Sugar Ray Leonard forgot for a moment today about lagging ticket sales at the Astrodome and some closed-circuit locations around the country for his World Boxing Association junior middleweight championship fight against Ayub Kalule Thursday night.
No, there was no heavy-handed hype in Houston this miserable muggy day, not after Leonard described Kalule, the champion, as "an advanced amateur."
Leonard, the World Boxing Council welter-weight champion who is going up a weight class (from 147 to 154), caught himself and added, "I could be in for a surprise."
But clearly, Leonard does not seem all that concerned about a fight he and his 7-year-old son Ray Jr. said would not go more than 10 rounds. That is not the sort of stuff designed to sell tickets, but it definitely sounded like the right stuff.
Even Kalule, an engaging friendly fellow from Uganda who now is a national hero in his new homeland of Denmark, admitted Leonard was fighting him because "I was the easiest opponent for him to beat.I do think he's wrong, but I was not surprised that they chose me.
But I am not as easygoing as he (Leonard) may think. Now I am the champion. I do not care who I fight. The championship does not belong to one man. I will never avoid an opponent. I will welcome all of them. Everyone can be a champion."
And everyone who would like to see this championship fight, as well as the WBA welterweight title fight between champion Thomas Hearns and Pablo Baez on the same card, surely will be accommodated in Houston and most everywhere else.
As of today, only 10,000 seats had been sold in the Astrodome, which needs a $1.4 million gate to break even. Only 400 of the original 1,000 ringside seats priced at $300 have been sold, and some of those remaining seats have been dropped in price to $150. Capital Centre had sold close to 5,000 seats through Sunday, and no sellout is anticipated, at $20 a ticket in advance, $25 the night of the fight.
Mike Trainer, Leonard's attorney and the man who helped put together what is being billed as the "welterweight Astrowars," said today he anticipates a healthy walk-up sale in Houston simply because the place seats 55,000 and there is no urgency to buy tickets in advance.
Trainer also said today he had tried to set up a rather intriguing match on the undercard -- a fight between Roberto Duran and Pipino Cuevas, both former welterweight champions. Leonard lost his WBC title to Duran in Montreal, then won it back in the controversial rematch in New Orleans last November when Duran quit, complaining of stomach cramps.
"Duran has to go out and fight people and convince everybody he won't quit," Trainer said. "But I don't think he's got the energy or the desire. We offered $500,000 each to Duran and Cuevas to fight. Cuevas wanted it badly, Duran didn't."
The fight everyone else wants badly -- Leonard against Hearns -- is scheduled for Sept. 16. Trainer said today Hearns already has signed a contract for the fight, and it most likely will be held in Las Vegas.
This week, however, Hearns and Leonard are involved only in a battle of egos, with Hearns the clear winner. He already has been picky about his billing on the fight posters and the Astrodome marquee, and not is making noises about fighting Baez after the Leonard-Kalule fight, just to make it look like he's not on the undercard. That's the way the schedule reads now, and probably will remain that way.
"That shouldn't be an issue," Leonard said today. "It makes absolutely no difference to me."
"I hope we go on first," added Leonard's trainer, Angelo Dundee. "That way I get to watch the rest of the show."
In his last major workout before the fight, Leonard sparred four rounds today with three partners, two of them semibeefy middleweights. Leonard, who normally fights at the 147-pound welterweight limit, said he probably would come in at 152 to 153 pounds, his normal "street weight," against Kalule.
He also admitted he knew very little about Kalule before the match was made and that he was surprised to learn Kalule had been favored to win the 139-pound Olympic championship at Montreal in 1976. Kalule did not fight because of the boycott of African nations that year, and Leonard went on to win the gold.
"I am impressed with his consistent attack," Leonard said. "I've seen some tapes, and he fights with a lot of determination. His expression shows he's determined to win.