The sign in the window of Dave's Lounge reads: "Now Appearing: the Hot and Cold Sweat Show, a Piece of Vegas."
The club is a long way from Caesars Palace, where some fighters train and others are eulogized. But they do have something in common.
Inside, underneath the large ballshaped mirror that splatters strobe lighting by night, two fighters -- Odell Leonard and a sparring partner -- engage in a training-camp dance. The mirror reflects pieces of boxers off the bottles behind the bar. It is a strange place to find a fragment of Sugar Ray Leonard.
Around and around the boxers twirl, pushing each other across the dance floor -- there is no ring. Odell Leonard hits his man hard and his mouthpiece goes flying, coming to rest in front of the deejay's perch, where on Thursday nights Leonard plays oldies but goodies for the crowd. Six men and two posters of Jayne Kennedy look on, as Dave Jacobs, Sugar Ray's former trainer, calls time.
Odell Leonard is on his own now. Saturday night, he will fight Gary Guidens in Indianapolis for the United States Boxing Association (USBA) junior middleweight championship. He will be the main event. It is his chance to be known as something other than Ray Leonard's cousin, Ray Leonard's sparring partner.
"When I'm introduced, I'm never introduced as Odell Leonard," Odell said. "They say Sugar Leonard's cousin.' Over the years, I've learned to live with it. They figure that's good enough. They don't need to know my name."
But there is some question whether Odell has any more in common with Ray than his name. Ray's father, Cicero, says that Odell is not a blood relative. "He's like family," Cicero said, "but he's not family."
Odell says it was Cicero who told him they were related in the first place. "If he wants to disown me," Odell said, "he can disown me."
Odell's family and Ray's family once lived in the same town in South Carolina. Odell's mother's maiden name was Leonard. Cicero says that when Odell moved to Palmer Park, "People assumed he was a member of the family and everyone said kiddingly, 'Yeah, he's a cousin.' It just took off. No one made a point of saying anything else because they were close."
There are those, including Ray's adviser, Janks Morton, who believe that Odell changed his name from Davis, as he was first known in amateur fights, to Leonard because, "It was a pretty good name in Palmer Park.
"I think he became a cousin between 1974 and the Plympics," Morton added.
Odell's wife, Cheryl, said, "The whole premise that he changed his name to be Ray's cousin is ludicrous. It makes me angry that anyone would imply it. One of my girlfriends said, it doesnt's put you in the spotlight, it puts you in the footlight."
Which is where Odell has spent most of his career.
Nobody every dreams of growing up to be a sparring partner. But boxing is a business that allows anyone with two fists to dream. The closer you are to a dream come true, the more you dream yourself and the bigger the dreams become. "I'm not a sparring partner," Odell said. "Sparring partners are guys that don't fight. I want to do more. That's why I had to break loose from the shadow, have my own sparring partner. Now, I'm the main event."
For years, Odell Leonard's job was to get Ray Leonard in shape; to make it hurt without hurting him. And though there is little pride in the title, Odell takes pride in the job he did. Once, he says, Ray "sidelined three sparring partners. He broke one's rib and smeared another one's eye and another had a swollen knuckle. I'm always ther. I'm the only one that can hang with him."
Leonard did not use Odell as a sparring partner before his last fight with Larry Bonds. Bonds is a southpaw; Odell is not. "The man has $21 million," Odell said. "He has a No. 1 sparring partner; he's been with you five or six years. He gets you in shape from the first fight to the last fight. He's the only guy who can work you enough to get you in shape for guys like Duran and,m and of a sudden, you don't need him no more. You get someone who can't stand up to the pressure."
Mike Trainer, Leonard's lawyer, says Odell did his job well and was well-paid for it, "sometimes in excess of $1,000 a fight."
Cheryl Leonard says, "I don't believe he has been well-paid at all."
She says he made $25,000 last year but refused to say how much of that came from Ray Leonard and how much from Odell's fights (his largest purse ever, he says, was $7,000). Sometimes, he fought on Ray's undercard. Last November, he got his big break when Angelo Dundee, Ray's manager, asked him to fight Tony Chiaverini, another of Dundee's fighters, who had just lost to Wilfred Benitez. "I stopped him in the sixth round. I broke his nose and put six stitches under his eye," Odell said.
Soon afterward, Odell asked Roland Kenner, the propeietor of Dave's Lounge, to be his manager, to find him fights. "I know I can be a champion," Odell said, "but you can't be it fighting on someone else's coat tails."
Trainer said, "It's one thing to hitch your wagon and ride it. But then to turn around and say you would have gone a lot further if you hadn't hitched it. Well, who hitched it in the first place?
"If Ray doesn't use him, it looks like he's forgotten him," Trainer added. "If he uses him, they say he's not well-paid. Ray can't do enough. It falls short because it's compared to Ray's success. But Ray's success is Ray's success . . . Odell would not be where he is today, wherever he is, without Ray."
Where he is training in Dave's Lounge on Palmer Higheway, with a sparring partner whose belly hangs over his shorts. Odell Leonard is 26, has a record of 18-5, with 10 knockouts (his Saturday foe, Guidens, is 36-5, with 31 knockouts), and is ranked 11th in the world among junior middleweights by Ring magazine. Bert Sugar, the editor of Ring, says of Leonard, "He's a club fighter at best. He's not even the fifth-best Leonard."
But his expections rank much higher. In Dave's Lounge, with the flame-stitch lineoleum booths and the red velvet wallpaper and the wall mirrors with the pistol decals, there is talk about a showdown, someday, with Sugar Ray Leonard. "If he can get the junior middleweight title, he will be in line for the championship," said Jacobs. "Eventually, he could end up fighting (Marvin) Hagler for the title . . . If Ray goes up to middleweight and wins it, and if we have to fight him, we'll fight him."
Even when they spar, Odell says, "We don't pull no punches. It is toe to toe even when the bell ends."
And, what if it was the real thing, he was asked; how would it end? "It would be another Ali-Frazier," he said.