On the corner of Sugar Ray Leonard Drive and Sugar Ray Leonard Court in Palmer Park, a few blocks north of the Sugar Ray Leonard Gymnasium, 17-year-old Richard (Nicky) Foots jabbed, feinted and flashed a right hook yesterday in the general direction of a lopsided lamp post.
"Sugar Man, Sugar Man," Foots chanted, slapping five with a group of chuckling friends. "Palmer Park's gonna shine tonight."
And shine it did, from the projects on Barlowe Road to the smoky pool halls on George Palmer Highway, as Palmer Park's own Sugar Ray Leonard won the welterweight championship of the world.
Obey, Disco Ben, Captain Boogie Junebug and dozens of other delirious folks watching the fight on television at Dave's Liquor and Disco Lounge edged closer to the set as the last round loomed. They threw punches at imaginary targets and they ducked as Benitez jabbed back at Sugar Ray.
"Dig in, Ray, dig in," shouted Captain Junebug, lifting his shades to his forehead.
Then the lunge erupted in cheers and shouts as Benitez went down under a fabulous flurry of Leonard's punches.
"Go on, Sugar man," cried bartender Helen Brown, one of hundreds of people in this unobstrusive Prince George's County community who watched Leonard grow up. "Go on, my baby. Go on."
Hours before Sugar Ray entered the ring in Las Vegas last night his Palmer Park, Md., neighborhood was electric with anticipation. Three long years the people of Palmer Park had waited for Leonard -- their main man and patron saint -- to bring a world champinship title home.
They watched Leonard grow up here. They saw him rise through the amateur boxing ranks and win a gold medal at the 1976 Olympic games. And they cheered when he waved the flag of Prince George's County in the ring after that victory. "Sugar Ray Leonard," shouted Kermit Ellis, assistant director of the Palmer Park Recreation Center, "put this place on the map."
So nearly everyone in this predominantly black neighborhood in central Prince Georges County -- from "Big Ed" and "Baldy" at Daves Pool Hall to vegetable vendor "Country Boy" Larry Herring -- predicted victory yesterday.
On street corners children tossed footballs, shadow boxed and discussed strategy behind last night's bout. In stores and bowling alleys clerks and customers traded "I remeber when" stories about Ray Leonard's youth in Palmer Park. And in bars and pool halls there were no takers when gamblers offered odds against Sugar Ray.
"I got 50 bucks behind Leonard that's hot to trot," sighted Baldy, a self-described pool hustler who declined to give his last name because of "professional considerations."
"But nobody wants to bet against him."
Nicky Foots was 14 when he watched Leonard win the gold medal in Montreal. That was when he decided to become a boxer. Since then, Foots has won 19 amateur bouts without a loss. "I never put on a pair of gloves till I saw him," he said yesterday. "I wanted to be just like him."
So do a lot of other youngsters in Palmer Park. In the last three years this community of just over 2,000 people has witnessed a boom in boxing. Recreation centers and gymnasiums are jam-packed with boys -- some as young as 6 years old -- strapping on gloves, pounding heavy bags and sparring. "Palmer Park's got the sharpest boxers in the world," declared Foots.
Inside the noisy Leonard Gymnasium at 7220 Barlowe Rd., a crowd of teen-agers gaped at a bulletin board filled with color photographs of Leonard. "Look at this jacket," assistant director Ellis said, turning around and displaying the "Sugar Ray-B-ball" slogan stenciled on his back. "Sugar Ray donated 12 jackets like this one for a basketball tournament we had. That's the kind of man he is. How can he lose?"
Out on Ray Leonard Drive, Paul Strother stepped out of his house and buttoned up a leather jacket to fight off the autumn chill. "What you mean am I gonna watch the fight?" he asked laughing."Anybody in Palmer Park who don't watch this fight is a traitor."
Up the street a crowd of kids in mittens heaved a taped-up leather football from sidewalk to sidewalk. "See, this what Sugar Ray gonna do." shouted 14-year-old Gerald Woodridge, flipping back the bill of his baseball cap and knotting his hands into fists. "When that other guy throws his left he leaves himself open to Sugar Ray's right. He's gonna blow him away in the first round."
"Country Boy" Larry Herring meanwhile arranged a group of cabbages on his vegetable stand outside a 7-Eleven store on Belle Haven Drive. "I've been in his corner ever since he started," Herring said bagging a couple of tomatoes for a customer. "Shoot, I used to live right down the street from it."
Another man, puffing on a cigar, added, "I painted his house, I did." CAPTION: Picture 1, SUGAR RAY LEONARD . . . welterweight champion; Picture 2, Disco Ben, in white shirt, leads cheers after Sugar Ray Leonard knocked down his opponent. The crowd gathered at Dave's Liquor and Disco Lounge. By Fred Sweets -- The Washington Post