The Sugar Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns fight has suffered its first, and perhaps only, loss. The promoter of the Sept. 16 bout, Shelly Finkel, had his pocket picked while reaching to shake hands with Hearns shortly after his victory in Houston.

We need not schedule any benefits for him. The $350 can be recaptured with astonishing ease, for the Las Vegas match is expected to gross 1 1/2 times what the Chicago Cubs brought two weeks ago, more in fact than some countries generate in a decently long time frame.

In a $30 million production, $350 is the equivalent of one ticket, not terribly close to ringside, or serveral Los Angeles families gathering over munchies and beer in Charlie's basement and watching the Hit Man and Sugarman flail away each other on pay television.

Finkel is more familiar hyping rock shows, although he admits: "I'm crazy about boxing. If my father was alive, this would be his biggest moment. With rock stars, the major problem is egos; with boxers, it's tempers."

With nearly three months to get fight fans quivering in anticipation, public tempers already seem to be boiling, although few beyond WBC welterweight champion Leonard and WBA welterweight champion Hearns know far certain how much of this tough talk isn't jive.

Does Ray genuinely dislike Hearns, as he seemed to indicate after they each knocked opponents senseless Thursday night?

"Not at all. I was just sayin' those things."

Leonard still insists that if brain explorers happened to wander inside Hearns' head, they would find nothing.

Hearns still is smart enough to make about $10 million for 45 minutes of work. Or less. And both he and Leonard, who will earn a few pennies more from what is expected to net excess of $20 million, should adore each other at the moment. The hate can come later, days instead of weeks before the match, when their fight faces must be screwed on.

Hearns can only love a little fellow who even swigs soda for profit and who just might not be able to escape that jackhammer of a right. If Leonard is boxing's corporate giant, Hearns wants to be the wrecking ball.

Leonard has said Hearns has nothing he wants. Which only fools completely digest. Hearns has a reputation. He might get bucked off the bull at Gilley's but his punch is whispered hard enough to turn live bulls into instant steaks. And most humans into ground round.

A champion, even a money machine such as Leonard, needs someone as seemingly worthy as Hearns. But how can Leonard honestly be intimidated by anyone after going chin to whiskers with Roberto Duran for 15 rounds in Montreal and then humiliating him into quitting later in New Orleans? A Tommy gun surely would seem no more lethal than a Tommy cat after Duran.

"I'd like to back when I'm about 60 or 65, about you-all's ages." Leonard joked to some reporters, "with my grandchildren looking at films (of Duran walking away in round eight of the second fight) and say: 'You be the judge.'"

A judge in Houston might believe Hearns to have been the superior man Thursday, for he dispatched Pablo Baez much sooner and more authoritatively than Leonard did Ayub Kalule. It might have been set up that way. If it was coincidence, anyone shrewd with a vested interest in Vegas had to be grateful.

To most of the paying public, Hearns still is relatively unknown. His glow as a puncher, somebody capable of making Ray see stars instead of dollar signs, still must be polished. What better way than against Pablo Baez, whose record might have been anything from 8-9-2 to 12-9-2 going into the ring and who seemed more determined to keep his trunks from falling than trying to fell Hearns?

Leonard's man was much more worthy, though Kalule's ability dwindles in the mind the more what happened during the bout becomes known. Somewhere about or during the third round, Leonard experienced what he later said seemed "a muscle pull."

X-rays a few hours after the fight showed nothing broken, but it was diagnosed as a severe bruise to the knuckle area nearest the wrist of his left hand. Nothing that will keep him from jabbing Hearns on schedule, Leonard and the rest of his camp assumes, but enough to have seriously limited him much of the way to the junior middleweight title.

How do you like a knockout in a championship fight with one hand tied behind my back? Leonard might coo toward Hearns.

Leonard and some of the brains outside his head, those belonging to Janks Morton and Angelo Dundee, insist he will be too elusive for Hearns, that an expression common to a sport being knocked on its duff -- baseball -- will apply: Hearns can't clobber what he can't see.

Still, Hearns is the elusive one at the moment. At press conferencs, Ray can't catch him. Or so he says.Quietly, they posed together for publicity and other pre-Vegas photos a day or so before the Houston fights. For each, it was a matter of convenience and confidence.

His showman's side on display, timing and facial expressions cued exactly, Leonard Friday morning admitted he and Hearns had spent some time together during the week and added, as a smile began to blossom: "He agreed I would knock him out."