For those in soldout Capital Centre, from the mighty to the marginal, Sugar Ray Leonard and Johnny Gant fought The Fight -- not of a month or year, but perhaps of a Washington lifetime.

"I've lived here all my life," said 34-year-old civil engineer Bob Tinsbloom, "and this the most legitimate sporting event I have ever seen in this town.

"It's not an All-Star Game or a Redskin-Cowboy game with an obvious stake on the line. This fight isn't really for anything -- they even had to make up a name for it -- the Middle Atlantic welterweight title.

"This is just The Fight... that's the way everybody thinks of it. This fight was made on the street and it'll be settled like it was on the street.

"Washington's never had two local boxers this good in the same weight class -- never nothing close to this."

If you weren't at the Leonard-Gant fight last night, you don't count as a Washington sports fan -- that's what the folks who were there will tell you, anyway.

The Canfield brothers will tell you why.

"No crowd like a fight crowd," said Bill Canfield, an attorney for the Senate Ethics Committee, as he sat ringside drinking deep draughts of boxing's romantic past recreated.

"It's like a huge, jovial cocktail party with 20,000 people from every walk of life," said Canfield in his three-piece suit. "Look at this white dude in front of me making (gambling) book like a mad man."

"This is pure sport and nefarious sport rolled in one," said brother Tom Canfield, a trader in international precious metals ("I sell gold.")

"I don't know whether we've gone back to living in the '20s, '30s or '40s," he said, "but my brother and I had dinner at the Old Ebbitt Grill -- you know, the autographed baseballs of Walter Johnson. Then we got some Royal Jamaican cigars.

"We'll be puffing and drinking beer and screaming all night."

"Man, you wouldn't believe who I saw... Don Dunphy, the old ring announcer," said the lawyer Canfield. "He couldn't believe a grown man would ask for his autograph.He told me, 'This is the first fountain pen I ever gave back in my whole life.'"

The sellout throng got its money's worth long before Leonard pummeled Gant into walking unconsciousness in the last seconds of the eighth round.

"I guess I'm a connoisseur of crowd personalities," said Dick Motta, coasch of the basketball Bullets. "This crowd I'd call 'heartfelt.' Veryone here feels a part of these two fighters... they throw every punch with them.

"This is the most primitive and the most perfect of all sports. Every sport borrows from it. That's why you have such a wide range of people here. It grabs something different in everyone.

"For me it's the highest and lowest form of sport. The footwork and hand action... it's beautiful. If it weren't for the knockdowns and the blood, it would be the best."

The spectrum of fans who caused traffic jams 2 1/2 hours before the first bell was total.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Wright of Texas sat 10 feet from two gaudily dressed gentlemen who said, "No names... no names, man. We're looking for young ladies of a professional persuasion who might want to work on commission for us in New York."

Opposite the Ivy League-looking Canfield brothers sat a large, muscular fellow dressed in the ultimate in gangster chic -- black-suit-and-shirt, white tie, diamond stickpin, black satin fedora.

"Mr. Moto of Washington," he said for introduction. "Yes, indeed, this is a $30 seat. If you go, you go all the way. My daddy said, 'Son, I don't think you're ever going to be a millionaire, but it's not too impossible to look like one."

"Mr. Moto" actually is Rudy Brown, once apromising amateur light heavyweight who was stopped late in the Olympic trials in 1964. He is a Teamsters Union shop steward.

"That's real life, brother," he said. "Let's forget that tonight. I am in my fight attire. Yeah... this is my getup.

"I've trained with both Sugar Ray and Johnny G. and I am here tonight to learn the truth about two good friends."

Others felt considerably more distant.

"I figure it's fixed," said Doug Robinson to his plumber pal, Dave Merson. "Angelo Dundee handled both fighters until a couple of months ago...

"Yeah, they ought to change the name of this place from Capital Centre to the Leonard Centre. They got three Leonard brothers fighting on the same card."

Would Merson, 6 feet 5 and 260 solid pounds, say that to Sugar Ray?

"No way," he said. "Either one of those little guys could probabaly lick me." With that, he lifted his 24-ounce $2.45 cup of beer in salute and said, "I'll just sit up here and drink four of five more of these."

For the majority in the crowd last night, The Fight had a much greater urgency. "It takes more courage just to step in the ring than I would ever have," said lawyer Canfield.

"What it's all about," said his brother, the gold buyer, "is sitting down close here so you can see the head snapo and the sweat fly when they really get jolted. To somebody like me who hasn't done it, it's unbelievable."

When a bell rang twice at 10:10 p.m., the crowd did not have to be told what it meant. The ovation began before the ring announcer could say, "Theeeeee Main Event..."

That roar merely ebbed and flowed for the next 35 minutes as Leonard started his assault early and never relented. When Gant and Leonard glared eye-to-eye after rounds, the mob was delighted. Between-round replays, showing the true slow-motion damage of punches, brought "ooohs and aaahs."

Even as the last supporting bout of the evening was finishing, thousands in the dark hall stayed to savor the finest evening of indigenous Washington boxing in at least a generation.

"I've got my Don Dunphy autograph," said Canfield. "Gonna put it right next to my autograph from ("gonzo journalist") Hunter Thompson."

As Motta, coach of a world champion in his own right, left his home arena, he smiled like a little boy: "I went over to (trainer) Angelo Dundee, and, y'know, he remembered me."

For every person with a mystic cord of fascination with this highest and lowest of sports, this was an evening rich in lasting souvenirs.