For a mere $1 admission price, a couple hundred fans saw Sugar Ray Leonard come close to knocking out a sparring partner yesterday and suffer a cut lip himself three weeks before he is to defend his welterweight title.
Leonard's touchy pride was bruised but he brushed off the cut as slight and said he would be ready for his bout against Dave Green of London on March 31 at Capital Centre.
The right eye of sparring partner Wilson Bell of Detroit was swollen and he was groggy after Leonard's trainer, Dave Jacobs, suddenly stopped the savage exchanges before the end of the fourth round.
Bell, 153 pounds, said he has boxed on and off for five years in the Detroit gymnasium where undefeated welterweight Tommy (Hit Man) Hearns trains.
A chastised Bell said, "Leonard would get Hearns in five rounds."
Earlier, after scoring several heavy shots to the jaw while Leonard was practicing counter punches, Bell even taunted the slighter-built champion.
As Leonard cocked his fists in a corner, Bell said, "come on out and fight." Leonard replied "You come on -- I'm paying you (about $200 a day)." f
Leonard went to the attack and punched faster and much harder than Bell, snapping his head from side to side as Jacobs shouted to Leonard, "Hold it!"
Mike Trainer, Leonard's attorney, said afterward that Wilfred Benitez probably would be given a rematch in May or June "(Roberto" Duran's people are not negotiating with us, so it's too late for a bout in May or June with him. That's probably off until September," Trainer said.
"There's something going on -- Jose Sulaiman (president of the World Boxing Council), Don King (promoter) and Carlos Eleta (Duran's manager) aren't negotiating. They think Duran ought to set more than the $1 million we offered him.
"The WBC should be representing Leonard; he is the WBC champion. I wrote to the WBC more than a month ago, stating our position, and got no response. The WBC didn't seem to worry about Leonard getting 'only' $1 million when he was the challenger and Benitez got $1.2 million as the champion. It is not as though we insulted Duran with offer of, say, $200,000.
"We're not going to kow-tow to the WBC, Trainer said. "This is a bad case for the WBC to take on; next to Muhammad Ali, Leonard is the most popular fighter.
"We have several options; we can fight Benitez with or without the WBC's sanction, if they try to take away Leonard's WBC title, we can fight Cuevas for the World Boxing Association title. We'd rather go by the rules, but we don't think it is the function of the WBC to specify purses."
Bob Arum of Top Rank Inc., who is promoting the Leonard-Green bout with Capital Centre, said. "Muhammad Ali has a mystique about him, but while a lot of people like him, some don't. Everybody likes Leonard."
Arum played down the lip cut Ali suffered Saturday while sparring in Miami Beach and said he received confirmation yesterday from authorities in Taipei, Taiwan, "approving the whole deal for a bout against WBA champion John Tate there, moving it back from June 27 to July."