What could be the best boxing bout between Washington area fighters since the days of Gene Smith, Jimmy Cooper and Little Dynamite nearly three decades ago is being readied for Thursday, Jan. 11, at Capital Centre.

It will match welterweights Sugar Ray Leonard, unbeaten in 16 bouts, against veteran Johnny Gant, who has a 43-11-3 record, with 24 knockouts, and fights Sammy Ruckard tonight at the Centre.

When former Olympic champion Leonard turned professional and became an instant hit on national telecasts, a member of Gant's management team assert, "Johnny could mark the spot on the canvas and finish off Leonard there."

Leonard since has worked himself up into the rankings with Gant. In September, the D.C. National Guard Armory offered Gant $20,000 to fight Leonard there, but the booking didn't materialize because Gant was promised a championship bout later.

Presently, there are two welter-weight champions, Carlos Palomino, recognized by the World Boxing Council, and Jose (Pipino) Cuevas, who holds the World Boxing Association version.

In the Oct. 15 ratings by the United States Boxing Association, Gant was ranked No. 6 welterweight and Leonard No. 7.

Gant's chief concern tonight over 10 rounds, besides beating Ruckard, is to avoid any injury which could affect his shot at Leonard.

Ruckard of spartansburg, S.C., has a 28-18 record, including 15 knockouts.

Six other bouts are on the card, beginning at 8 p.m. In a 10-round middleweight bout, Leo Saenz of Potomac will oppose Archie Andrews of Philadelphia.

Five-rounders will pair Roger Leonard, Palmer Park, against junior middleweight Jimmy Anderson, Wilmington, Del.; welterweight Tim (Blue) Walker, Washington, with Steve (Butterfly) Hughes, Oakcrest; junior welterweight Ronnie Branch, Baltimore, Otis Hooper, Palmer Park; Ali (Sombrero) Hughes against junior welterweight Craig Stevens, Palmer Parks; and welterweight Warren Fortune. Hillcrest Heights, with Joe Tiberi; Wilmington, Del. weight champ Wilfredo Benitez of Puerto Rico will headline a program of four 10-round bouts at Madison Square Garden Dec. 8, it was announced yesterday.

Duran, stepping up to the junior welterweight class, will meet the seventh-ranked contender in that division, Monroe Brooks of Los Angeles.

Benitez, possibly jeopardizing a scheduled bout with World Boxing Council welterweight champ Carlos Palomino, will face Vernon Lewis of Trinidad. Lewis is rated No. 3 in the British Commonwealth.