During his lengthy career, Sugar Ray Leonard battled many of the biggest names in boxing as he won world titles in five weight classes. With Leonard set to give ringside analysis Saturday night during NBC’s live coverage of a Premier Boxing Champions doubleheader featuring Danny Garcia vs Lamont Peterson, and Andy Lee vs Peter Quillin, the Hall of Fame fighter looked back at some of his most memorable moments.
Leonard’s 40-fight résumé included brawls with heavy hitters such as Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran and Wilfred Benitez, yet he managed to accumulate an impressive record of 36-3-1 with 25 knockouts.
What’s the hardest you’ve ever been hit?
I took some good shots in the second fight with Tommy Hearns [in June 1989], the first fight with Roberto Duran [in June 1980] and my only fight with Wilfred Benitez [in November 1979]. But I fought Marcos Geraldo in May 1979 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and I had moved up in weight to 153 pounds. I remember that fight vividly, like it was yesterday. That guy hit me so hard that I saw three of him, and I punched the one in the middle, and thank God it was the correct decision. (Leonard won a 10-round unanimous decision.) But those fights were the ones in which I was hit the hardest.
What was the best punch you ever landed?
The best punch I ever landed was against Dave “Boy” Green in March 1980 in Landover, Maryland. It was hard for me to get up for the fight because he was not considered a major threat, but in the ring he did something or made some gesture that really made me mad, and I woke up. I told him later if he hadn’t done that, I probably wouldn’t have knocked him out. But that was my perfect knockout. It was an uppercut, then a left hook. I remember the punches.
What’s the one loss in your career that should have been a win?
The one loss that I should have won was, without question, the first encounter with Roberto Duran. I abandoned my strategy because I wanted to beat him up; I wanted to beat him at his own game. I always tell young boxers to stick to their game plan, stick to what you do best. If you box, then box. If you slug, then slug. But don’t try anything new, especially when you’re not winning.
What’s the one fight in your career in which you got a favorable decision that perhaps you didn’t deserve?
I know this one right off the bat: It was the second Tommy Hearns fight in Las Vegas, which was ruled a draw. Tommy should have won that fight. He knocked me down twice [in the third and 11th rounds] and he had me in trouble, but I came back in the late rounds. I thought I had him, but it wasn’t enough rounds to take him out. That fight was amazing.
Were there any fighters during your career that you would have loved to step into the ring with but never had the opportunity to do so?
There were discussions about me fighting [longtime 140-pound champion] Aaron Pryor at one time, and even preliminary negotiations, but nothing ever materialized. Aaron Pryor was one of my favorite fighters. I loved watching him fight because he was a go-getter. He never let up. He was perpetual motion, powerful, a strong chin—he had all of those physical attributes that most boxers wish they had.
What one person who you’ve met in your travels around the world really surprised you in a positive way, and that you took something away from?
That person had to be Nelson Mandela. I was in South Africa and I received a phone call from my assistant, and she said, “Mr. Nelson Mandela wants you to come to his house for dinner.” I went to his home and knocked on the door, and he answered the door and hugged me and kissed me. And he said, “The one thing I don’t tolerate is people being late.” And I just started sweating, but he was referring to his photographer. We sat down for dinner, and it was so surreal just watching this incredible man, this human being who didn’t have an angry drop of blood in his body. He was so amazing. I cherish that the most. That was my special moment.
To stream Saturday's fights online, visit NBC's Live Extra.
- Beyond the ring
- Sugar Ray Leonard