For a wildly successful athlete, fame can have a steep price. While being an elite performer in a major sport has perks like money and notoriety, it also comes with a large personal cost. The commitments of modern athletics often take a massive toll on an athlete’s personal relationships. This was the case with legendary former boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard, who went through a particularly nasty divorce.
Let’s take a closer look at Leonard’s courtship, marriage, and the eventual sad downfall of the relationship in which he managed to keep his $1.5 million home during hotly contested divorce proceedings.
The early stages of Sugar Ray Leonard and Juanita’s relationship
According to the Baltimore Sun, Sugar Ray met Juanita Wilkinson Leonard when they were teenagers growing up in Prince Georges County outside of Washington, D.C.
Before the duo knew it, she was pregnant at the young age of 16. She had the baby, and it would be six years before Ray popped the question to Juanita.
On the surface, it appeared the two had what one newspaper columnist referred to as a “storybook romance.” It was the classic tale of two childhood sweethearts linking up for life after one of them hits it big. But as with most things in life, not all was as it seemed.
A marriage on the rocks
According to Juanita, the marriage was a shrewd public relations move on the part of Ray and his team. She told the Baltimore Sun:
“We got married more so for his image and career than for anything else…It looked good. The headlines could say, ‘Sugar Ray Leonard marries his childhood sweetheart.’ It makes him look like a nice, clean guy. [People would say,] ‘He did the right thing, he married her.’ It was good for his image. And it worked.”
Sound like a recipe for a disaster? It was. Eventually, the pair separated due to some serious problems they experienced throughout the course of the relationship.
While on the surface everything appeared alright, the situation was quite untenable for both parties. They decided to do something about it.
The hostile divorce of Sugar Ray Leonard
Ray and Juanita separated before getting into a rather heated divorce dispute, both sides flanked by numerous attorneys. The settlement saw Juanita get a portion of Ray’s $50 million (at the time).
Juanita noted that while she didn’t get half, she got more than was allocated for her in their pre-nuptial agreement. Neither party disclosed the settlement, but it was enough so that Juanita and the couple’s two children could “continue the comfortable lifestyle” she had during the marriage.
Juanita alleged assault and adultery during the divorce proceedings, adding, “I didn’t file anything that was false.” She did say that Ray was able to keep the couple’s home, which was a “$1.5 million castle-like English Tudor home on 2 acres of land in Potomac.”
So how did it end up for both of them? Ray continued his successful run not just as a boxer, but later as a broadcaster, pitchman, and entrepreneur. While he did have a tough run-in with addiction, his net worth since then has reportedly skyrocketed to $120 million.
He’s become involved in many more successful ventures like ESPN/NBC boxing reality show called Contender. He’d later marry former Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Lynn Swann’s ex-wife, Bernadette Robi.
Juanita eventually found her Mr. Right, and it was another notable athlete. In 1993, the New York Times reported Atlanta Braves’ outfielder Otis Nixon married Juanita in a ceremony in Jamaica unbeknownst to Ray. It appears that although they went through a brutal divorce, both parties may have gotten their happy endings.