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Sugar Ray Leonard isn’t afraid to admit he’s an alcoholic. The Boxer of the Decade in the 1980s battled substance abuse after he retired from boxing. He used cocaine and abused alcohol. In July of 2006, he sought help. He joined Alcoholics Anonymous mainly because he wanted to please his parents. Those AA meetings saved his life. In a recent interview with Mike Tyson, Leonard said the meetings also taught him gratitude.

Sugar Ray Leonard dominated the 80s

Sugar Ray Leonard made his professional boxing debut in February of 1977. He won the first 27 fights as a pro before losing to Roberto Duran in a unanimous decision on June 20, 1980. The bout was for the WBC welterweight title. Leonard, however, reclaimed the title five months later when he knocked out Duran in the eighth round.

Leonard then went 10 fights without a loss, going up against some quality opponents. During that stretch, Leonard knocked out Thomas Hearns and earned a split decision over Marvin Hagler. In June of 1989, he fought to a draw with Hearns in a rematch and then defeated Duran once again in a unanimous decision.

Leonard ended his career with consecutive losses, falling to Terry Norris in 1991 and then Hector Camacho six years later. Leonard had 40 professional fights, going 36-3 with the one draw. Leonard was the first boxer to rake in more than $100 million in career earnings.

Leonard’s battle with substance abuse

Sugar Ray Leonard retired from boxing in 1982. It was the first of several retirements for him. He was on top of the world then. That’s also when Leonard said he discovered cocaine. In a first-person account in The Players’ Tribune in April, Leonard said that was the beginning of his downfall.

“In the early ’80s, cocaine was a part of that big lifestyle,” Leonard wrote. “It was many people’s drug of choice. So I tried it, and I liked it. I used it when I felt bad — when I missed the exhilaration of competing at the highest level in the ring, which was often. It helped fill the void boxing had left in my life. So it became my drug of choice, too. And it nearly destroyed me.”

When he went back to boxing in 1984, he stopped using cocaine. When he retired for the second time, he started again. Leonard said if he had stayed retired, he’d likely be dead. “I can honestly say that if I had stayed retired that first time, I wouldn’t be here, writing this,” he wrote. “Cocaine would have been the end of me.”

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It wasn’t only cocaine Leonard was using. He was abusing alcohol as well. He was drinking heavily when his boxing days were completely done. “In the years after retiring for good in 1997, I didn’t realize that I was using alcohol to cope with the void boxing had left in my life,” Leonard wrote in The Players’ Tribune. “I wasn’t living that big life anymore. My whole world had changed. And in this new world of mine, I drank as often as I could. I would take four shots before even going out at night.”

These days, Leonard has stopped drinking. He needed help. He finally admitted he was an alcoholic and he attended Alcoholics Anonymous. Leonard said those AA meetings significantly helped him. “I am so incredibly blessed,” Leonard said to Mike Tyson during a February episode of the podcast Hotboxin’ With Mike Tyson.

“When I go to my AA meetings, Sometimes I hear people say, ‘I have such gratitude’ and I couldn’t understand how you could have gratitude. The other day, I was at a meeting and I said I have gratitude. It took 15 years for me to say that. Fifteen years. And I feel incredible because I reciprocated. I give back. I made an impact in the ring, but I want to make an even larger impact outside the ring.”