SI Vault
William Nack
November 26, 1979
In driving toward a welterweight title shot, Ray Leonard has evoked another Sugar Ray and that venerable Leonard, Benny
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November 26, 1979

Sugar Sure Is Sweet

In driving toward a welterweight title shot, Ray Leonard has evoked another Sugar Ray and that venerable Leonard, Benny

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"What about the Prince Georges County flag?"

"Jake, leave everything there," Leonard said. "Point this van toward home. I want to be there by tomorrow."

Jacobs reminded Leonard that it was a 14-hour drive from Montreal to Palmer Park, that Leonard had a plane ticket, that he could get a night's sleep, pack his belongings and take the plane in the morning and still beat the camper home. Leonard shook his head.

"I don't care," he said. "I want to go home now."

Something happened at the border that night that in retrospect seems a harbinger. The U.S. boxing team had performed splendidly at the Games, and television had helped to make youthful heroes of several of the fighters. The broadcasts had demonstrated that a man did not have to be a heavyweight to cut an entertaining figure in the ring. If the popular conception of boxing conjured up visions of seamy fight managers, grimy gyms and cigar-smoking underworld figures, this U.S. team gave form to a new image—one of unsullied youth and charm. The most charming of the performers, of course, was Leonard—handsome, with a great big Pepsodent smile, fresh-faced, articulate and such a nice young man. At the St. Lawrence Seaway, the border guard asked, "Is this really Sugar Ray Leonard's camper?" Leonard leaned out the door and flashed the gold medal. "Can I touch the gold?" the guard asked. Introduced to Gertha, he blurted, "All I want to do is kiss his mother." He kissed her on the cheek and, without searching so much as a bag, waved them on.

So they came back to America. Leonard and Jacobs talked about how Ray could go to college now and do all the things he wanted to do—because Leonard was saying he would never box again, that was for sure. When he won the medal Leonard had said, "The journey has ended, my dream is fulfilled." It seemed at the time about the nicest thing a gold-medal winner could say, as simple and poetic as any combination that he'd ever thrown inside a ring. Actually, the journey had just begun.

"Come on, Sugar! Get that right hand up there! Roll with it!"

Jacobs' voice sounded somewhere between a rock singer's and a tent preacher's. He held the top strand of rope in the ring of the Oakcrest Recreation Center in Capitol Heights, Md., just east of Washington, D.C., as he watched Leonard spar against his cousin, Odell Leonard. It was a Wednesday afternoon in mid-October, and Leonard was in the first week of training for his title bout with Wilfredo Benitez, the World Boxing Council's welterweight champion. The two fighters are scheduled to meet on Nov. 30 in Las Vegas. More than three years have passed since Leonard won the gold medal in Montreal, and in that time he has evolved from a sinewy, moderately effective amateur puncher, quick and flashy but rough at the edges, into a consummate professional fighter. He has filled out, most visibly in the arms. His biceps are abnormally large, especially his left, which is bigger than his right because of his constantly drilling the jab and throwing the hook.

"Ride with him on the ropes, Sugar! Way to go. Rough it up now!" Jacobs shouted.

Ray dipped, slipping a punch, and then rose to stand facing Odell. Ray jabbed twice, snapping Odell's head back. He hit him with a sudden right, slipped another punch, dipped and turned, came up again, snapped Odell back with two hard jabs and then threw a stinging hook off the jab. It was exquisite.

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