Ray Leonard was born on May 17th, 1957, as the fifth of seven children to Cicero and Greta Leonard, in Wilmington, North Carolina. His name is a tribute to the great musician, Ray Charles, a blind pianist, who also happened to be his mother’s favorite musical. At a young age the family moved to D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, better known by locals as the DMV, where he would find residence in Palmer Park, Maryland.
His humble being saw hard work as a centerpiece to his childhood as his father was an overnight supermarket manager and his mother was a nurse.
Leonard started boxing around the age of thirteen years old, after finding inspiration from his brother, Roger Leonard, who took up the craft first.
Leonard would become an icon of his era. When the world was both much bigger and smaller all at the same time, Leonard would win a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics giving feared Cuban puncher Andres Aldama having the referee administer two standing eight counts and dropping Aldama as well in the bout.
Leonard would finish his amateur career with an outstanding record of 165-5, with 75 KOs.
Summing Up Leonard’s Career
Leonard was big business as he fought his professional debut for $40,044 before a crowd of 10,270 at the Civic Center, in Baltimore, Maryland. As Leonard would go on to become a four-weight, ten-time world champion, defeating the likes of Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler, as well as Wilfred Benitez.
What made Leonard so difficult was a slew of factors one of which was that when he hurt an opponent he never let them off the hook. This was best seen in round fourteen of his fight with Thomas Hearns, a fight Leonard was behind on all three judges scorecards, saw the famed fighter hurt Hearns, and never let him recover forcing the stoppage.
Leonard’s blinding hand speed was also combined with a lot of unorthodox techniques that though they were fundamentally sound, are not necessarily, how you might train a young fighter, to fight unless they were a young “Sugar” Ray Leonard.
What made Leonard so great? Leonard had power and speed, which led to excitement. When he was down in a fight, he could always fight his way back into it, and his body language would not be deterred despite sometimes facing adversity.
Leonard sums up what makes a legend in the sport of boxing.
The Legacy of Leonard
Obviously, Leonard will go down as one of the greatest boxers in the history of the sport, especially in the United States as a whole. His lasting impact is just as much about his image as it is his achievement not unlike another modern American sporting icon, Michael Jordan.
Leonard, not unlike Jordan, took very detailed care of his image to the general public, and how he was portrayed in the media. Without the advent of social media, or even the internet for most of Leonard’s career, when you saw him on your television, or in real life, that was what you thought of him. Leonard conveyed an image of perfection. Perfection in the ring, but also trying his hardest to live up to the standard of being the ideal human being outside of the ring in every scenario.
When you look at the modern-day boxing businessman, a lot of that was forged by “Sugar” Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and of course, “Sugar” Ray Leonard, with Leonard being astute at leveraging power and brokering deals. When looking at the careers of Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather, one can’t help but assume that some inspiration didn’t come from his wise craft outside of the ring.
When Leonard fought Marvin Hagler you saw the shred business ability of Leonard at first tried to make the bout a ten-round fight, but then refused to budge on the ring needed to be 22x22 feet, and gloves to be ten ounces as opposed to the traditional eight ounces, and for the fight to be twelve rounds as opposed to fifteen rounds. These are shades of what we hear echoed in modern boxing, and this is what Leonard was doing in the eighties.
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