Sugar Ray's greatest comeback
Sugar Ray Leonard boxing special, BBC Radio 5 live, Tuesday 3 April, 1930-2045 BST
When I was a kid, my brother would dig out the old, tan boxing gloves from the cupboard under the stairs and we'd go mano-a-mano in the living room: me pretending to be Sugar Ray Leonard - the bolo punches, the Ali shuffle - my brother, his footwork somewhat encumbered by the fact he was fighting on his knees, playing the part of Marvin Hagler.
To me and many kids like me, Sugar Ray was perfection: pretty as a picture, mercury slick, hard as nails. But the truth was rather different. By Leonard's own admission, he was "out of control": a serial adulterer, a lush and in thrall to the white stuff. And we're not talking about sugar.
Leonard's story is a lesson in the destructive nature of fame. Of the fears and anxieties it breeds. Of the brittleness of our heroes. Of the grief behind those dazzling white teeth. Sugar Ray was never perfect, just like you or me.
"I came from a very poor background and all of a sudden I had global fame and fortune," says Leonard, speaking to BBC Sport on the 25th anniversary of his miraculous defeat of Hagler.
"It was all about me. I was on TV all the time, on posters and billboards, and I lost touch with reality. And it wasn't about Ray the friend or Ray the brother, it was about Ray 'the bank', I paid for everything. No-one ever asked: 'How was your day?' And it turned me into this numb and insensitive guy."
Leonard captured gold - and the hearts of Americans - at the Montreal Olympics
But when Leonard was forced into a retirement in 1982, a partially detached retina cutting him down in his physical prime, the sense of loss sent him wandering down a far darker path, from which he only recently emerged.
"I felt safe in the ring, the ring was my sanctuary," says Leonard. "But after I retired from boxing I found new friends who introduced me to cocaine. And cocaine made me totally uninhibited about anything.
"I wasn't going home to my family, I was messing around with girls, drinking excessively. And the more cocaine I did and the more I drank, the more relieved I felt. It lessened the pain, the anxiety.
"Even after the Hagler fight I went back to the alcohol. There was the time I was meant to meet Nelson Mandela in Monte Carlo. I flew in the night before and was out all night. I overslept and some police officers burst into my room and said 'Mr Mandela is waiting for you'."
Leonard was no stranger to domestic desolation. When he first burst into the public consciousness on winning gold at the Montreal Olympics in 1976, the myth that he fought with a silver spoon in his mouth quickly took hold. His first pro pay cheque, for an unprecedented $45,000, did nothing to dispel it.
Yet his father was an inveterate womaniser, just as Leonard turned out to be. His mother, from whom Leonard got his "firepower", was handy with a switchblade, including the time she plunged it into his father's back.
Leonard on Duran: "He was a Tasmanian devil - without question he outpsyched me."
Then there was the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of two trusted authority figures. "I suffered the pain for 30 years, it devoured me," says Leonard. "But now I've revealed it, I feel a weight off my shoulders, less pain in my stomach. And I truly believe it gave me power and strength in the ring, because that's where I felt safest. I controlled that environment."
In a startling section of his autobiography, Leonard describes the "serenity" that came over him before his first world title fight against Puerto Rican legend Wilfred Benitez, an undefeated two-weight world champion, in 1979.
"I never felt more alive and more authentic," says Leonard. "It was as if I entered a room where no-one else was permitted to go, a pure, almost indescribable sensation I could not attain anywhere else. I miss it terribly."
Leonard proved the cynics wrong by out-boxing and, more surprisingly to many, out-toughing Benitez before stopping him with six seconds to go in the 15th round. But, as is often the case in boxing, it was a monumental encounter with an unsettling postscript.
"About 10 years ago, I heard he was sick, but I didn't know to what degree," says Leonard. "He was like a ghost in the ring, you couldn't touch him. So when I saw him in his care home I couldn't believe what I was seeing. His mother said, 'Wilfred, do you know who this is?' He looked up and said, 'No, but I know he beat me'."
In 1980, Leonard first fought Panama's Robert Duran, a man who gave the impression of being almost feral. "He was a Tasmanian devil," says Leonard, "he was just so rude and crass. Without question he outpsyched me."
Leonard returned from a three-year hiatus to beat the formidable Hagler in 1987
Leonard's trainer, the recently-departed Angelo Dundee, told his charge to box. Leonard, desperate to prove his manhood, went toe-to-toe instead. "It was a fight, it wasn't a boxing match, and he won," says Leonard. "That fight was so violent, so brutal, I seriously contemplated retirement, and I was only 23."
Instead, Leonard signed for a rematch and his brother hatched the fabled master plan. "Roger said, 'Ray, make him mad, make people laugh at him and you can beat him'," says Leonard. "I looked at my brother like he was crazy. 'That's Roberto Duran! People don't laugh at Roberto Duran!'
"But during the fight I stuck my chin out, wound up the bolo punch and he got so frustrated. He quit, without realising the repercussions it would have on his legacy." 'Hands of Stone' had been reduced to sand and the words "no mas" ("no more") were prematurely chiselled as his epitaph.
Perversely, Leonard gained more credit for his defeat by Duran than for his victory in the rematch. "That first fight with Duran showed I had the guts and glory and heart to fight," says Leonard. "After the second fight I felt a little shortchanged. It was almost as if I hadn't been in the same ring as Duran."
So when Leonard was pitted against the freakish Tommy Hearns - a 6ft 1in welterweight with a 78in reach, what Dundee called "a fighting machine on stilts" - in 1981, it was 'The Hitman' who was installed as favourite.
"Tommy had a kamikaze mentality and had annihilated all his opponents," says Leonard. "The writers thought he was unbeatable. And some still thought that while Tommy was legitimate, I sold soda. Real fighters don't sell soda."
Leonard has belatedly found domestic contentment with second wife Bernadette
Hearns skated into an early lead, so that entering the championship rounds Leonard was well behind on the judges' scorecards. Enter Dundee and perhaps the most famous motivational words in boxing history: "You're blowing it now, son, you're blowing it..."
"Angelo said the right things at the right time, without showing desperation and frustration," says Leonard. "I knew what he was talking about, he didn't have to say any more." Stirred into action, Leonard rained blows on Hearns from every conceivable angle, eventually stopping him in the 14th round.
Leonard fought once more before, fearing for his sight, hanging them up at the age of 26. Then, in 1984, he returned to fight the unheralded Kevin Howard, who floored him for the first time. "I won, but I didn't have it," says Leonard. "It took my heart, my love for the sport." And that, we all thought, was that - one of the great careers fizzling out in, of all places, Worcester, Massachusetts.
"When I decided to come back, everyone thought I was crazy," says Leonard. "And for a while, I thought I was, too. I'd had one fight in five years and I was coming back to fight Marvin Hagler, a man who hadn't lost a fight since 1976, a man who had beaten everybody from Duran to Hearns.
"But I saw something when Hagler fought [John] Mugabi. Mugabi, who was a puncher, a slugger, was able to outbox Hagler. So I knew that if I got into shape - not just physically, but mentally and spiritually - I could win.
"But when I first went to the gym and sparred with some young kids, they bested me. I got home and my wife said, 'Are you sorry you said yes to fighting Hagler?' She was right. It was scary during those times."
Hagler, for so long so bitter at Leonard's fame and fortune, relished the role of "bad dude" to his rival's "American sweetheart". "He's on an ego trip," said Hagler. "He sees me get all the attention and he wants that for himself. He has no business being in the ring right now. That's what I plan to show the world."
"Hagler was so formidable that most people were concerned about my health," says Leonard. "But my talent came back that night, 6 April 1987. Just in time."
Leonard had intended to go to war, as Hearns had done against Hagler two years earlier. But thanks to a late intervention from Dundee ("What? Are you nuts?!") and a sparring knockdown, Leonard wisely changed tack.
"He accused me of running," says Leonard. "He said I should have fought like Tommy Hearns. Well, he knocked Tommy Hearns out in three rounds. I utilised the ring, my hand speed. I did everything that was in my best interests.
"That was such a proud moment for me because I did the impossible. Tommy Hearns was a defining moment, but Hagler was such a personal triumph. I always tell kids, 'If you don't believe in yourself, no-one else will'."
Leonard went on "stalking his own youth", as Dundee so eloquently put it, winning world titles in five weight divisions and drawing a rematch with Hearns in 1989 (a fight Leonard readily admits Hearns should have won). But his greatest comeback was yet to come.
"There's no greater thing than to be a fighter and a champion," says Leonard. "It gives people inspiration, hope and courage. It's a powerful thing you transmit. But you also have to take care of yourself.
"I've been clean six years in July and I love who I am. Now I'm Ray and I'm Sugar Ray. Ray Leonard is the father who goes to the market to buy his groceries, but it's Sugar Ray who pays the bills."
Boxing, a sport that so often takes more than it gives a man, however great that man may be, has belatedly left Leonard in credit: Sugar Ray is back in style.