If Ayub Kalule refused to get incensed about not being saved by the bell against Sugar Ray Leonard tonight, we won't either. Leonard surely must have knocked the sense out of him with those ninth-round rights. Or perhaps the referee, Carolos Berrocal, lost his.

Perhaps Berrocal, like a lot of us at ringside, never heard the bell, for he asked Kalule if he wanted to continue about the very moment it should have rung. That hardly was the time to ask anyone for a rational judgment. And Kalule's cost him the junior middleweight title.

The Ugandan by way of Denmark thought there still were 90 seconds, or about half the round, left. Leonard had made time stand still for him, or severely scrambled his mind. So he surrendered to Berrocal, said he'd had enough, though not anything like "No Mas."

"I wanted to walk away," he said later.

Everyone else also realized that much more sustained pummeling by Leonard would have made that impossible. Kalule was not capable of taking even one more of Leonard's stinging rights. But he didn't have to, at least for another minute.

An alert referee, and Berrocal is supposed to be one of the best, would have realized the end of the round, if not quite the end of Kalule, was at hand.

Kalule is a tough guy. He probably would not have won had Berrocal let the round end, as he should have. He undoubtedly would have put up a severe scrap a while longer, for he'd already shown his mettle under circumstances not quite as dire five rounds earlier.

Still, if Kalule was angry he kept it hidden.

"I'm satisfied," he said. At that moment, he was walking, nearly alone, off the main floor of the Astrodome and toward a press conference. A publicity man and two reporters managed to slip among the police escort and keep stride with him. This seemed about as honest as Kalule was going to be. k

What were his feelings about Berrocal stopping the fight?

"He should have stopped it," Kalule said. "I'm glad he knocked me out."

Later, Kalule said he had not known how close to the end of round nine was, that it very well may have ended before he decided to stop. Had that fact crept in through the fog he certainly would have gone on, he said.

Do you believe that, Ray?

Leonard, sitting one man removed from Kalule at the press conference, grabbed the microphone and said: "You want the truth? If there'd been another half-hour left, he would have continued. He got hurt. We all saw that. There were no excuses."

We also saw Kalule survive punishment, though of a less order, five rounds earlier. At the end of round four, Leonard was measuring his man for a knockout and himself for another title belt. He had Kalule stumbling, with no power, after two hard rights.

At the bell, Leonard tapped Kalule on the shoulder. Harder ones were coming, soon, the gesture suggested. They did not, or at least not for three rounds. Leonard had a reason: a possible pulled muscle.

"Some time in the fourth or fifth," he said, "I thought I pulled a muscle in my left hand. He'd been very durable upstairs, so I went for the body, and that began to take its toll."

Kalule was taking those rounds, though. Leonard admitted as much, to the point where he gave Kalule a pat of respect after the sixth round.

Why?

"If Kalule'd hit you that hard," he said, "You'd have done that, too."

Leonard cuffed some critics for suggesting Kalule couldn't punch, saying this was among his five toughest fights ever. Wilfred Benitez had been more rugged, perhaps, and so had the first match -- the only one, really -- against Roberto Duran. Possibly, Marcos Geraldo two years ago had been as mean.

Kalule was as bad as any of them.

He looked more mature, clearly bigger. And Leonard was trying to cover every possibility before the opening bell.He entered the ring, first because he was the challenger this night, with the design of a snake covering his robe. And a mean-looking creature stitched onto the left side of his trunks.

If Kalule had a witch doctor near his corner, Ray wanted an antidote.

Those right hands proved more than enough.

"He surprised us with his power," Kalule's trainer, Borge Krogh admitted. "We were going to attack after nine."

Leonard attacked after some reporters began questioning his problems after he seemed so in control after the fourth round and repeating what Thomas Hearns hd said about him earlier in the night.

The reigning WBC welterweight and WBA junior middleweight champion stood up and said firmly that he would not read any newspaper that did not proclaim, and he spread his hands as though scanning a headline: "One man, two titles, one world."

Thirty-six and zero tells you something about the man he just beat, Leonard said. Not enough, in fact, for somebody not long before the fight discovered another Kalule victory.

Midway through his press conference, even Leonard sensed this Kalule talk had gone far enough. Injustice or no, few beyond Kalule's kin cared deeply about him going into the fight. There will be no public bleating for anything except Leonard-Hearns.

Baited by Hearns suggesting he would do unto Leonard September 16 in Las Vegas what Leonard had done to Duran in New Orleans, Leonard finally coiled himself for the sort of verbal punch that should sell all manner of tickets:

"I hope one day they can give a medical examination to Tommy Hearns," he said. "If you do an autopsy of his skull, you'll find he has no brain up there."

For some reason, Leonard chose to look even farther into the future, past Hearns to perhaps the one final challenge of his career.

"I want to KO Hearns in the first, unify the junior middleweight title (by beating Benitez) and then the ultimate dream against (middleweight champion) Marivn Hagler."

How soon might that last goal be attempted?

Leonard laughed. "As tough as he is," he said, "the more older he gets the better chance I have."