Sugar Ray Leonard Ornaments Friday’s Fantasy Springs Casino Boxing Show

Fantasy Springs Casino Boxing Show – Much like many of the musical and motion picture odes to the 1980s, Sugar Ray Leonard has resurfaced with a vengeance on behalf of boxing.

Recently Leonard, the 80s boxing legend, has been appearing in various spots across the country and will be attending a Golden Boy Promotions fight card on Friday July 15, at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif. He’ll be signing autographs and taking selfies for fans.

Rumor has it that the iconic 80s world champion will be resurfacing in another television adventure. It makes sense. Who can forget his battles against Tommy “Hitman” Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran whose life will be depicted in a movie called “Hands of Stone” this coming August.

Leonard has always been a fighter to talk about.

Most fans forget that Leonard took up the reins from the great Muhammad Ali when he retired. The 1976 Olympic gold medal winner at Montreal quickly became the lightning rod for boxing fans during that period. He held it until the reins where passed to Oscar De La Hoya in the 1990s. It’s no accident they cross paths again and again.

People liked Leonard and his demeanor outside of the ring. Inside the ring he was a figure of both fan adulation and fan hatred. Those that liked him admired his ready smile, lightning reflexes and ability to win against the odds. Those that admonished Leonard pointed toward supposed arrogance, alleged fake personality and unwillingness to fight whom they deemed the best.

When you’re at the top, it happens.

Legendary wars – Fantasy Springs Casino Boxing Show

Time can deflate criticism faster than a pin prick on a balloon of negativity.

It was 36 years ago when Leonard suffered his first loss as a professional when he met Duran at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. It was the same locale where he had earned a gold medal a mere four years earlier. But instead of a victorious return, the American boxer who had rocketed to the world title by defeating Wilfredo Benitez saw the belt taken from him by the irascible Duran of Panama.

That loss to Duran caused ripples across America and the world. Gyms in Southern California suddenly bristled with activity from the unexpected defeat given by a less well-known Latin fighter who was the antithesis of Leonard. Instead of a the “pretty boy” persona given to Leonard who was also accused of stealing the nickname “Sugar Ray” from the great Ray Robinson, the gruff and macho Duran represented the opposite. The Panamanian was a man of action and reflected a willingness to fight not dance.

When they met in the boxing ring, Leonard dared fight toe-to-toe with Duran that night on June 20, 1980, and he suffered the loss by unanimous decision. Leonard would avenge that loss a mere five months later when Duran refused to fight on despite not being hurt or even dazed in their return match. But history was made and the Leonard mystique was born.

Leonard would fight three times in 1981 but the biggest came against the lanky assassin Hearns of Detroit. Their epic confrontation took place outdoors at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The boxing world came to a standstill that night.

“Tommy could really hit hard,” Leonard said to me. “Plus, he was fast.”

Hearns was a killer inside the ring with his long sinewy arms that snapped out punches like a cobra attacking its prey. Standing next to Leonard, it seemed an impossible task for the Maryland prizefighter to match blows with the taller menacing Hearns. But that’s what he did in their clash in Las Vegas that saw one of the more intriguing welterweight fights of all time. Both had their moments in a back and forth battle that eventually saw Leonard stalk Hearns and end it in the 14th round.

I’ll never forget that day. I was invited by a musician friend who had played with Marvin Gaye. I saw the fight in an apartment with a bunch of musicians who were all riveted as if watching John Coltrane riff at the Blue Note. It was a night to remember. And most people who saw that fight from around the world can remember it just as much. Truly memorable.

When I spoke with Leonard back in 2002 he said to my surprise that one of his favorite fights was his technical masterpiece against Puerto Rico’s Benitez. It’s also one of my favorites. Maybe he changed his mind today after all these years. But that fight showed he was not just a superior athlete but a thinking fighter.

Of course the match against Marvin Hagler was a monster fight that still leaves people arguing over who was the real winner. The judges gave it to Leonard and I’ll leave it at that. That day on April 1987 I saw it with friends from Kenya on a hilltop home in Northridge. Half of the two dozen people thought Hagler won and the other half saw Leonard the victor. Hagler never fought again.

Leonard carried on but not with the best of results. He was knocked down twice by Hearns in their return match and somehow got a draw. He defeated Duran in a third fight in 1989 and stopped fighting for a couple of years. Then came Terry Norris and Hector Camacho.

“It’s always about the challenges,” said Leonard a year ago. “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.”

Leonard finished with a record of 36-3-1 with 25 KOs and would be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York.

Fantasy Springs Casino Boxing Show