manager, Angelo Dundee; my attorney, Mike Trainer, and I—rap about the fight. Usually one of them would say, "Hey, Ray, you hit that guy with a good left hook." Another of them would tell me, "You hit that guy with a good right hand; he couldn't touch you." We always talked about the fight. But not this time. No one said a word. So I said, "Gee." Then I tried to start a conversation: "Hey, I hit this guy with a great hook, didn't I?" I think somebody nodded, and somebody else said, "Yeah." That was it. And once we got to the hotel nobody would sit down and talk with me.
When I got home I talked things over with my wife, Juanita, who wanted me to retire after I beat Benitez for the WBC welterweight championship three years ago. I guess that was because the Benitez fight was the first one since I beat Marcos Geraldo in May 1979 that left me looking like I'd been in a war. I told her that thoughts of quitting had been bothering me for a long time. But I don't think she believed me until the eye injury, and except for Juanita, I kept my ideas about retiring all to myself. But before I had time to evaluate the Finch fight and my career, I was training for Roger Stafford, another Finch.
Now, we were trying to sell that fight. And he was saying things about me that I thought would pump me up. But it didn't help. Nothing helped. Training was awkward. I tried like heck to get back in gear. But I just couldn't. I was in neutral for a long time. Now, training in Buffalo helped some, because the people there appreciated my presence. But most of the time I was a grouch. I was really tough to deal with. I knew it and I didn't like it, but I couldn't help it. I just didn't want to be bothered with anyone. I just didn't have the love for the sport anymore. I'd fulfill my obligations and then confine myself to my room and just sit there alone. That was totally unnatural for me. I love to have the guys around me.
I had a room next to my bedroom which was full of video games. And, except when I had to run or train or eat, I'd stay in the video room alone, or I'd be by myself in the other room just watching movies and sitting around.
Ollie Dunlap, my administrative assistant, would come to my room and say, "Champ, it's time to go downstairs and train." I trained at noon, and he'd come about an hour before. Now, during training for other fights, I'd have been all set to go. I'd have been dressed half on hour before Ollie came. Not this time. I wouldn't start getting dressed until 15 minutes before it was time to go. I saw myself slowing down, not caring.