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Bunce on Boxing: Leonard lifts the lid on sex, drugs and Sugar


There was always more to Sugar Ray Leonard than the smile and his role as the eternal good guy of boxing. There is now, finally, an autobiography from Leonard that puts an end to the happy Mr America with gloves image that helped make him one of boxing's biggest stars and a fighter that dominated in the ring, even as his life was in turmoil.

In Sugar Ray Leonard: The Big Fight, Leonard is brutally honest about playing Sugar and admits at times that "Ray" was not on the scene: "I didn't need him". It is Sugar who asks his henchman during his public training camps to collect the numbers of all the babes in the crowd; a week or so after the fight Leonard and a small gang would return to the city for the sex that was on offer. "If I had not been rich and famous, they would not have given me the time of day."

Sadly, for Leonard's first wife he was very rich and very famous.

The vodka and cocaine came later and there was plenty of both. The cocaine helped ease the transition as the speed faded from Leonard's fists. "I was Sugar Ray again." He was spending a quarter of a million dollars a year on cocaine and that is my type of admission by an addict, and it compares favourably with the rubbish from other sporting celebrities who have tried to insist that they had "just a line or two". Nonsense, Sugar Ray tells the truth!

His crazed cocaine days are even more savage to comprehend because he had been dealing with his brother and sister's heroin addiction for many years.

However, it is the fights that make the book truly memorable. The days alone, the days dealing with his fears and the threat of violence in the ring. He meets and beats a trio of living legends in Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran and his truly great nemesis, Tommy Hearns. The fights defined the modern sport of boxing more than any other set of pairings and Leonard's association with Angelo Dundee only added to the inevitable headlines that Sugar Ray was the new Muhammad Ali. It has to be said, that under a canopy of glitz and dollars, Sugar Ray Leonard always seemed to deliver.

Hearns and Duran dislike Leonard, resenting his fame and power. Hagler can barely grunt acknowledgment of Leonard's name. There is a chance that this book will encourage the trio of enemies he helped make even richer and even more famous, and then defeated in the ring, appreciate him just a little bit more. I hope so, he deserves it.

Sugar Ray Leonard: The Big Fight by Sugar Ray Leonard (Ebury Press)