Life tried to imitate art today in the Civic Center and pulled it off. In fact, life went art one better.

Rocky Ramon, the 5-foot-4 Texas Marathon Man, entered the boxing ring to the cheers of the crowd and the blaring theme song from the movie "Rocky."

Eight rounds later he was standing in the center of that ring, bowing until his head almost touched his knees, and blowing kisses to the roaring fans in all four corners of the hall.

He had not beaten Sugar Ray Leonard. In fact, he had not only lost a unanimous eight-round welterweight decision, he had lost every round.

But Ramon had survived, survived with his dignity intact, while Leonard finished the bout with only boos for his effort.

Ramon took more punishment in the final 90 seconds of this brutal affair than Sylvester Stallone did in the entire Academy Award-winning film. And Ramon's torture was real.

Leonard clobbered Ramon in every round, to be sure, knocking him down in the first and third.

But the finale of this fight was more than grim, it was bloodcurdling. Leonard, jis normally boyish face contorted with fury and frustration, threw every punch he owned, and connected with most. Ramon not only took the dozens of blows, he dished some back, hurling his short hooks to the sides of Leonard's body and head.

"For a little dude, he sure throws a lot of leather," Leonard said after his seventh straight pro victory.

From the moment Ramon appeared, wearing a huge black-and-gold sombrero and flowing poncho, it was obvious he was a sawed-off, natural lightweight in against a lightning-quick welterweight.

Ramon's exaggerated crouch made the dancing, jab-flicking Leonard look like a man trying to smash a toadstool. Ramon must have thought Leonard's barrage of overhand rights were falling on him out of the ceiling.

The deliveryman from San Antonio, who runs nearly 25 miles a day as routine training, was in magnificent shape and constantly waded forward, whacking Leonard with countless leaping hooks with both hands.

Occasionally, Leonard appeared perplexed, or even bemused, as though he hated to keep slugging the little fellow. But more often, Leonard was incensed by Ramon's persistence.

Three times Leonard pummeled Ramon after rounds ended and had to be dragged off by the referee. In the seventh, trying for a knockout, Leonard twice hit Ramon very low. After the second uppercut, Ramon answered in kind, blasting Leonard low twice and driving him into a corner.

The crowd of 7,217 inevitably sided with Ramon. However, Leonard helped turn their decision. Once he put his left on Ramon's head, holding him at arm's length, while winding up his right like a fancy-dan softball pitcher.

That, and a dozen other such humiliating hotdog ploys, detracted from what was certainly Leonard's toughest test as a pro.

"He said he was going to stick to me like chewing gum," said Leonard, "but he stuck to me like tar. He's the toughest I've fought. From the third round on, I thought I had him."

In the final minutes, Ramon disregarded defense, absorbing blows constantly in an effort to tag Leonard just once with a haymaker.

"I sure can take a lot of punishment," said Ramon, his face not cut but covered with swelling welts and lumps. "My wife even says that for a littl guy with 50 fights I'm still pretty handsome."

Ramon, who looks like a cross between a grim Lou Costello and a pugnacious Lee Trevino, admitted that his normal weight is 133 to 135 pounds and that only a big meal and weighted trunks got him up to 142 1/2 for this fight, compared to Leonard's natural 145.

"I had this (television) opportunity and I just could not pass it up," he said.

"It's almost impossible to make matches for Sugar Ray," said Mike Trainer, his lawyer. "If he knocks somebody out in one round, people say he fought a bum. If we get him a guy like Ramon with endurance and a rock jaw, then the crowd roots for the underdog. We're damned if we do, and damned if we don't."

"Sugar Ray is fantastic," said Ramon. "His hands are invisible. I never saw half the punches.

"Well, I have to go back to San Antonio now. I just want to say I have never been knocked out. Never. This has been a great experience for me," he said, his face one mass of red, welted flesh. "Goodbye, people. You will probably never see me again, unless you come to San Antonio. Goodbye to you all."

Sly Stallone didn't say it any better.