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Prominent in Sugar Ray's Corner: Juanita Leonard

March 08, 1987|WILLIAM GILDEA | The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — "I feel a little more comfortable about him going into this fight than I've ever felt about him going into any fight," Juanita Leonard said. "I don't know why. I don't know if that's some sort of sign, or something."

She hadn't wanted her man Ray to fight again. But she understood--he wanted to fight Marvelous Marvin Hagler. This is what he wanted more than anything.

"Of course, I worry about it. To be involved with a person like Ray, as I am, care for a person like that, you worry."

Sun streamed through the large windows of their Potomac, Md., house. It was a perfect winter day. She sipped a half cup of coffee and leaned back into the middle of the big sofa. She wore a bright yellow sweater, and jeans. Her hair was pulled back. She felt good, even if her husband was back in boxing.

"I feel pretty comfortable, although I had decided in my mind, and that's still the way it stands, that I don't want him to fight. I really don't. I didn't want him to, and I still don't.

"But I look at it this way. If I were an entertainer, or if I were in Ray's shoes, and I had a goal, I had a determination to do something that I really wanted to do, and I go to somebody I really love and trust and depend on and say I want to do this, if that person should deny me the chance of accomplishing something that I want to accomplish, it's not a good thing.

"So I put myself in Ray's shoes and I say, 'How would I feel?' I would want Ray to respect my decision on what I have to do to accomplish something in my life. And I think he would. So I have to give him the same respect.

"I respect Ray's decision and his opinions about things. He's made all the right decisions in the past. That's the way I look at it. That's the way I'm going into this fight. Just keep my fingers crossed and hope everything comes out the way we want it to."

To her, her man looks in fighting shape. She knows something about this because she has been around Leonard's gym enough, seen him spar enough, watched him ease off in retirement, seen him come back, working faithfully since last April. Now she sees a man she thinks is big enough, tough enough to handle Hagler.

Her husband was home for the weekend three weeks ago--a little vacation from his South Carolina training camp.

"He's in such good shape," Juanita Leonard said. "He's just really gotten himself so prepared that he felt he could take a couple of days off and come home.

"I took a long look at his body," she continued, "and I could not believe that this was my husband. Gosh, I think he looks better now than he did when I first met him, when he first started fighting professionally. He looks a lot better now than he has ever looked going into a fight.

"It's just phenomenal the way he has built himself. He's given me incentive--I'm into body-building now. I'm so sore. Yesterday I was working out.

"I've just never seen his body in such good shape."

Leonard fought his last fight, against Kevin Howard, in May 1984, at 149 pounds. A welterweight, Leonard is moving up to challenge for the 160-pound title.

"He left here at 168 pounds the other day," Juanita said. "But that was because when he was home he didn't do any running, he didn't do any working out. He called me the day after he had gotten back and he said he had run that morning and after running that he was down to 163."

He plans to weigh about 158 for the fight.

He's fast approaching top physical condition. His mind is said to be fixed on Hagler, with the result that his whole being is, in the words of a colleague, "at peace."

Mentally, he was not ready for Kevin Howard.

"Mentally, I couldn't see him being 'into' that fight," Juanita said. "Because there were so many things going on. At that point I was hospitalized a lot because of my pregnancy. He was concerned about me because I was due any time." It was their second child, Jarrel. "It was very tough on Ray. I was very, very sick. I had to spend maybe four months of my nine months in the hospital. So he was really very concerned about that.

"There were some other problems that took his mind away from it. Just all around, little things that pick at you and take your mind away from what you have to do.

"This time around I can see the difference."

For one thing, she is actively helping him, "managing the camp," taking care of details. She's been to the Hilton Head camp, she'll be going back, she keeps in daily contact. She suspected it would come to this.

"Up until about a month before he announced that he wanted to come back and fight Hagler, I had definite thoughts that he wouldn't go back to the ring," she said. "That's just the way things were. We had accepted that, and that's the way we were going to be. We had built our life around that.

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