Five months ago in Montreal, Sugar Ray Leonard never would have said what he just said. And what he said was not as significant as what it implied. His fans should be joyous.
This was in the late rounds of another press conference following a workout for the Roberto Duran rematch and Leonard's public relations man, Charlie Brotman, was saying there would be only one more question.
"No," snapped Leonard, smiling. "I like it, Charlie. Don't stop it."
Glib and naturally outgoing, Leonard often covets attention. But Montreal was ludicrous, too chaotic and intense even for a man comfortable in a modern-media environment. Partly because he did too much out of the ring before the first Duran fight, Leonard did not do enough inside the ring during it.
"Moving a lot, doing so many things," Leonard was saying. "Not that I don't enjoy it, but it did take its toll. Appearances . . . running here and there. Everything was too commercial-like. There was so much unnecessary pressure. I was public relations man for the fight, so to speak. I let a lot of things get to me. Which took away my concentration."
For Leonard, routine in Montreal was having to be in four places at the same instant. Much of that was his fault.
"The first time around, to generate the money that I thought Ray was entitled to," said his lawyer, Mike Trainer, "we had to become rather active in the promotion, from a percentage standpoint. This time when we sat down (to negotiate) I had an idea what the fight would bring."
"I cut out a significant chunk for Ray and said: "Okay, you guys run (with the rest). Work with it any way you want. Divide up the rest any way you want, but this is what Ray's worth. So that's kind of nice. I don't get calls in the middle of the night from New Yorkers saying we can't get into the theaters Friday night because of first-run movies, or that we got to give an extra pop here or there.
"We don't worry about that now."
"It's a lot quieter now. There's not as much anxiety. You seem to feel you know what you're up against and you're prepared for it. We made it very clear this time that Ray would not be given responsibility to carry the ball for this promotion.
"Just because he's a nice guy and seems to be very agreeable with the press and media is no reason to take advantage of it. And say: 'Well, the other guy's a jerk, so let's shoot everybody Ray's way.' For the first time, Ray has taken a more relaxed role. That's been good."
Trainer has a theory about Leonard's odd tactics during most of that June fight, about why he tried to beat Duran at his own slugging game.
"The fight got such a hype that for a couple of rounds I believe Ray came in as an observer, sort of saying: 'Hey, this is really something. Wonder what's gonna happen here tonight?' He got in the ring, started messing around, never took control, waited for something to happen.
"Then he got binged (in the second round) and said: 'Hey, this is a fight.
I better start rolling.' And when you got to catch up, you become overly aggressive. You get as close as you can to score. So he got out of the flow.
"Also, I honestly believe his amateur background hurt him. He'd had 160-some amateur fights, where if you lose one round you've got to win the next two. One round to Ray, is more significant than to, say, an Ali, who realizes that in a 15-round fight you might lose three or four rounds.
"Ray is not accustomed to losing any round. He doesn't even like to lose a round in the gym. That's one of his exciting qualities, that if you hit him he's going to try and hit you right back. It's not a pace thing, it's you've made me mad, I'm gonna get it back -- now. I think he was as mad at himself as he was with Duran, saying: 'Hey, let's get this thing going.'
"I think it was that combined with the other thing -- that he was testing himself. I think he honestly believed that if he went out and danced and jabbed and won the decision, people would have construed that as not the most gracious way to win. I mean he would have liked to have knocked him out, to put everybody to sleep and say: 'Hey, get off my back.'
"I look on it (the loss) as a growing experience. I wasn't devastated by it. Duran defeated (Dave) Jacobs (Leonard's former career-long trainer), but he has not convinced Ray Leonard. And that's the whole bottom line on Jacobs. And everybody's missed it. Duran took Jacobs' heart. He didn't take Ray's, but he took Jacobs'. And so what he (Jacobs) did was in the best interests of everybody. I just wish he would have ascribed the right reasons for it.
What was the most important lesson Leonard learned from the first fight?
The former champion replied: "They call him 'hands of stone.' Duran punches well, don't get me wrong -- and he hit me. But he's not as bad as they say. I think he punches as hard with his head as he does with his hands."
And, Leonard suggested, nearly as often.
"I didn't want to use this as an excuse (immediately after the fight), say Duran hit with his head, his elbow and knee. I didn't want to say that."
Angelo Dundee, who hones Leonard before each fight and is chief second, interrupted and said: "Where did you have the lumps (after the first fight)?" i
"On the back of my head," Leonard said, laughing.
Earlier, he had talked about why he lost such a close decision -- Leonard never admits he lost the fight -- and what he must do to reverse it Tuesday night in the Superdome.
"I feel the decision came because of the second round. No one had ever seen Sugar Ray hurt. But then again I try to emphasize that I was hit -- and I was hurt.But I've been hit harder (in other fights) and hurt worse.
"This time I have to dictate pace and be the dominate one. I must win big. Decisive. It can't be close. I feel I happen to be one of those unique fighters that lose on a split decision. One in a million. I feel I must beat Duran and beat him bad."