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Unfinished Business : Sugar Ray Trains Obsessively for His One Obsession--the Marvelous One

September 22, 1986|WILLIAM GILDEA | Washington Post

WASHINGTON — At first light, Sugar Ray Leonard swung into motion. He jogged in place, stretched leg muscles, snapped off lefts and rights. Gyms stink of sweat, but here the air was as soft as a pillow and cool as its underside.

A fighter was at work--in front of his $750,000 home, in the circular driveway behind his $100,000-plus black Rolls-Royce convertible Corniche.

Surroundings of pride and plenty said it all: Leonard doesn't have to get up at 6:30. Only Marvelous Marvin Hagler can get him going that early.

The tall, black-iron gates opened, and Leonard hit the road. He passed rolling lawns in Potomac, Md. Watering systems sprayed wide.

In the silence of morning, Leonard can hear an inner voice that says he wants but one thing more, to fight Marvin Hagler. Who can explain it? Fame he has known, fortune he has. It comes down to what A. J. Liebling once said: A fighter fights.

But Hagler? A great middleweight champion, risen to the top along rutty roads, unbeaten in 10 years, perhaps unbeatable, a middleweight champion who can make boxing seem more a cruel craft than a sweet science. Even Leonard has said Hagler fights as if he is fighting for his last meal.

"Whatever he is, I've always thought I could beat him," said Leonard, the day before his morning run. "I thought I could beat him three years ago, five years ago. I think I can beat him today. I wouldn't take the initiative to challenge him if I didn't think I could do it. Even as far as not being in the ring for two years, I know I can beat Hagler. This is a fight that I have always desired. This is a fight that gets me up in the morning."

Two of Hagler's opponents in particular have shown Leonard the possibility of victory: Roberto Duran, the clever boxer who went all 15 rounds with Hagler in 1983, only to lose, and John "The Beast" Mugabi, who last March gave Hagler plenty before giving out, in 11. Leonard, positioned those times at the ring apron, imagined himself in the ring with Hagler.

"You put yourself in that position. You see the things you're capable of doing, things you're able to execute that will be effective. Like boxing. Outmaneuvering. That's boxing. To do what Hagler doesn't do. Whatever he doesn't do, I will do that. If he doesn't punch, I'll punch. If he should punch, I won't punch. Just do the opposite. That's the best way to beat him. That's the best way to beat any opponent.

"Mugabi impressed me a great deal. His chin. His maneuverability. He would stand right in front of Hagler, making him miss. And Mugabi is not that good of a boxer. But what he did was just enough to make Hagler miss. He did something that Roberto Duran was doing. Those two fights I look at and I say, 'Well, hell, look what these guys have been able to do.' "

In contrast, Thomas "Hit Man" Hearns went about fighting Hagler all wrong, slugging and getting slugged.

Leonard saw himself in Hearns' position--briefly. "Once Tommy was knocked out," Leonard said, "I didn't put myself in that position."

Leonard turned onto the main road, up a hill, around a leafy bend. He ran to a traffic light, then cut into another neighborhood of large homes and quiet streets.

A small, fluffy white dog fell in with Leonard and a friend running alongside, Craig Jones, but after a few steps went back to sitting on a lawn. Leonard ran easily to the crest of a hill, as if to the rim of a world that promised everything he wanted.

"It's like when I wanted to fight Tommy Hearns," he had said. "I enjoy it. It's like when I wanted to fight Roberto Duran the second time. I wanted to regain my title. I wanted that. This has the same significance. I want to win the fight. That's all that matters.

"I feel my own form back. I feel far better than when I was training for Kevin Howard, because I had not conditioned myself."

Howard was the ordinary fighter who knocked Leonard down before Leonard knocked him out in his first comeback, in May 1984. "I condition my body now. I'm just conditioning now. I didn't do it with Kevin Howard. I just made an announcement and jumped into the ring, which I thought was quite premature.

"Now I have sufficient time to prepare myself, be as innovative as I possibly can and do things my way. And it also gives Hagler a year out of the ring, of inactivity, to neutralize things. I think it's great timing."

Leonard ran home, past white wooden fences. His brown chow chow met him on the driveway, and Leonard picked it up and ruffled it before he went inside.

A "Wanted" notice and the mug of Marvin Hagler is stuck to a front door of the Sugar Ray Leonard gym, in a small mall in Palmer Park, Md., a block from where Leonard grew up. It's the cover of a boxing magazine on which it is said of Hagler: "160 pounds of raw power and meanness. Armed with two deadly weapons. His left and right hands."

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