Skip to main content

During a 20-year period, Sugar Ray Leonard was considered one of the greatest boxers. From 1977-1997, Leonard only lost three professional fights. In his prime, he was unstoppable. When his fighting days were over, however, he was getting beaten up. He was losing the battle to addiction and got very emotional recently when discussing the topic with former heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson.

Sugar Ray Leonard’s boxing career

Sugar Ray Leonard was a star. He was talented, good-looking, rich. He had it all. Leonard was one of the best boxers of his time. He won world titles in five different weight classes. Leonard was a big part of the ‘Fabulous Four’ – a group consisting of top-notch boxers Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler, and Leonard. The group fought each other quite often and kept boxing alive in the 1980s.

Leonard was the first boxer to take in more than $100 million. He made his professional debut on Feb. 5, 1977. Leonard defeated Luis Vega in a six-round unanimous decision. The victory over Vega began a string of 27 straight wins.

Leonard suffered his first professional loss at the hands of Duran on June 20, 1980. Leonard dropped a unanimous decision after a 15-round battle with Duran. He redeemed himself, however, five months later with a technical knockout of Duran in the eighth round of their rematch. Leonard then defeated Hearns and Hagler before finishing in a draw during a 1989 rematch with Hearns. Leonard lost his last two pro fights, falling to Terry Norris (1991) and Hector Camacho (1997). He finished his career with a record of 36-3-1.

Leonard’s substance abuse problem

In a first-person article that appeared in The Players’ Tribune in April, Sugar Ray Leonard called himself an alcoholic. He said there was no one particular instance that made him realize he was an alcoholic. Leonard figured it out himself after instances that embarrassed himself or hurt others.

“There was no one thing,” Leonard wrote. “No come-to-Jesus moment, no one big mistake or drunken episode that put me over the top and caused me to finally admit to myself that I was an alcoholic. It was years of waking up in the middle of the night, unable to remember how I got home … walking downstairs and cracking the garage door open to see if my car was there. It was years of waking up in the morning and seeing my wife crying, which let me know that I had f—ed up the night before.”

Leonard said he realized he had an alcohol problem because he had gone through the same situation with cocaine when he briefly retired from boxing for the first time. He said he was “riding this wave of popularity and prosperity created by my boxing career. I had shaken hands with presidents. Played golf with movie stars. Partied with celebrities in Vegas and all over the world. Life was big.” He tried cocaine and was hooked.

Leonard gets emotional talking to Mike Tyson about addiction

In May, Sugar Ray Leonard was a guest on the podcast Hotboxin’ With Mike Tyson and wasn’t shy about discussing his addiction battles. He was asked about the situation by co-host Eben Britton and got pretty emotional when speaking about it.

“For me, the drugs and alcohol took place when I was retired, one of many times,” he said. “It was because I wasn’t happy. As much as I had, I had low self-esteem. I didn’t feel good about myself. When I was offered to try cocaine, it was one of the missing ingredients that I needed to feel better about myself. Then the alcohol became an issue because alcohol, to me, and cocaine mixed very well.”

Leonard then got choked up as he continued. “I nearly lost it. I nearly went over the bridge because I did it every single day. A friend of mine, James Anderson, said to me, ‘Ray, forget about you. Think about your parents. Think about your kids and they see you get locked up because you’re drunk driving or doing too much drugs or whatever. Look in the mirror.’ I looked in the mirror that night and I cried like a baby because that is not the person my mother and father raised me to be.”

Leonard said he quit cocaine cold turkey, but alcohol “had me in its claws.” He said he has now been 15 years sober.