Sugar Ray Leonard (born May 17, 1956, Rocky Mount, North Carolina, U.S.) was known for his agility and finesse, who won 36 of 40 professional matches and several national titles. As an amateur, he took an Olympic gold medal in the light-welterweight class at the 1976 Games in Montreal.
By his mid-teens Leonard proved adept at boxing, and, as an amateur, he won 145 of 150 bouts and garnered two National Golden Glove championships (1973, 1974), two Amateur Athletic Union championships (1974, 1975), and a gold medal at the 1975 Pan American Games. Following his Olympic victory in 1976, he announced his retirement from the sport but reentered the ring as a professional on February 5, 1977.
In November 1979 Leonard defeated the reigning World Boxing Council (WBC) welterweight champion, Wilfred Benítez, only to lose the title in June 1980 in a famous match against Roberto Durán. Five months later Leonard regained the title by defeating Durán, and he successfully defended it thereafter, winning the World Boxing Association (WBA) version of the title with a victory over Thomas Hearns in 1981. Earlier that same year he had won the WBA junior-middleweight title with a ninth-round knockout of Ayub Kalule.
Leonard retired from prizefighting in 1982 and again in 1984 but was enticed to return in April 1987 to face the up-and-coming Marvelous Marvin Hagler, whom he defeated to capture the WBC middleweight title in what was considered one of the greatest professional boxing matches of all time.
Leonard retired again in 1991 after losing a WBC super welterweight title bout, but he returned to the ring once more in 1997, at age 40, and lost by a fifth-round technical knockout. He retired after the fight and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame later that year. After his final retirement, Leonard served as a boxing commentator and hosted Mark Burnett's reality boxing show "The Contender".
H.T: I want to start talking about your great amateur career. You had an amazing 145-5 record but it didn’t get any bigger than bringing home the Olympic gold right?
H.T: Why wasn’t that great Team expected to do as well as it did?
S.R.L: The team actually was expected to only bring home one gold medal. There were
no high hopes for the 1976 Olympic team. What transpired was that Howard Cosell believed in our team, and he convinced Roon Arledge to televise the boxing competition. And we brought home five gold medals, which was awesome. It was incredible! It drew huge coverage and ratings. We had an incredible team with the Spinks brothers, Howard Davies, Leo Randolph. It was amazing!
H.T: It’s still one of your favorite memories, isn’t it?
S.R.L: Without question. It brings back very very fond memories. In fact, I just got off the
phone a couple of days ago with Howard Davis, and we discussed the possibility of coming together with a reunion of the 1976 team.
H.T: What I love about your career is that you’ve always been about believing in yourself and your own abilities. Not listening to the critics and the odds. But this was truly the beginning of it all, wasn’t it? (Because you all went on to have great careers too)
S.R.L: Well, looking back, that was indeed the beginning of a strong belief within myself, which I carried throughout my professional career, winning numerous titles and what have you. I became very confident, optimistic, determined, and focused.
H.T: But it was a slam dunk decision for you to turn pro even after such an illustrious amateur career was it? Academics was your priority right?
H.T: You had an academic scholarship to the University of Maryland?
H.T: Tell us about the fate that made you choose Boxing?
S.R.L: My father. The reason I turned professional was really to pay bills because my father got terribly ill. I had no aspiration or passion to become a professional fighter. It was about helping out my parents.
H.T: You needed immediate success didn’t you?
S.R.L: Without question. My father almost went into a semi coma. So I had no choice in my mind to turn professional, put college on the side, and take care of my parents.
H.T: Unfortunate for your father, but your work was cut out for you wasn’t it?
S.R.L: I was focused from the very beginning. I was just as determined, just as focused, just as committed as I was throughout my illustrious amateur career. And once my father, thank god, became healthy again, I maintained that sense of direction, that sense of wanting to be the best, of proving that I am the best, by fighting the best and always being ready.
H.T: You decided that you were going to be something special from the beginning?
S.R.L: I’ve always said that I did’t just want to be a world champion, that I wanted to be
special. My whole involvement in being a professional fighter was to be something different, something very unique. I trained, I sacrificed, I dedicated my body, mind and spirit, so that I could be looked upon as something very unique in the world of boxing. I didn’t want to be type-cast. I wanted to be presented in a totally different way. Looked upon as a personality and an entertainer as opposed to just a fighter. And I worked very hard to attain that.
H.T: And a leader.
S.R.L: Absolutely! And to show that nothing was out of my reach. Throughout my professional career I wanted to be an example of what can materialize from hard work in the ring, and how a champion behaves outside the ring, from giving to charities, helping people, being a role model and all those wonderful things. Having responsibilities.
H.T: And helping kids too.
S.R.L: Always helping kids. Because it’s about giving back. It’s about us being part of society.
H.T: You’ve always been so smart and versatile in the ring. You always adapted to the the situation and to your opponent.
S.R.L: My versatility comes from emulating Bruce Lee! He was one of my idols. And like Sugar Ray Robinson, he was an entertainer. Ali was bigger than life too. And those were the three people that I modeled myself after. I tried to emulate that inner strength, the ability to be strategic and technical in and outside the ring.
H.T: It seems like you took the best out of each?
S.R.L: I just captured what I saw as the ultimate attribute that each one possessed. Bruce Lee
had that total concentration. And Ali had the confidence. And Robinson had that certain flair.
H.T: Bruce was pretty philosophical.
S.R.L: Oh, very philosophical! He believed in the inner strength. We all have it, but only a very few can call upon that strength. Very few people can activate that resource.
H.T: What drew to you to Bruce of all people?
S.R.L: You know what? As small as he was, his heart was even bigger! His mind was even bigger. He thought even grander. He personified greatness!
H.T: And there were no Asian movie stars whatsoever back then.
S.R.L: Yeah. But I never saw myself, or Bruce Lee, as being a minority. I didn’t see anyone as being black or white. I saw the power within.
H.T: He had the spiritual conviction too.
S.R.L: It’s the spiritual conviction. Yes! Fighting without fighting. He knew that balance equals power.
H.T: And you always loved Bruce’s warrior mentality too, right?
S.R.L: Oh yeah! Never give up! That attitude of being knocked down but getting back up and
making those adjustments and going back. The same thing I talk about in my motivational speeches. That you get knocked down but you get back up each and every time, make the proper adjustments and go back at it. That’s the warrior’s mentality. That’s a winner! Winners come in all different shapes and forms, but the real ones get back up, and keep coming back.
H.T: It was always about the art of fighting for you, wasn’t it? Boxing, and not brawling.
S.R.L: Always. I call it scientific techniques displayed executed. Proper things done at the
right time. It was always a matter of being in the right position at the right time to give the maximum power.
H.T: Let’s talk about some of your career highlights. We have to begin with your first
Welter weight championship against Wilfredo Benitez. It was a very tough evenly matched fight. In fact, his ablities were perhaps superior at that time?
S.R.L: No, he was a better. He was a more seasoned professional than I was. He was far more experience than I was. I mean, this guy became world champion at the age of seventeen, so he had just an abundance of talent! Natural, raw talent and experience. Fighting Benitez was like looking through a mirror. I saw my image. I mean, he was just as fast as I was, he was as clever as I was, just as tricky as I was, and just very determined.
H.T: Was it tougher than you expected?
S.R.L: It’s never as tough as it is once you’re in there. It’s much tougher once you’re in there. Because looking from the outside in, you know the factors, you know what you should do and shouldn’t do, you know what you can do and can’t do. But when you’re in there, you’re dealing with the pressure of the audience, the fans, the TV, and all the other things.
H.T: That’s where you have to draw on the warrior..?
S.R.L: The warrior mentality! That comes heavily into play. Because that’s what takes you away from being mortal, of being just an ordinary man.
H.T: It prepared you well for what was to come, didn’t it?
S.R.L: No one was as sharp and as cunning and smooth as Benitez! As a technician, he was the best.
H.T: Talk about the importance of the first Roberto Duran fight?
S.R.L: Tough, tough, tough, fight! Duran introduced me to psychological warfare.
He positioned me to fight his fight, which was the perfect strategy that he used. It’s a strategy (where) he made me – he took me out of my fight plan, which benefited him. Because I stood toe to toe, instead of using my attributes – speed and movement – I was more of a stationary target. So I played right into his hands.
H.T: But the important thing is, you learned your lesson.
S.R.L: Well, if you get hit enough you will learn! Well, you should learn. But that’s not always the case.
H.T: But you came back.
S.R.L: Because I knew that I was versatile. I knew that I was capable of changing. I knew
that I had a second plan, a third plan. I had options. And that’s the key there, knowing your options. Knowing what you’re capable of doing. Because I had the ability to box, and to counterpunch. Slugging with Duran was not the answer, so I boxed the next time around.
H.T: Duran was an animal in his prime wasn’t he?
S.R.L: Duran had an incredible aggression. He took every fight personally. He had a gang mentality. He had a kind of a very primal mentality.
H.T: Were you intimidated?
S.R.L: No, I wasn’t intimidated. I just didn’t know how to counter that, that was what bothered me the most. I didn’t know how to defend against that verbally. Because he cursed me out. He did a lot of things to me that I was not used to in competition.
H.T: But that stuff you have to figure out for yourself, right? Not your corner?
S.R.L: That’s why it’s mano-a-mano. It’s you against the other guy, other people can’t help you with that stuff.
H.T: Because they can say a million times, look Ray, you lost control in that first fight –
S.R.L: Makes no difference –
H.T: Until you really realize that –
S.R.L: You come to grips with –
H.T: -- And decide to change –
S.R.L: Right. Whatever they say has nothing to do with what you feel..
H.T: In the second fight you brought him into your world!
S.R.L: It was a fight that was mapped out. That benefited me. That played into my hands as far as using my speed, using the ring. Not allowing Duran to corner me, never against the ropes. Always hitting, and not getting hit! I wanted to frustrate and humiliate him. With the poking, sticking the chin out, with the (polo) punches, it broke him down. It broke his spirit down. That’s what happened.
H.T: On September of ’81, two gladiators went into battle. Talk about the old saying ‘styles makes fights’.
S.R.L: That fight with Tommy Hearns was the ultimate showdown in the welterweight
division back then. Tommy Hearns was the WBA champion, I was the WBC, and this was for the undisputed title. Tommy just was an incredible fighter! A warrior, a champion. He had everything going for himself: The physical attributes, height – Tommy’s 6’2” – he was fast, powerful, strong – Tommy had everything. And in my own little world, I had the same thing. I had speed, I had the knowledge to know how to execute a fight plan and strategize. So it was a perfect match-up. I became the puncher at that (hurt) time in the middle round, then Tommy demonstrated his versatility by boxing me in the mid, late rounds. So it was a fight that had different colors in it. Different shades, different feelings, different flows. Boxer, puncher, puncher, boxer, counter-puncher.
H.T: He sure was using his advantages too, wasn’t he?
S.R.L: Everything! Yeah, height, his reach, his speed, his jab was very effective in that fight.
H.T: Combinations, too!
S.R.L: Very very good. Very good!
H.T: The public demanded for that fight to happen!.
S.R.L: It was a fight that was inevitable. No one knew when it would happen. But it was just two meteors about to collide. It was a huge!
H.T: If you hadn’t dropped him in the fourteenth round, you were behind in the fight, right?
S.R.L: I was behind by the judges’ scorecards. Way behind, to a degree that if he had held on for the last round, he would have won the fight.
H.T: Did you feel that going into the fourteenth?
S.R.L: I knew it was close. I didn’t know how close it was.
H.T: Defining moment of your career?
S.R.L: I ‘d have to say yes. Very defining!
H.T: And the rematch?
S.R.L: It wasn’t a pretty sight.
H.T: Credit to Tommy though, right?
S.R.L: Oh yeah. Tommy, at that point in our careers, had more motivation than I had. And
it showed. He dropped me twice. He hurt me a couple of times.
H.T: How do you rank your fights?.
S.R.L: The fight I enjoyed the most was Marvin Hagler. The fight that captured the most for me was Tommy Hearns. The fight that somewhat exonerated me or vindicated me was Duran II. They each had different, very significant attachments to them.
H.T: The great Hagler fight in ’87; how tough was it comeback against all odds?
S.R.L: It’s a very lonely, discouraging road sometimes. Because to get back what you had back then, is not easy. But I was determined.
H.T: You’d been retired for six years, but you sure showed that you still had the heart of a champion.
S.R.L: Well, the reason I wanted to fight was because I felt that because of my eye injury, I
was denied that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fight the best in the world. Because Marvin Hagler was clearly the best in the world at that time. And to have not had that opportunity to fight him, created a void in my career. So I had to come back.
H.T: So nothing was going to get in your way.
S.R.L: No. No way.
H.T: He was your motivation, right?
S.R.L: Absolutely. And they all said that my plan to fight Marvin was disastrous because I didn’t agree to a tune-up fight. And being out of the ring that long, and going up against a guy like Hagler was fatal.
H.T: You probably couldn’t recommend such a fight to one of your own fighters today could you?
S.R.L: No way! No way! You know what, Hikari? Taking into consideration, my inactivity – five years; taking into consideration that I’m not that big a guy – a welterweight, 147; and taking into account that I had an eye injury. All those things would tell the average person that I’m in trouble. I made numerous comebacks in my career. They weren’t all successful. But for anyone to say that my career or my legacy was tarnished, – if that’s indeed the case, then there was never any legacy at all before! Because if I have accomplished what people say I’ve accomplished by beating the likes of Hagler, Hearns, Duran– capturing five different titles in five different weight classes. If coming back and not being successful in the latter part of my career has that much of an impact, then so be it!
H.T: The ultimate decision of the Hagler fight is still talked about, but you’ve always welcomed that, haven’t you?
H.T: Because you know where you stand.
S.R.L: Yeah. Put it this way, even if I’d not gotten the decision, which
I think I deserved it, I was a winner anyway! Because I went the distance! After five years, I went the distance, man!
H.T: That’s terrific. But you put on a brilliant exhibition that night!
S.R.L: For twelve rounds, man!
H.T: You clearly frustrated him.
H.T: You scored everywhere. What a beautifully executed fight plan!
S.R.L: It was the best executed boxing strategy tactics ever done. It was, it was perfect!
H.T: In recent memory, Oscar’s fight plan against Vargas comes to mind.
S.R.L: Yeah. But Vargas is not Hagler.
H.T: No. Absolutely not.
S.R.L: I mean, I like Vargas.
H.T: What about the air of mystery and the fascination of that great match-up? Only you truly believed inside.
S.R.L: It was an ongoing process, and because of the nature of the sport, because of the one-on-one competitive spirit, it’s you. It’s only you. And I’ve had, I’ve always taught myself to value my conviction.
H.T: Right. You used to run home after the school bus and not take the school bus, right Ray?
H.T: You didn’t listen to what people had to say about it, you just did what you had to do?
S.R.L: Yep! I ran to school, and I ran home from school three or four miles. I mean, the kids were laughing at me. They thought I was crazy, when there was a brand new bus to take you to school. But it didn’t bother me.
H.T: You were self motivated. You knew what you needed to do.
S.R.L: Self-motivated! I knew what needed to be done to reach my goals.
H.T: Was that the fight where you cleaned house?
S.R.L: I cleaned house after my fight my second fight with Tommy Hearns because there were just too many distractions. You know, I was going through a divorce, and there was just too much negativity around. So I cleaned house from those people who were there that did not need to be there. Whether they were family members or relatives, it didn’t make a difference. Because what mattered was that I had total concentration.
H.T: It’s also about not being too comfortable too, right?
S.R.L: Exactly. All those factors come into play. You know, unfortunately you can’t please the world, so you try to please yourself.
H.T: When you got a goal you can’t let family members or anything –
S.R.L: -- friends, nothing. Never had, never will.
H.T: Let’s go back to the fascination, the hype and the mystery going into the Hagler fight again. Talk about your secret preparation for the fight?
S.R.L: Well, I knew very well that I needed to get in some tune-up fights. So I brought in some guys, some fighters from all over the country. Top middleweights. I brought in a referee, judges, and even guys from HBO-Computer box to score the punches that I threw. And I had about four fights in the gym. Real fights. And in doing so, I was able to get back that feeling of being hit, the feeling of dealing under pressure, fighting when you’re tired – exhausted. And it all worked.
H.T: They were all saying Ray needs fights, but people didn’t even know about it, right?
S.R.L: No. No one knew about that. But it helped. It was a factor.
H.T: You were totally ahead of the game.
S.R.L: Well, what people fail to realize, although I was out of the ring for five years, Hagler
wasn’t active for almost a year, or more. And when you take that into consideration, both parties were affected. But my master plan was to have real fights in the gym. The game plan!
H.T: Yeah, the fight was a classic moment in sports history. Did Leonard-Haggler II ever come close?
H.T: Because Hagler disappeared!
S.R.L: Never surfaced. He was so devastated by that loss that he went away.
H.T: When was the last time you saw him?
S.R.L: I saw him at the Trinidad-Oscar fight.
H.T: So he shows up here and there?
S.R.L: Yeah, he’ll show up. He’ll come to the Boxing Hall of Fame. I’ve seen him a couple of times. We talk.
H.T: But even for him, there was no other fight after that one, huhh?
S.R.L: None. That was it. Done.
H.T: You gotta’ respect that! He wasn’t coming back for the money or anything.
S.R.L: It wasn’t about money, no. Hagler’s from the old school. I respect that. He said, “I’m finished, I’m finished.”
H.T: Who did you pick for the Tyson-Lewis?
S.R.L: Oh, Lewis. Oh yeah.
H.T: Is there any point of having a rematch aside from business reasons?
S.R.L: There’s always that fascination, because you never know what Mike Tyson’s gonna’
do next. You don’t know. But Mike said himself, that he needs a few more fights before he takes on Lewis again.
H.T: That’s a good sign, isn’t it?
S.R.L: For Tyson? No! Because a champion, a winner, never says things – if I
ask you to fight me, and I say well I’ll fight you but you know what? Gimme three more fights and I’ll fight you, I’ll be ready for you. No! If you wanna’ fight me I’ll fight you now. Right now! A fighter doesn’t say that ‘cause he never thinks that he’s gonna’ lose.
H.T: Right. .
S.R.L: You with me? You don’t talk that way!
H.T: Wow! Now let’s talk about the future of boxing. You’ve always had a lot of respect for Oscar De La Hoya because you’ve always been able to relate to ‘The Golden Boy’. And both of you had the total package. Good looks, great style both on and off the ring…..
S.R.L: I can’t sing. (laughs)
H.T: Like you, he never avoided fighting the best. Chavez, Ike Quartey, Pernell Whitaker. But I remember when we spoke back in 1999, you said to me, “Oscar’s on his way to becoming a great fighter but we’ll see how he comes out from the Trinidad, Sugar Shane Mosley, and Vargas group”. I remember that you thought it was clearly premature to declare Oscar as one of the greatest ever yet. And you told me, “It’s not going to be that easy. These guys’re not gonna’ just lay down for Oscar”. How right you were, because Oscar’s still working to carve his name in history!
H.T: You also said that ‘greatness’ was labeled to fighters way too soon.
S.R.L: Too prematurely, yes.
H.T: You always believed that the public should be the ones to say who deserves to be called great?
S.R.L: Right. Exactly! The way Oscar annihilated Fernando Vargas, and now the showdown with Mosley – you know, if he’s successful on those term then…..
H.T: Oscar put everything on the line, but he came out ready, didn’t he?
S.R.L: Yes. Oscar displayed the perfect strategy against Fernando Vargas.
H.T: Did you think he won against Trinidad?
S.R.L: You know, I think it was a close fight. I think that when he moved for the last four rounds, it kind of gave the judges a nod to say –
H.T: A good reason to – it’s fair enough at that point.
S.R.L: It was a close fight for that reason. But Oscar was boxing Trinidad. He was winning.
H.T: But against Shane Mosley, he was taught a lesson wasn’t he?
S.R.L: Yeah. But he’ll beat Shane this time out.
H.T: You think so?
S.R.L: Oh he’ll beat Shane, yeah. Oscar’s not been given enough credit as a complete boxer, puncher. And I think that he’ll beat – well I don’t think, I know he’ll beat Sugar Shane Mosley!
H.T: But Shane’s lucky that he had the Oscar victory in his back pocket because he’s been mismanaged somewhat, don’t you think?
S.R.L: Mosley should be in a better position. When he beat Oscar de la Hoya, they should have rode that wind. He should have taken advantage of it.
H.T: Greed got in the way of a natural showdown with Trinidad, and now we’ll probably never know.
S.R.L: The economics always gets in the way.
H.T: All the talent will be in the middleweights next.
S.R.L: All those guys will move up eventually to middleweight. The middleweights will have an abundance of talent. A lot of marquee fighters will be middleweights.
H.T: Is Bernard Hopkins going to be solid for a while?
S.R.L: You know, Bernard is what, 36, 37? The clock is ticking, man. Big time.
H.T: Timing has a lot to do with it doesn’t it? Like with Roy Jones’ move to the Heavyweights. Even Jim Lampley didn’t believe Roy was serious about it until he actually won.
S.R.L: Roy’s approach is like a businessman. Roy has the ability to say I wanna’ fight this guy or that guy. That’s the difference from the way things used to be back when I was fighting, because we fought for bragging rights. You know, if you’re the best then I’ll fight the best, to prove that I’m the best! It’s more positioning with these guys now.
H.T: It was all about settling it in the ring wasn’t it?
S.R.L: Settle it, yes!
H.T: You’re a great promoter and commentator now. What do you see interesting in the heavyweights? Obviously Roy, but Tyson, Lewis, Klichko?
S.R.L: It’s wide open, but Lennox Lewis is 36, 37? – another year or two, if that long. Because I think the way he did away with Mike Tyson kind of gave him that big boost that he needed for the American fans. But the heavyweight division needs another face, another great star. And there’s a young man who I recently signed, Juan Carlos Gomez, 38-0, 34 knockouts(!). He’s going to be the champion in the heavyweight division. It’s all about substance. It’s all about putting up or shuttin up. This young man I’m talking about, Juan Carlos Gomez, will be the one to put up.
S.R.L: He defected from Cuba. This young man is just an amazing guy. He’s smooth. He’s a boxer and a puncher.
H.T: When is going to be making his big moves?
S.R.L: Pretty soon. In a few months!
H.T: Would it be wise for Roy to avoid him?
S.R.L: Oh, for sure. Roy couldn’t touch him.
H.T: Some even say that Roy avoided Vassily Jirov?
S.R.L: Well, rightfully so. I mean, Roy took the right opportunity against John Ruiz. John Ruiz is not really a big guy. Here’s the scenario; John Ruiz, heavyweight champion, weighs in at 226lbs. the day before the fight. He comes in the day of the fight at 224. What the hell is that? He should gain weight! He was a nervous wreck. So that’s what happened there.
H.T: That’s Roy’s business savy too. Picking the right opportunity.
S.R.L: But also, styles makes fights. I predicted that if John Ruiz is the least apprehensive or tentative, Roy’s going to pick him apart with speed. And that’s what happened.
H.T: It was a masterpiece.
S.R.L: It was a perfect fight. It was a perfect masterpiece, yes.
H.T: What would you advise Roy to do next?
S.R.L: Fight Tyson! For a hundred million dollars. Yeah. Shit just do it! But he can’t get hit by Tyson. Tyson’s nowhere near where he used to be. Understand what I’m sayin, Hikari, he can’t get hit by Tyson the way he got hit by John Ruiz. Tyson may be crazy as shit, but Tyson still hits hard! He’s still a legitimate heavyweight.
H.T: A helluva’ matchup.
S.R.L: It’s a very interesting matchup. Because Roy Jones is not a big heavyweight. But Roy has speed, he’s smart, he’s this, he’s that. Against a guy who had the potential to be considered one of the all-time heavyweight greats. But you know, Tyson’s not all there.
H.T: And would you recommend for Tyson to fight Roy over another Lewis bout?
S.R.L: Oh yeah!
H.T: Both are going to profit, so –
S.R.L: Oh, big time. I would fight Roy Jones and fight Lewis!
H.T: But you don’t think Roy would ever take on Lewis?
S.R.L: No, no, no. He’s too big.
H.T: Now you’ve talked to me about the two bad decisions you’ve made in your career,
which came right at the end against Terry Norris – a very game Terry Norris – and Camacho –
S.R.L: A very talented young man. The general public didn’t know much about Terry Norris. But this young man was very talented.
H.T: And he legitimately stayed at the top for a long time too.
H.T: They may have been bad decisions but weren’t you injured before both fights?
S.R.L: But fighters fight though injuries. That’s normal. You fight through it. But my time was up. And thank god I got out of the ring when I still had all my faculties and nothing too severe.
H.T: Because as you said, it’s important for a fighter to listen to your body isn’t it?
S.R.L: It is, but we don’t! (laughs) We don’t! That’s what makes us who we are. That’s a fact. I can give advice, but sometimes I don’t heed my own advice.
H.T: And I guess fighters want t o regain the glory days too.
S.R.L: Never for me. It was the competition. There’s no greater feeling than the competition, than to go up against insurmountable odds, to do something that they say “no way – it’s not logical, it’s not real. You can’t do that!”
H.T: Conquering that mountain draws you back in?
S.R.L: That draws you back in. And if you don’t understand it sometimes, it can be deadly. It can be fatal.
S.R.L: You know what happens? The competitive spirit in me keeps me going. And then, you get to a point where you know within yourself that you can only go so far. So you pull back. But what happens with most fighters, they have nothing else to fall back on. They have nothing else to stimulate them, to keep them active. Because an idle athlete is the worst guy to be around. He doesn’t know which way to go.
H.T: You’ve said that when the fighter loses focus, that’s when nerves and doubt comes in. But you weren’t one of these athletes that never got nervous before a fight?
S.R.L: Nervous? Oh yeah. That’s the nature of the beast. What happens is I’m faster when I’m nervous.
H.T: But the thing is, for that nervousness or fear to not conquer you, right?
S.R.L: I don’t really characterize it as being just fear itself. It’s a broader thing. I think it’s more of an anticipation of reality. Boxing is like a present-day gladiator. It’s ‘mano-a-mano.’
H.T: Right. Tell me about SRL Promotions?
S.R.L: We do a monthly show on ESPN. And for the past year and a half we’ve sold-out 90% of our shows. We’ve done incredible ratings on ESPN. We‘ve doubled our competitors. And we have also worked very hard to guide our young fighters to become champions off the ring as well as on. We’ve done a great deal of good work. There’s been a lot of hard work involved, but we’ve changed the whole face of boxing.
H.T: What about the corruption in boxing?
S.R.L: There is corruption in everything. There are some areas that need to be fixed or modified in every aspect of this business, or any sport for that matter. But that’s what I’m doing. I want to redefine the sport of boxing. To take it back to where it used to be. To give it back the integrity, and the class. To really make sure that the boxers benefit, because they should be the primary beneficiaries of the sport. When these young men start making a substantial amount of money, my company will provide financial counselors and advisors to show them how to invest their money. Because fighters have to comeback because they’re broke! They don’t come back for the love of it, they come back because they’re broke.
H.T: Tyson too.
S.R.L: He needs financial advisors, too.
H.T: You’ve always felt that boxers deserve the same kind of representation that the other top athletes get, right?
S.R.L: The difference with me is the fact that I can relate to these guys because I’ve been
there. I’ve done what they’ve done. I know what it takes to become a world champion. It’s great, because I live vicariously through these guys. It’s a wonderful ride I’m taking right now.
H.T: Again, you mentor them to be champs inside and outside the ring.
S.R.L: Yes! Outside of the ring. Because it’s about giving back. At certain shows we raise
money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. So we do things. But you can only control it to some degree, because these guys are not kids anymore. What I try to tell them is that what has helped me going strong, whether it’s in corporate America or whatever, is the fact that I’m respected. And getting respect is tough to do, but losing it is so easy. And they kind of get that. It all parlays into what the real world’s all about.
H.T: Do you think it’s still a long process to clean up boxing? Because there are certain figures in boxing that have been there for so long time.
S.R.L: Let’s be realistic, you can’t clean up the whole sport. You can better it. But a little improvement is great improvement. Just a little improvement is worth it. Stricter rules and regulations, tougher commissions, better criteria for judging.
H.T: And obviously it’ll help when you have your fighters as champs in different weight classes?
S.R.L: Yes, it’s what you put out there that’s the example. The type of fighters you put out there, who are dedicated, focused, and are role models. That’s how you change the face and fabric of boxing. Young men who have an impact on sports fans, and to put out evenly matched fights and champions fighting champions on a regular basis.