Those boxing fans old enough can recall when Sugar Ray Leonard ruled the boxing world with flashing fists and speed afoot inside the prizefighting ring. The younger generation may know him as the analyst of the Contender reality television series.
Leonard, 60, still has that look of fitness though it’s been 19 years since he last fought.
“I’ve always worked on maintaining my boxing skills,” Leonard told me a few years ago in that easy-going tone. “After so many years in the gym our (boxers) bodies are fine-tuned machines. They need to be run.”
A former multi-division world champion, Leonard will appear at Fantasy Springs Casino to sign autographs and pose for photos during a Golden Boy Promotions fight card on July 15. The main event features former Contender contestant Alfonso Gomez (25-6-2) against Mexico’s Pablo Cano (29-5-1) in a welterweight bout.
During his career Leonard was the successor to Muhammad Ali as a lightning rod of fan interest. With his ready smile and infectious personality, he could woo a crowd or stir up anger with a carefully chosen phrase.
Most fans regardless of age can recite Leonard’s lengthy list of impressive foes such as Tommy “The Hitman” Hearns, Wilfredo Benitez, Marvin Hagler, and of course Roberto “Manos de Piedra” Duran.
A movie depicting Duran called “Hands of Stone” will be coming out in August. A portion of the movie is dedicated to the bitter rivalry between Duran and Leonard, resulting in three fights. R&B singer Usher portrays Leonard in the motion picture.
When Leonard first fought Duran it became one of those moments in sports that most fans can tell you where they were on June 20, 1980. It was the first time Leonard suffered a loss. He only had three losses in his career. Two later losses came against Terry Norris and Hector Camacho at the tail end of his career, when he no longer had those gifted reflexes that separated him from others.
“It’s always about the challenges,” says Leonard, who after winning gold at the 1976s Olympics in Montreal, began his pro career in 1977. “I always stayed in shape so it was my physical condition and the ego that made me think I could always come back. Norris was a very strong fighter that I should have left alone. And against Camacho, I thought I could still fight. But I have no regrets.”
In 1997, Leonard retired and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York.
Gomez vs. Cano
Leonard remains one of the most recognized prizefighters today and maintains ties with Gomez who fights Cano on the main event.
Gomez, 35, was a television favorite during his time on the Contender TV series in 2004. His upset win over Peter Manfredo catapulted him to stardom. After the series he then upset Arturo Gatti and Ben Tackie. Those wins led to a world title fight against Miguel Cotto who defeated the Whittier-based prizefighter. His last fight took place in March 2015 when he defeated Japan’s Yoshihiro Kamegai by decision at Fantasy Springs Casino.
Cano, 26, is a top contender from Mexico who has fought some of the best prizefighters in the world. Among those he fought are Sugar Shane Mosley, Paulie Malignaggi and Erik Morales. Tickets are still available. For more information call (800) 827-2946.