IN A SPORT THAT lionizes the invincible and celebrates the infliction of pain, the pressures on a champion to keep on boxing, no matter what, can be enormous. But the exceptional champ--Sugar Ray Leonard, whose good sense and enormous popular appeal match his athletic skills--is no foolish robot. Already, Mr. Leonard and those whom he has selected to help manage a highly successful career have reacted impressively, taking no risks with a serious eye injury.

It goes without saying that Sugar Ray Leonard is precious property hereabouts, and there can't be a fan in town who would want another minute in the ring for their folk hero if it meant possible damage to his left eye. Mike Trainer, the champ's lawyer, had the priorities in order when he commented that "right now, we're not concerned whether his boxing career is in jeopardy . . . His left eye was in jeopardy, and that was our prime concern."

Yesterday, doctors at the Wilmer Eye Institute of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore said it would take several weeks for doctors to assess the likelihood of full recovery, and they "won't have all the facts for four to six months." That is a long time to wait before making a decision on whether to return to the ring-- and to withstand pressures to give it a go again.

But unlike so many other boxers, Mr. Leonard has made it clear that he is his own man. His strengths go beyond the boundaries of the ring. So do his talents, which means, as his principal trainer Janks Morton has said often, that "Ray will be in the public eye for a long time, whether in short pants or not." In this town, if he decides never to fight again, he will still be The Champ.