Sugar Ray Leonard has done everything asked of him to date, but finds acceptance grudging. He has achieved ranking among the top 10 in the world and is fighting his second-rated opponent in a row tonight in a 10 pound bout that will not be telecast or broadcast from Baltimore's Civic Center. The foe is Randy Shields of North Hollywood, Calif.
Yet, the former Olypmic champion from Palmer Park, Md., Is the victim of a cynicism about the quality of his opponents. He has to contend with a credibility gap.
Leonard has taken good punches, if only by accident. He is a sharp hitter, maturing so rapidly that he weighed five pounds above the 147-pound welterweight limit on Monday.
A surmise is that he is a martyr to what television has done to boxing by focusing noly mostly on heavyweights, with only occasional attention to the other classes. The growth of other sports also has been a factor.
Leonard is rated No. 5 contender by the WBA, No. 13 among the junior welterweights by the WBC and No. 8 by Ring magazine. His opponent, who defeated him in 1973 in the finals of the AAU lightweight championships, is ranked No. 4 by Ring, 10th by the WBC but not at all by the WBA after losing in his last bout to former junior welterweight champion Wilfredo Benitez in August.
Leonard is 14-0, with nine knockouts after stopping Floyd Mayweather, who had been ranked No. 5 by Ring.
Shields has a 31-4-1 record, with 16 knockouts. He has lost four of his last eight fights.