This article was excerpted from "The Basic Training of Sugar Ray Leonard." It appeared originally in the first issue of Inside Sports, a new magazine published by Newsweek Inc.
Angelo Dundee watched Sugar Ray Leonard on television during the Olympics. "He was pretty as a picture," Dundee says. "He shined. He lit my living room. I could see everything he did because he throws from the outside. And he was throwing every punch in the book."
When Dundee was asked to handle Leonard, he thought of bright lights and applause. He knew that Leonard, the kid from Palmer Park, had star quality, and the networks had to love him.
But another champion? Dundee made no predictions. He had seen too many brilliant amateurs fall to their knees when they had to fight for their supper. "This isn't a crystallball business," he says. "I knew I had the product, but I wasn't sure if he had the talent to really cash in." Now he's sure.
"Don't use good to describe this kid. Use great."
Reflexes, Eyes. Movement. Great, says Angelo.
"He can punch, too. But what I like best is his ability to adopt any style. When a guy doesn't do what we expect, Ray will change his tactics. Only the great ones can shift gears like that."
He's a killer?
"Yeah, he's got that instinct. You can't teach that."
"I hate to get hit," says Leonard, who will fight Andy Price Friday in Las Vegas on the Shavers-Holmes undercard.
"When a guy tags me with a shot that could put a scar on my face, I get angry. Then -- boom -- it happens quickly. A change inside me that I can't explain. I want to make his head go flying off his shoulders. Between rounds I may lose that hate. But it can come back at any time. And when it does, only the bell can save him. Maybe I'm a split personality."
His brother, Roger, thinks so. Three years older than Ray, he's a prelim fighter in the light-middleweight division. He spars with Ray when he's training for a bout.
Ray has broken Roger's nose three times.
"He's so nice outside the ring, and we love each other so much," Roger says. "But when he's got the gloves on, he's a different person. It's scary."
"He's one in a million," Dundee says. "You know you can go to the bank with my opinion." Dundee has trained or managed 10 world champions, and his opinions have made many boxing writers swear by him. They remember he told them that George Foreman crossed his feet when he moved to the right, and so he was a sucker for a right. Ali dropped Foreman with a right in their title bout in Zaire. They remember that he says Ali would regain his crown by countering Leon Spinks' straight right with left hooks. He did.
But this time around, despite what Dundee says, a lot of them doubt Leonard's skills. They question the caliber of his opponents who fight at 147 pounds.
No division is stacked with more tough fighters, and the argument is that Leonard hasn't fought the best. As a pro, he's met five top-10 contenders -- Johnny Gant, Danny Gonzales, Tony Chiaverini, Pete Ranzany, and Randy Shields -- and three are no longer ranked.
He hasn't faced World Boxing champion Pipino Cuevas, former WBC champ Carlos Palomino, Roberto Duran, or young Tommy Hearns, among others.
"That wasn't part of the pain," Dundee say. "I think I know something about bringing along a fighter. They'll get their chance. You can't keep everybody happy. Hey, there's even some people who don't like linguini and white claim sauce."
Which isn't to imply that Leonard is a complete fighter. He sometimes slaps with the jab instead of turning it over. He has a tendency to throw a right on his toes rather than on the balls of his feet. His buzzing combinations could probably do more damage if he'd move from side to side for a better angle.
"Little things, really," Dundee says. "With this kid, I don't have to chance anything. I just keep adding. He's easy to add to." undee is listed as Leonard's manager but in reality, he's a hired Svengali, a sort of supervisor of training. Unlike most managers, he doesn't receive the usual one-third or half of his fighter's it's 15 percent, and he's happy with the deal. As Ali's trainer, his fee was whatever the ex-champ wanted to pay him. Some thought it was never enough. "If I had this deal with Ali," he says, "I'd be a millionaire."
Dundee doesn't show up at the Leonard camp until several days before a fight. "I touch him up," he says. "I watch him sparring, give him a little advice."
Once the fight starts, Dundee is in charge of the corner. "There's no noise," he says. "I do all the talking."
Dundee's most important job is picking Leonard's opponents. Promoters will call him with a list of fighters, and Dundee checks them out. Maybe he's seen them before. He looks up their records, sizes up their opponents.
Or he calls a friend, anywhere in the world. A promoter in Manila . . . a trainer in Italy . . . a manager in Rio de Janiero. Is the guy a banger? Is he strong inside? Does he take the play to you? Which way does he prefer to slide? Does he grab in close? Is he a goat (a fighter who butts)? Is he a bleeder? Does he have stamina? Does he start slow or fast? Is he prone to getting knocked down early?
Dundee wants each opponent to present a different problem for Leonard, and each fight to be another lesson. "I've always picked guys who fight back," he says. Dundee has taken small, calculated risks, but he's never put Leonard in the ring with an opponent whom he thought could win. Some of them couldn't beat him with a club.
Can Leonard beat Wilfredo Benitez, the World Boxing Council champion, when they meet Dec. 1?
"I think I've got the better fighter," Dundee says. "All Ray's greatness will come out in that fight."
Benitez is only 21 years old, but he's a veteran of 38 pro fights. He's strong and cute. Leonard's biggest problem will be overcoming his quickness. He's also a converted southpaw, and Leonard's battle with Chiaverini will serve him well.
"When Benitez gets you in a corner he switches back to being a left hander," Dundee says. "If he does that to my guy, Ray will know how to react."
A lot of people with the soundest opinions in boxing think Leonard was wise to go after Benitez's part of the crown. The other champ, Cuevas, is a grim, lethally efficient fighter who has sent several opponents to the hospital. When asked if Leonard could beat Cuevas, Dundee is cagey. "I ask you," he says. "Has Cuevas fought a Sugar Ray Leonard?"
And what about Duran?
Duran gave up his lightweight championship when many still considered him the best fighter alive. There were no more lightweights to conquer, and he had trouble keeping his weight below 135 pounds. He made his debut as a welterweight by mauling Palomino and winning a one-sided decision in New York. But Dundee sees flaws.
"I don't think he bangs as a welterweight. Something's gone from his punch, now that he's heavier. I've seen him fight a lot, and I know what kind of guy gives him ulcers." Dundee's kind of guy.
Duran prefers to throw rights, then switches his feet and hurl double hooks from a southpaw stance. "You've got to slide to your right, away from his left, and throw right counters," Dundee says. "Easier said than done, I know. But Ray will be there."
"He'll only be in there when I feel he'll win," Dundee says. "We don't take a fight just to have a fight."
Tommy Hearns is another question. As in: Is he really better than Leonard?
Some think so. Some think Hearns hits harder than Cuevas. Long and lean, he is only 20 years old, and his face is smooth and unmarked. His manager, Emanuel Steward, says that Dundee's been ducking his fighter.
Dundee says: "A fight for the title makes sense."
Leonard says: "Why fight him now? The more he wins and the more I win, the networks will have to come up with real big money for that fight."
Can you beat Hearns?
"Him, and Cuevas, and Duran, and Benitez, all of them," he says. "It amazes me that people keep saying Sugar Ray can't punch. I wish they'd face reality. What do I have to do?"