Come September, Sugar Ray Leonard will fight either Jose Cuevas or Wilfredo Benitez for the world welterweight boxing championship. "Hopefully for a million," Leonard said today.
A million dollars?
"Give or take a couple bucks," Leonard said.
The way boxing works, so fight is official until the gloved men step into the ring, but Leonard, his angel face aglow, gave away his plans over breakfast today.
Connoisseurs of the sweet science have declared Leonard a treasure and have grown increasingly impatient while he lollygags through the ranks of anonymities, mediocrities and journeymen.
In 18 professional fights, the pride of Palmer Park is undefeated. What he promised in winning the 1976 Olympics he has delivered: swift hands, the feet of a dancer and the open manner that makes everyone his friend.
As a bonus, he has grown maybe 10 pounds, now up to 150 at times, and is a strong man capable of knocking out anyone (it helps, too, that his hands, bruised and aching throughout the Olympics, are now made well by a pro's time off between bouts).
He goes for No. 19 Sunday against Ferdnand Marcotte, whose credentials stamp him as "the Canadian middleweight champion," which may mean, for all we know, that he is the only middleweight up there with all those moose and hockey pucks.
The Marcotte fight will be nationally televised (3 p.m., WRC-TV-4) and Leonard will take home about $200,000. "The guy has a good left hook, so I'll move a lot early and try to loosen him up -- and then do my thing," Leonard said. "If that doesn't work, we'll just go 10 rounds."
Leonard is fighting about once a month. Next he goes to Tucson against a Gonzalez fellow so obscure neither Leonard nor his trainer, Jan Morton, knows the man's first name.
And the plaintive cry goes up: "When, oh when, Sugar Ray, are we going for the title?
"A lot of people say, 'Hurry up, get a titel shot'," Leonard said. On his breakfast plate were the world's worst scrambled eggs (by acclamation) and a poor impression of sausage patties (they might have passed for rubber wheels). "I don't need it now," he said, meaning the titel shot (and, one hoped, the wheels).
"We're being patient," Leonard said.
He means he's playing hard to get.
By winning monthly on national television, Leonard is building fame. He has sold out arenas in Dayton, Ohio, and Springfield, Mass., and Landover, Md. The more he doesn't fight for the title, the more everyone wants him to.
"If we don't fight right now, we'll be in demand. So we're waiting."
Waiting until when?
He said it so flat out that another victim of the hotel's scrambled eggs thought Leonard must be kidding. There has been nothing in the papers about Leonard fighting for the title in September.
"September?" the victim said.
"Oh, that's just a date we're using as a timetable," Leonrd said, and anyone within 50 miles knew he was telling a whopper then. Mischief danced across that angel face.
A fight has been made, as surely as Firestone made those sausages.
"Basically, in September, people are all back from vacation," Leonard said, "and that's why we'd fight then."
Leonard laughed out loud at his attempt to explain why a TV network would arrange a championship fight for September.
"Mix it right in with pro football, right?"
"Yeah, you got it," Leonrd said.
These are good times for Ray Leonard, 23, who barely three years ago was as anomymous as that Gonzalez fellow. The world turns, and he wins the Olympics, and it turns again, and he says he doesn't want to be a pro, he wants to go to college. Then the world spins crazily: his parents have no money... his girlfriend names him in a paternity suit in an effort to get on welfare... and, with doubters chorusing in the background, he turns pro.
The 18 fights have made him a millionaire. Doubters are now shouters of Leonard's skill. His father, Cicero, and mother, Getha, are retired in the new home bought for them by Leonard's gifts.
The girlfriend's story is the happiest of all.
For every Olympic fight, Leonard wore Juanita Wilkerson's picture taped to the outside of his sock. The knight went into battle for his lady. Then, when he was a certified hero, the papers reported a paternity suit filed by Wilkerson, the mother of Leonard's son, Ray.
"We needed money," Leonard said today. Leonard and Wilkerson lived together before and during the Olympic days, as they do today. "There's a tendency to lie to get on welfare. We really needed it."
Somehow, a lawsuit was the result of Wilkerson's application for welfare. It was a sad, saddening mistake, and Leonard says now it taught him to be cynical. "Gossip, that's all it was," he said. "And it hurt Juanita."
On Christmas Eve this year, Sugar Ray Leonard, who by crooking a finger can cause a stampede of women, carried home a littel box, gift-wrapped. It was Juanita's Christmas present, to be given to her the next day.
Leonard couldn't wait. "The lights got low," he said, explaining perfectly.
So right then he gave her the engagement ring.