Trainer incorporated Leonard and made him the sole stockholder in the company, its president, chairman of the board and gofer, whose only job was to gofer money. Trainer then contacted a number of friends and clients and persuaded them to lend $1,000 each to the company. The loan, repayable in four years at 8% interest, gave the lenders no piece of the fighter. "It was a terrible investment." Trainer says. "If Ray made $5 million, they were only going to get their $1,000 apiece back, plus interest. They weren't in it to get anything." It was just a nice thing for someone to do to get a young man started. Trainer, himself, has no big contract with Leonard; he says he is paid by the hour.
So Ray Leonard became Sugar Ray again. He hired Jacobs as his trainer and Angelo Dundee, Ali's trainer, to manage his career and pick opponents with a view not only toward keeping him unbeaten, but also toward matching him with fighters strong enough and stylistically varied enough to challenge him each time he stepped into the ring.
"I saw that the only way this thing could be derailed was if we got snookered, if somebody set us up," Trainer says. "So I said I thought we should have an outside influence in here to have some say about what would go on, someone who could tell us what to do—to be our sounding board as a matchmaker." Leonard's advisers talked to two other trainers, Eddie Futch and Gil Clancy, but in the end he chose Dundee. He liked Dundee and sensed a compatibility with the man. Besides, says Leonard, "Angelo's wife Helen reminds me of my mother so much, so much—I mean, to hairstyles, to expressions, the smile, the laugh, the personality."
Dundee was on. And in December of 1976, Leonard was back in training—this time not with an Olympic gold medal in mind, but with designs on the welterweight championship of the world. His management in and out of the ring has been purposeful and measured at nearly every turn. He has taken advantage of every course available to him to enhance his fame and wealth. He arrived where he is today, on the brink of a title fight, with both his image and his record unblemished. Leonard won his first professional fight on Feb. 5, 1977, when he decisioned Luis (The Bull) Vega at the Baltimore Civic Center, not far from Leonard's hometown. CBS televised the fight, a crowd of 10,170 cheered him on, and Leonard took home $40,000-$30,000 'from the gate and $10,000 more from CBS.
The first thing he did, being thankful and responsible and all, was to pay back the loan, which amounted to $21,000. "This is going to sound absurd now, but I had budgeted that $21,000 to carry him 18 months." Trainer says. "I even considered getting him a part-time job. I'm a very conservative guy. I said to Ray, 'Look, it might take a year to 18 months to build you up, to get you a money fight.' As it turned out, it was a big-money fight the first time out of the box. We never spent a nickel of the $21,000."
Leonard was on his way. The Vega fight launched him, and both ABC and CBS tried to sign him to a multiyear contract. But Trainer did not want to be locked into any network for too long. Before Leonard's second fight, in which he decisioned Willie Rodriguez in Baltimore. Trainer negotiated a six-fight contract with ABC for almost $400,000. "I didn't sign a four-year contract with the network, which was a gamble if Ray went out and got beat that first year," Trainer says. "I turned down all kinds of money. I could have signed for as many years as I wanted." Instead, he chose to pass up the sure money and take a chance on Leonard's future, hoping that he would remain undefeated.
And while Leonard was fighting for television money. Trainer was making separate deals with arena operators. So Leonard had live gate and television revenues flowing from each fight, without promoters taking a share. Trainer dealt directly with the arenas. Networks did not care in which arenas Leonard fought as long as they were not located in major markets. A blackout in New York or Chicago would be too expensive. So the fights were held in places like New Haven, Conn. and Portland, Me. and Springfield, Mass. In Springfield, on Dec. 9, 1978, he defeated Armando Muniz on a TKO in the sixth round. That was his last fight on the ABC contract. His ratings had been extremely high on Wide World of Sports, and so the network came back with a second, more lucrative, offer. Leonard again signed with ABC in early 1979, this time for a five-fight package worth more than $1 million. The contract ended on Aug. 12, 1979, when Leonard battered Pete Ranzany, scoring a TKO in the fourth round in Las Vegas.
"TV money has never been a problem," Trainer says. "I've never shopped it. I've never taken an offer across the street. Sitting here, I'm going to tell you what I want. If I don't get it, I'm going across the street. If I get it there, I'm not coming back. For some reason I've always gotten what I wanted. Either I'm asking very reasonable numbers or they're afraid that no matter how unreasonable I'm being, someone else is going to pay it."
Trainer has, by design, dealt with all the networks. He has had Leonard play all three as well as Home Box Office and has thereby gotten to know each of his benefactors while spreading his fighter around. Leonard is a free agent now, able to make his own deals with whomever he wants, and his appeal is such that Trainer is inclined to think that Leonard has signed his last multi-fight contract. He no longer needs them. Having used television, especially ABC, to enhance Leonard's appeal, Trainer finds himself in the position of needing no one network to support and showcase his fighter.
And through all this, Leonard has learned how to fight like a professional. In three years, as his opponents have grown tougher, he has become ever more dominant in the ring. He has fought lefties and righthanders—as if to prepare himself for the ambidextrous Benitez—counterpunchers and bulls, tall fighters and short fighters, and dancers and sluggers. He has worked studiously on his combinations, adding punches to meet anticipated needs. For Benitez, a shrewd tactician with a tricky style, Leonard has been teaching himself the left uppercut, studying it in films of Wilfredo Gomez, a master at the punch, and practicing it on Odell Leonard's chin.