Sugar Ray Leonard Made Over $100 Million But Almost Lost Everything to His Addictions

There are many highs and also, many lows in sports. It’s not uncommon for an athlete to be at the top of the world, making millions, and then lose it all in a blink of an eye. That’s what almost happened to Sugar Ray Leonard, but it wasn’t his fortune that he almost lost.

Sugar Ray Leonard makes history

While Mike Tyson’s exploits may have dominated the late ’80s, Leonard also dominated the boxing world for many. No doubt about it, Tyson would’ve destroyed Leonard. But this is because he was the heavyweight champion while Leonard won belts in much lighter weight classes.

Indeed, like other boxing greats, Leonard won belts in five divisions, something Tyson can’t brag about. That said, when it comes to Leonard’s total number of fights, it may not seem like much. By the time he retired in 1997, he boasted a record of 36 wins, three losses, and one draw.

His successful boxing career included a famous trilogy with Roberto Duran. During this threepeat, Leonard won twice while Duran won once. In fact, their second fight, in 1980, was the one where Duran uttered the famous words, “No más,” which means “no more” in Spanish. Leonard’s reign didn’t end there. He continued beating other great boxers like Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns. 

In the end, he ended up being the first boxer to make $100 million from boxing. Compared to Floyd Mayweather’s earnings, it may not seem like a lot. But $100 million was a lot of money back then.

Leonard fights his demons

Sugar Ray Leonard (C) sits in his dressing room before a fight
Sugar Ray Leonard (C) in his dressing room before a fight | Focus on Sport/Getty Images

As The New York Times reports, not long after he beat Hearns in 1981, Leonard suffered a terrible injury while was training for a fight. His retina was detached, and his doctors warned him that he could go permanently blind if he fought again. But he was in his twenties at the time, and he didn’t want to retire so soon.

To run away from the pain of choosing between his health or his career, Leonard abused alcohol and cocaine. Like many people who abused those drugs, his home life took a turn for the worse. 

His wife at the time, Juanita Leonard, divorced him in 1990. During the court proceedings, she said he had abused her when he was under the influence. He didn’t deny this, but he did say there were some exaggerations in the court proceedings. 

Sugar Ray Leonard beats his addictions

But one day, according to The New York Times, the five-weight champion woke up and looked in the mirror, ashamed of himself. He said that what he saw “was scary.” This was in 1986, and Leonard said that was the year that he quit drugs. 

While he ultimately got divorced from his wife, he turned himself into a better man. Unlike other athletes, he was able to save himself and his family of going down a dangerous spiral. After his personal and domestic issues went public, he told The New York Times about his shame.

“I can never, ever erase the pain or the scar I have made through my stupidity, my selfishness,” Leonard said. Nowadays, the former fighter uses his fame to discuss overcoming addictions and adversity.