Sugar Ray Leonard is a sculptor of men.
"I like to think of myself as an artist," he said. "I like to display various techniques. I use psychology. I use the ring."
As he spoke, he sketched a boxer on his canvas, the tablecloth before him. First the head: the eyes huge and swollen, a single hair standing straight up. Then the torso, smaller than flyweight (there is no classification of a 98-pound weakling). No biceps. A Windsor knot dangling from the sticklike neck.
The boxer shorts hung low, revealing the navel. The wobbly legs ended in feet like 14-ounce sparring gloves.
Leonard surveyed his work before signing it.
"Like it?" he said. "'Duran After the Fight.'"
Leonard is in training for the June 20 welterweight championship fight against Roberto Duran in Montreal, where Leonard won an Olympic gold medal nearly four years ago.
Leonard is 24. His record is 27-0, with 18 knockouts, since he turned professional in February 1977.
So far Leonard has not left any widows in his wake. But he has promised not just to carbe up Duran, the man with the legandary "hands of stone," but to kill him.
"'Fists of stone'?" he said, shaking his head. "Pebbles. Only pebbles."
Duran is so tough he once took a swing at a horse, or so the story goes. Leonard can match that, too.
Rogber Leonard, who is two years older and 13 pounds heavier than his brother (and is on the card in a middleweight fight against Clyde Gray), said, "Duran thinks Ray just has speed. But he's wrong. One time, my grandfather got drunk and hit a mule and knocked him to his knees. He passed that on to the Sugar Man. Grandpa knocked out a mule, and Ray's gonna knock out Duran."
Duran began training on May 26, Leonard a day later. The sparring, in and out of the ring, will continue until June 6, when both fighters pack up and head for Montreal.
Meanwhile, Duran is camping out at Grossinger's.
Eat, Roberto, eat.
Leonard is camped out in a mall. From his room, you can see . . . the Capital Beltway. He trains in the exhibition hall of the Sheraton Lanham, a squat concrete building that looks like a bomb shelter. His ring is in the basement of the hotel parking lot.
When you think of training camps, you think of Ali, of wooded mountaintops, of chopping trees. You think of lots of steak, and raw eggs, and hangers on.
But Leonard doesn't. The Sheraton Lanham is perhaps five miles from Leonard's home in Palmer Park, which is as far away as he wants to be.
"Mountaintops are a bad investment," said Leonard's lawyer, Michael Trainer.
Besides, Leonard says he would rather have a ski lodge.
"I attempted to cut down a tree once at my father's house," he said. "I got tired."
Leonard may not own his own retreat but no one owns him, either, and can tell him where to go or how to spend his money. Trainer says training camp at the Sheraton Lanham will cost between $3,000 and $4,000. Leonard says "The woods are nice but I like the hotel. The elevator, it goes up and down."
Raw eggs? "I tried it once because the old fighters say it makes you tougher, builds your wind," Leonard said.
"It gave me a strong facial expression. I frowned up."
His daddy cooks breakfast. Cooked eggs, grits, biscuits, sausage, apple sauce.His mama cooks dinner: pork chops or fried chicken.
Training camp, for Leonard, is a family affair. He spars with his brother, Roger, and his cousin, Odell, and eats with them, too.
Leonard does adhere to the training camp tradition that says fighters should abstain from sexual relations for three weeks before a fight.
"She (wife Juanita) understands," Leonard said.
She tries to come to camp every day, but she goes home at night. "He tries to come home once a week," she said, "but it's a no-no. When it gets dark, and it's time to trundle on home and I have to get into bed myself, it gets a little lonely."
Boxers always run at dawn. No smog. For Leonard, the day begins with 4 1/2 to 5 miles of roadwork in Greenbelt Park. Forget the sounds of the world waking up. He wears transistor earphones tuned to WKYS.
"I run with the radio on," he said, "because these guys, (oldest brother) Kenny, Roger (brother-in-law) Irving, Joe, Randolph, Ronald and Juice, I get tired of hearing their mouths. I kill half of them on the hills."
Roger Leonard says he and Kenny "try not to let Ray get ahead. The last two days I beat him. I said, 'I'm the champ. I beat the Sugar Man.' The next day, he just ran like a motor, right by me."
After breakfast and showers, it's time for tap dance lessons. Ray and Juanita have been taking them for a month. Their favorite is the cha-cha. They dance to the Pointer Sisters. Juanita says he she thinks it helps him in the ring. "It warms up his legs," he said. "He can do the shuffle and everything."
"The only time I've seem him dance is in the ring," said Jacobs.
When Leonard isn't dancing, he's napping. When he isn't napping, he's studying the Betamax. He watches video tapes of his workouts, and of fighters who have given Duran a hard time, like Vilomare Fernandez, and Edwin Viruet. "They bring to the surface things I can capitalize on, the mistakes he makes," Leonard said.
"Viruet gave Duran the blues for 10 rounds. He could not cope. He was off-balance. It was making him mad. That's what will destroy Duran."
Duran is almost a member of the entrourage, such as it is. He is forever on the screen, forever coming in. One day last week on the Betamax, the Panamanian struggled through a postfight interview, his gutteral English jabbing through the silence. The room was empty.
Is is noon, and about 250 people have congregated in the exhibition hall to watch the daily two-hour workout.
It resembles a revival meeting more than a fight gym. The spectators pay $1 each to shout hosannahs at the lord of the welterweights.
There is a guy in shorts studying for the bar exam and a lady with a Yorkshire terrier and little boys like Harold Green who cut school to come learn the moves.
"C'mon, Sugar Daddy."
"Stick 'em, Million Dollar Baby Boy!"
"Do it, Sugar Baby."
Many fighters would have asked for silence. Leonard doesn't mind. "If it moves 'em." he says, "it's cool." The only time they quiet down is later, when the workout is over, and Leonard sits at a table signing autographs. They line up in mute homage.
"To Janell," "For Sam," "Do it, Bro," they say.
One woman in her early 20s reaches out to touch his hand and backs away squealing. Another caresses his smooth, unmarked cheeks. As she leaves, he says, "she does that all the time."
There are lots of Instamatics. Lots of flash. One infant is placed on the table next to Leonard. "Take your fingers out of your mouth, Anthony," he whispers.
A local television crew, its lights turning the room into a vast sauna, interviews him at ringside. "WBA (World Boxing Association) champion?" asks the announcer. No, he is told, Leonard is the WBC (World Boxing Council) champion. "Don't worry," Leonard tells him, "I'll get that one, too."
A photographer from a national magazine is shooting a cover picture, as well as a family portrait. Leonard puts on his championship belt, inscribed by Adidas, his white Sugarcoated trunks, and puts 'em up.
Ray Jr. takes the day off from first grade to pose. He will be 7 in November and is going 7-Up in a commercial to be aired in late June.
The photographer clicks away. When he finishes, little Ray wipes his brow and says, "Whew, I'm glad that's over with."
"Ray's like a matador with a bull in the ring," said Jacobs. "The bull makes the matador look good."
No way, said Leonard, shaking his head. "It's the matador that makes the bull look good. The matador makes the moves, the maneuvers. He gives the bull class."
Duran, he knows, will charge and charge and charge again. "I'll carry my picks," Leonard said. And when the bull gets too close, "I'll put them up in his eyes."
Leonard's sparring partners, Roger, Odell, and Mike James, a local 18-year-old, have been instructed to mimic the bull, to bore in on Leonard to throw lots of overhead rights as Duran does.
It is a thankless task. You have to be good, but not too good. You have to be prepared to take a licking without goring the champ.
One day last week, Leonard sparred 15 rounds, first with Odell, then with James. Between rounds, Leonard paced the ring like an expectant father while Odell received instructions from the corner. "More pressure," Jacobs said.
Leonard was working on counter-punching. "It's a technique I picked up from Benitez, one of the greatest counterpunchers," he said. "Duran thinks I'm gonna run. If I can run and win, I'll run. But it'll be a big surprise when I slow down."
Jacobs expects Duran to "change up" on Leonard. "If you look only for the right, he'll change up and throw the left hook," Jacobs said.
Odell backs his cousin into a corner and hits him with five left hooks. Leonard counters with 20 punches of his own.
It is James' turn.
Earlier in the week, Leonard had flattened James with a left hook to the stomach. Usually, that causes a man to double over. Leonard hit him so hard, even wearing 14-ounce pillows, that Hames landed flat on his back.
"It's a good experience," James said.
Sparring partners like James can earn $150 a day.
He has been promised a fight on a card featuring Leonard later this year.
It will be his first pro fight.
"They told me to stay inside, not to let Ray out of the corner," he said. "If Duran gets him in a corner, they want to make sure he can get out."
Leonard is in the corner moving from side to side, catching punches on his elbows, letting them slip off his gloves. But in the middle of the third round, he knocks James down with a left hook.
"Let's see the replay," comes the yell from the crowd.
Leonard obliges in the next round. "He could fight tomorrow," trainer Jank Morton says.
Jacobs wants him to work on bringing his right hand inside and countering with a left hook and then a straight right. "We're working on body shots," he said. "I've never seen Roberto hit with body shots."
James is seeing a lot of them. Leonard knocks him against the ropes; James bounces back. Leonard does not go after him. Instead, he is dancing, leering, beckonining James towards him, for another pas de deux.
"Do it, Sugar, do it."
Without this jarring ballet, without this sensibility that transforms boxing into an esthetic, Leonard would be just an ordinary fighter, instead of a matador.
"The trend for so many years has been to see boxing as brutality," he says. "I try to convey a different aspect."
Juanita Leonard says her husband "is two different people. One side is quiet, a beautiful personality, respectable. The other side is not brutal, not a killer, but someone who wants to be very good at what he does."
And what he does, she says, "he tries to make it seem better than it is. It's two people getting in there and beating up on each other. But he doesn't like to think of it that way. If you think of it as an art, as something you can better yourself, you can be positive about yourself."
In the fifth round, Leonard knocked James down for a third time with a left hook. As he walked over to make sure James was all right, someone in the crowd yelled, "Don't hurt him, Sugar. Let him go out a man."
Leonard had given James and Odell baby blue T-shirts with the name "Duran" stenciled on them to wear on the ring. "It psychs up the crowd," he said. "It's for the cameras."
One day last week, as Ray Leonard Jr. sat with his uncle and watched James hit the canvas from the force of one of his father's artistic punches, he said, "What does that mean, Duran?"
"It's just a last name," replied Roger. "Just a last name."