Sugar Ray Leonard is 55, has managed his money well, and doesn't really need fame. But his decision to write a new book, "The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of the Ring" he says has more to do with getting something off his chest.
In the book, Leonard admits that as a teenager he was twice sexually abused by older men who were in a mentorship role.
I spoke with Leonard about this, about the current state of the boxing, and his memorable fight in 1987 against Marvin Hagler.
Mac Engel: Why write this now?
Sugar Ray Leonard: I'm getting that question a lot. It's not the fame or money. I have those things. It's about the freedom of releasing things that I kept suppressed in my heart for so long. These are secrets that I never told anyone but my first wife, Juanita, and many years later my second wife. Each time I told them I was inebriated. I just didn't have the courage.
Mac Engel: How do you think being molested affected you later as a man, as a husband or father?
Sugar Ray Leonard: I don't have the medical knowledge to see how it manifested. It bothered the crap out of me for a long time, especially when I drank heavily. That's when I'd let it go. Each time I told (his first wife and then his second wife) they gave me a facial expression that they just didn't want to go there so I would change the subject. They didn't want to go there any more than I did. I'm 55 and I'm revealing that I was abused. It's a weird thing, but it also freed me. You just can't keep that kind of thing hidden.
Mac Engel: Do you feel that many other young men in this position are vulnerable to abuse my men in mentoring roles?
Sugar Ray Leonard: I'm not sure how relevant it would be with boxers. That's the strange part of this whole thing is that I could have kicked their ass.
Mac Engel: Reading the book you mention race quite a bit but you never sound bitter about the disparity between blacks and whites; why not?
Sugar Ray Leonard: It was the '70s, and things weren't that great for blacks. It's the way it was. I do a lot of motivational speaking, and this woman (who was white) came to me the other day and said my grandmother said she was a fan of mine so that means she's not a racist.
Mac Engel: Wow - that's great. So because she likes you that means she's not a racist; look how far we've come.
Sugar Ray Leonard: Yeah, right. Look how far we've come.
Mac Engel: In the book you mention how you practiced speaking and doing interviews, do you think that made you appeal to the white community and did it ever back lash against the black community?
Sugar Ray Leonard: Wow, you are the first interviewer to ever ask me that. That is so true. I got it both ways. It was, 'He speaks so well. He's so articulate'. And then some blacks would tell me, 'You're trying to speak white.' What is that?
Mac Engel: So if people confronted you with the notion that you were speaking white or you were a sellout, how did you deal with it?
Sugar Ray Leonard: I disengaged. I really wanted to be different and unique. I looked at Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson and they were different. (One of his advisors) said that big guys (in boxing) get paid; little guys, at the time, don't get paid. So you have to make yourself different. This was one way I made myself different.
Mac Engel: In the book you say at one point early in your career you became 'Ray the Bank" to many of your friends and family; how would you advise a kid who suddenly becomes a patriarch type financial figure in an instant the way you did?
Sugar Ray Leonard: There is no one way it can be handled or there is no one solution. It's a process. Fame is one thing, fortune is another. I wanted to share that wealth, and I did for many, many years before I came to an age and knowledge and said, "Woooh ... I can't do this for the rest of my life." It was crazy. It was on-the-job training with that.
Mac Engel: When you were in your prime I could name a lot of the boxers; now I can name four. Maybe; is boxing ever going to come back the way you knew it?
Sugar Ray Leonard: I'm a fighter and I can't name these guys. Who is the heavyweight champion of the world? There are too many governing bodies. I'm an optimist so I think it can come back. But the amateur program has really deteriorated.
Mac Engel: Have you ever watched a fight where you felt like the fighters were so careful so they could just get the check without a scratch?
Sugar Ray Leonard: Guys can get conservative. That happens when you make it to a certain level, to my level of Ali's level or Oscar De La Hoya's level. We've had it so good. There is so much money and we lose that commitment. We become more civilized. We don't want to take that punch.
Mac Engel: In the book you say you are bad at confrontation outside of the ring - are you any better at it today?
Sugar Ray Leonard: I'm a little better with it now because I know that the you have to do it. You have to do it with kids or they will run over you.
Mac Engel: How do you remember your 'No mas' fight with Roberto Duran?
Sugar Ray Leonard: I can remember each of my fights like it was yesterday. With that fight against Duran, I didn't really hear him say. And even if he did say and I could hear it I wouldn't have understood him anyway. I remember the referee waving his arms, and my brother saying, 'He quit Ray! He quit, Ray!' I was like, 'Wow! This is great stuff."
Mac Engel: The fight I recall the most was 'The Super Fight' in 1987 against Marvin Hagler; what do you recall about that fight?
Sugar Ray Leonard: No one thought I had a shot. My brothers, who worked for me, didn't think I had a shot.
Mac Engel: Your own brothers didn't think you were going to win?
Sugar Ray Leonard: Oh, come on. They saw me drinking and doing cocaine before the fight. So did the writers. I believed I could win, I just didn't know how I was going to win. When Hagler came out throwing with his right hand instead of a South Paw I was like, 'There is a God.' And then he was talking to me, and Hagler didn't talk, saying 'Fight me you little bitch', I knew I had him.
Mac Engel: When did you know you had him?
Sugar Ray Leonard: Back then we did press tours, and during those tours I never said a bad word about him. I said he was a great fighter. That he was a great man, a great father, a great husband. I never wanted to give him anything he could use against me. Before our last promotional tour I told the press, 'You insulted Hagler's intelligence. He's a better boxer than you give him credit for.' Then he comes out and says 'I may surprise you'. So he ended up doing things he didn't normally do.
Mac Engel: What are you doing these days other than motivational speaking?
Sugar Ray Leonard: I live in Los Angeles, and I do motivational speaking. I also served as the boxing choreographer for the new Hugh Jackman movie "Real Steel" which comes out soon. That was a lot of fun to do that. I took my wife and kids to see it and they all enjoyed it a great deal.
Here is the trailer for that flick ...