The illustrious record of Sugar Ray Leonard includes 25 knockouts, but the former Olympic and world boxing champion’s two most important wins have been over cocaine and alcohol. The man who defeated Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas “Hitman” Hearns had discussed his addictions in the past but went in-depth this week in an essay for The Players Tribune.
Sugar Ray Leonard discussed his addictions before
Sugar Ray Leonard revealed his drug use and alcoholism long ago after allegations came out during his 1990 divorce. During the proceedings, Juanita Leonard said that the boxing champion was a physically abusive drunk and that he also used cocaine. He confirmed the drug and alcohol problems but said they were not a factor in the marriage ending.
The cocaine use began in 1982 after surgery for a detached retina, but Leonard wrote this week that he quit using before fights against Kevin Howard in 1984 and Marvelous Marvin Hagler in 1986. He beat Hagler and never used the drug again.
His alcoholism was a different matter. Leonard wrote that he didn’t realize he was using alcohol as a crutch after retiring from boxing for good following a loss to Hector Camacho in 1997.
“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. At one point, I switched my drink of choice to vodka because the smell wasn’t so easily detected.”Sugar Ray Leonard
Leonard had remarried in 1993 and knew he was taking a toll on his wife. He finally admitted to himself in 2006 that he had a problem and needed help.
Attending his first ‘AA’ meeting was a big step
Sugar Ray Leonard knocked out Wilfred Benitez, Roberto Duran, and Thomas Hearns in a span of 22 months. That was easy compared to the first step he had to take to tackle his problem with alcohol.
“I remember my first AA meeting. My wife dropped me off. I walked into this small, dark room somewhere in Los Angeles. And honestly? I was scared. I had stepped into the ring against some of the greatest fighters in history — Roberto Duran, Tommy Hearns, Marvin Hagler — and I had never been more scared in my life than I was when I walked into that AA meeting room.”Sugar Ray Leonard
Leonard did not admit his alcoholism to the rest of the group that night or at subsequent Alcoholics Anonymous meetings over several months. He knew he had a problem but couldn’t bring himself to say it out loud.
“Then, one day, they went around the room again like usual, and when they all turned to me in the back, I was finally able to say it — to myself, and to the rest of the world,” he wrote. “’My name is Ray,’ I said. ‘And I’m an alcoholic.’”
Ray Leonard was a champion in the ring
Sugar Ray Leonard, who says he has been sober for 14 years now, ascended to the top of the professional boxing world after his gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. From 1979 to 1988, he won world welterweight, light middleweight, middleweight, super middleweight, and light heavyweight championships.
Leonard ended a nearly three-year retirement to win a split decision in 1987 over Marvelous Marvin Hagler, who was the undisputed middleweight champion for more than six years.
Leonard finished with a 36-3-1 record and 25 knockouts.