Sugar Ray Leonard turns 61 today, and the legendary pugilist is still considered one of the best to ever lace them up. The Washington D.C. area superstar athlete was the first fighter to cross the $100 million purse win threshold, and held world titles in five different weight classes.
Ray Charles Leonard was born on this day in 1956 in Wilmington, North Carolina. At the age of three, his family moved to the D.C. suburb of Palmer Park, Maryland in Prince George’s County. A quiet child, Leonard took up boxing when his brother Roger “The Dodger” Leonard urged him to do so.
Sugar Ray, a nickname no doubt inspired by legendary boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, quickly rose in the amateur ranks and made the U.S. Olympic Boxing squad in 1976, joined by brothers Leon and Michael Spinks among others.
After winning a gold medal in the light-welterweight division, Leonard was hoping to cash in on his success and enter college. However, hardships with his working-class parents and family forced him to become a professional. It would take two years for Leonard to win the first of his world titles, winning the WBC welterweight title in the fall of that year.
Leonard, and his epic battles with the likes of Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, and Marvin Hagler catapulted him among the greats in his sport. There has been some debate regarding his win over Hagler in their tightly contested bout, but there’s no argument about his most famous fight. In 1980, he avenged one of his losses against Duran by beating him so thoroughly Duran ended the bout, telling the referee “No mas.”
Well past his prime, Leonard returned to the ring for a crushing loss to the late Hector Camacho in a fight that ended his career in 1997. After boxing, Leonard, fought personal demons of addiction, a bitter divorce, and the impact of his childhood sexual abuse.
Today, Leonard shines on the sidelines as one of the sharpest minds in the sport as a commentator. He also performs speaking engagements across the nation, and has entered the world of philanthropy with his wife, Bernadette, via the Sugar Ray Leonard Foundation.