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Sugar Ray taking on promoting

December 05, 2001|By ERIC GALVAN, Sports Writer
  • Local boxer Michael Capeci (left) takes pictures with boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard at the Elks Lodge in Calexico on Tuesday. CUAUHTEMOC BELTRAN PHOTO

In the 1980s boxing's middle weights were the most highly contested.

On a regular basis greats such Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran and Wilfredo Benitez battered others and battled each other.

But there was one fighter, one warrior who stood out — a man nicknamed "Sugar."

For 20 years Sugar Ray Leonard captivated worldwide audiences with his sweet science of boxing, winning five world championships, finishing with a 36-3-1 career record and 25 knockouts.

The 44-year-old Leonard now spends his time promoting the sport he loves most.

Sugar Ray the pugilist is now Sugar Ray the boxing promoter, having teamed with ESPN in promoting his own boxing cards the first Friday of every month.

"Sitting back as a spectator, as a fan of boxing, I saw what was given to me wasn't given to boxers of this era … being promoted properly, being marketed properly," said Leonard. "I didn't see great fights, great events. You saw very few exciting fights. Every now and then you would have one, but maybe just like one (exciting fight) a year."


It was that lack of excitement that spurred Leonard to start his own promotions. This week's show will be his fifth. Of the previous four, three were sold out, the only exception being a fight card in October in Philadelphia.

This week Sugar Ray's "Everlast Blast" will burst onto the scene at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio and feature a 12-round IBA featherweight championship fight between Augie Sanchez and John Michael Johnson.

Leonard, who was in Calexico on Tuesday to promote Friday's event, said as a true fan of the sport he would like to see more great fights.

"It's Sugar Ray the fan, being a former participant, a former champion, you know, being a consumer, all of the above, that's why I want to see these fights," Leonard said. "I think that fans deserve to see great fights and competition. Fans deserve to see exciting fights."

He said because of his relationships with boxing associations, companies, corporations, sponsors and certain venues, he has connections and can make things happen.

While he has already become a successful promoter, Leonard said when he was fighting he had no visions of taking on this aspect of the business.

"As a boxing promoter, no, I didn't think I'd be doing this. But you just never know. Is it destiny? Is it fate? You just never know. And that's what's just so intriguing and fascinating about where you go in life," Leonard said. "But I think it was inevitable that I remain in boxing because boxing was my life. I ate, bled and drank boxing."

It was his love and all of his opponents' love for boxing in the 1980s that generated some of the greatest fights of all time.

While many think boxing will never again see the greatness of those historic fights, Leonard thinks it is possible.

"There is a division between junior middleweights and middleweights that could make that happen. That's with Bernard Hopkins, Felix Trinidad, Fernando Vargas, Sugar Shane Mosley, but the only intangible is Oscar De La Hoya, which is the most celebrated of all these guys," Leonard said. "He's the guy that can make this thing … take it to the next level. If he decides to commit to that, it could be huge. It could be like when I was fighting, the Haglers and Hearns, Durans, Benitez. It could be really exciting.

"Then the two guys who are left, to decide, could be taken to another horizon. Could you picture that? But no one has really thought about this," he said. "Hopefully someone will hear me say this and take me up on this. Because the powers that be can make this thing happen."

A return to the glory days of boxing is something Sugar Ray wants and is something he thinks fans need. So with the fans in mind, he'll continue to run his promotions with ESPN, putting together top fights and trying to regain what once was.

On this week's under-card of Sanchez/Johnson will be a rematch of ESPN's fight of the year, pitting Terrance Lewis against Robert Davis in a 10-round heavyweight bout. There also will be a women's fight featuring Bridgett Riley.

The first fight is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m.

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