If life around Muhammad Ali was a bizarre circus with each ring offering a curiosity beyond the pale, then life with Sugar Ray Leonard is a picnic in the park, with mom frying up some chicken, and cousins and friends bringing the soda pop and softball gloves.
The people who live and work with Leonard, his entourage, are mostly the people he grew up with in Palmer Park, the Prince George's County suburb of Washington. A count here shows 16 people connected with Leonard, and all but one -- Angelo Dundee, the manager -- are from Palmer Park and Washington.
"We are a family," said Dave Jacobs, Leonard's first boxing coach 10 years ago and today still his trainer after an Olympic gold medal and $3 million in professional earnings that will grow to $4 million after Friday night's fight with the welterweight champion, Wilfred Benitez.
"By being so close together, that's one reason Ray Leonard is so successful," Jacobs said. "We work together to solve problems."
Men with guns worked for Ali. They walked in front of him and behind him in crowds. Ali had a masseur who spoke no English, had a corner man who spoke English but wouldn't talk, had his own brand of riligio-Superfly-witch doctor, Drew (Bundini) Brown, a man whose scarred face suggested darkness. Schemers, pimps, hustlers, sociologists, writers, magicians, photographers (Ali had his own photographer, just as presidents do) -- they fed Ali's ego hunger, satisfied his need for instant gratification, certified for him his holy importance.
Dundee was part of the Ali circus. Fire once swept Ali's hotel. Dundee, the trainer, ran from room to room to wake up the entourage, knocking on each door and screaming out names. At Bundini Brown's door (legend has it, anyway), Dundee made a knocking motion but stopped an inch short each time. He whispered, "Bundini," and moved on.
Someone asked Dundee, who worked for Ali nearly 20 years and has been with Leonard for two now, if the Leonard camp had a Bundini Brown. h
"No bad habits in Sugar Ray," Dundee said.
Not that Dundee believes Ali did it the wrong way.
"What Muhammad had around him was a necessity for him. He loved it. Whatever Bundini did, it was dynamite. It worked for a long, long time. $"But Ray gets with the family situation. The guys who were there at the beginning are there now."
The four men guiding Leonard's career are Dundee, the manager hired because he is one of the best; Jacobs, the trainer; Janks Morton, assistant trainer, and Mike Trainer, an attorney from Silver Spring.
Dundee, who has handled seven world champions over 30 years in the fights, chooses Leonard's opponents. Trainer closes the money deals. Morton, who is Lenard's closest friend, is responsible for the fighter's conditioning and he participates in strategy talks with Dundee, Jacobs, Leonard and the fighter's older brother Kenny, another assistant trainer.
Others with Leonard here are:
Publicity man Charlie Brotman; Olie Dunlap, director of the Palmer Park Recreation Center, where Leonard first put on gloves; sparring partners Odell Leonard (a cousin), Joe Brodie and Warren Fortune; a bodyguard-type, 280-pound Greg Spriggs ("Nobody bothers Ray," Spriggs said from 6 feet 6 inches in the air, to no argument.)
Also, Leonard's mother and father, Cicero and Gertha; his fiancee and son, Juanita Wilkerson and Ray Jr., 6; his brother Roger, a fighter on his own; and the camp's blithe spirit, Julius Gatling, who Leonard calls "Juice" because he once sprinkled a load of pepper in Juice's orange juice and loved the sputtering that followed.
"There's no comparison with this and Muhammad's camp," Dundee said. "This is strictly home cooking, They're all friends of Ray's they're all nice people and they stay out of the way. They're not a burden to anybody."
Bundini Brown once hocked Ali's championship belt.
"It hasn't been that I've had to keep certain kinds of people away," Leonard said. "I've been blessed in that the people I do have, they eliminate the other kind."
Jacobs is one of the eliminators who keep the Leonard camp a pinic.
"We're not going to have that around here," said Jacobs, an openfaced man who admits this ride with Leonard is the sweetest part of his life.
"We have everything we need," Jacobs said. "We get people who come around saying, "I can be a sparring partner for Ray;' 'I can be a cook for Ray;' 'I can be somebody who keep his clothes up.'
"We didn't need any of that for Ray Leonard. Armed bodyguards? There's not one soul out there who would harm Ray Leonard, the type of person he is, and Ray Leonard wouldn't stand for somebody carrying a gun around him."
The Leonard people have a give-him-the-credit fetish.
Dundee never gives an interview with any Washington media without praising Jacobs and Morton to the skies.
"We are a team," Dundee said.
Jacobs praises Ollie Dunlap, tracing the rise of Ray Leonard all the way to the roots.
"If, 20 years ago, Ollie didn't let us have that boxing program -- and he did not have the money to do it, really -- there wouldn't have been any boxing at all in Palmer Park," Jacobs said. "You know, a lot of recreation centers didn't let boxing go on. But Ollie said the community wanted it and so he got up the money somehow."
And one day Ray Leonard, 14 years old, little Ray Charles Leonard, walked into the Palmer Park Community Center and said he wanted to be a boxer. He said it to Dave Jacobs, who once had that dream too, and Jacobs watched the little kid.He liked the way Ray hit, he liked his quickness and he liked, most of all, that the kid kept coming back to the community center for more.
"I remember it just like it was yesterday," Dave Jacobs said, sitting near the pool at Caesars Palace, 3,000 miles from Palmer Park, two days from a $1 million purse.
When Ali fought for the heavyweight championship, his first boxing coach, Joe Martin, a Louisville policeman, watched the fight on closed-circuit television.