Even with $8 million on the line, even with a world championship at stake, even with one of the most important events of his life just three days away, Sugar Ray Leonard could lounge around on a couch like a lot of other fathers did today.

He could have just docked his boat in Annapolis, the way he appeared while he chatted with a few writers in his suite at Ceasars Palace. He wore white sneakers, white socks, white deck pants, a striped polo shirt and, yes, even a commodore's hat, set jauntily on his head.

Leonard seemed completely relaxed as he sipped Perrier water and talked about his life, his success and how it has affected him outside the ring.

"I have to admit my popularity surprises me," he said, casually. "Sometimes I have to stop and pinch myself. I realize it's a rarity, what I've accomplished. I'm very grateful. I figure that whatever is happening, is happening for a reason.

"It's a Cinderalla story, I know that," he continued. "A small-town guy (Wilmington, N.C.) moves to Washington, D.C. He's shy and gets into boxing in his neighborhood because he's too small to play anything else. He starts winning as an amateur, gets the gold medal in the Olympics and turns pro. He wins a title, gets a lot of money and now the public seems to like him.

"Why did all this happen to me? I don't know. I like to think it was because I have great desire, I work hard and I'm dedicated, but I know there has to be a lot of luck involved, too."

Leonard is said to be the wealthiest fighter in boxing today. He has reaped the benefits of three multi-million-dollar fights and stands to collect at least $8 million for his work against Tommy Hearns here Wednesday night. All this must have an enormous effect on him personally.

"The first time I fought for $1 million, against (Wilfred) Benitez, it really shook me up," Leonard said. "But now it doesn't faze me any more."

Leonard, of Palmer Park, Md., believed that one of the big advantages he will have over Hearns in their welterweight championship bout is the psychological advantage of having experienced and survived the circus atmosphere surrounding the event.

"I'm used to all the hype now," he said, smiling and flicking his hand at the writers in the room. "I even enjoy having you guys up here. But I had to learn. In Montreal (before the first Roberto Duran fight), I was getting ready for a big show. Now I'm getting ready for a big fight."

Can this be fun anymore? Or has boxing simply become a job now to Sugar Ray Leonard?

"It's still fun," he replied, flashing his familiar smile. "I don't need the money anymore. I'm fighting because I love the sport.

"Sure, training gets old. Hell, I'm tired of it now. The closer the fight gets, the less I want to train. I'm in top shape, so I'm just going through the motions now."

Anybody who has been cooped up in Ceasars Palace for three weeks has to be longing to be anywhere, and Leonard is no exception.

"Las Vegas can get old," he said. "I mean, what else is there to do except lose your money. I'm doing a lot of sleeping and relaxing but, at least, I have my family here. That's helped a lot."

Hearns has been cooperative, but very unrevealing about his inner thoughts, so it has been left to others to try to gauge how all this hype is affecting the recluse from Detroit.

"It's got to get to him," Leonard said of his opponent. "Walking into that ring for the first time, in front of all those people, has to get to you. It won't just be his friends in the crowd. It will be fans from all over and a lot of celebrities, too. It's like Broadway, it's like opening night."

After having been through this scene in Montreal and New Orleans before the two Duran fights, Leonard, 25, admits he still is not immune to all the distractions and immense pressure.

"The intensity of the crowd still affects me," he said. "You still feel it when you're walking to the ring and sometimes it takes a full round of fighting before it wears off, before you can really start concentrating on your job. If it affects me, it's got to affect him because he hasn't been through it before.

"I think that Hearns is up-tight now," Leonard went on, acting as casual as he possibly could in the living room scene he had staged. "He's competing with me in everything. If I showboat, he'll showboat. If I say something, he'll respond.

"This is all a big challenge to him. Hearns is competing against both Leonard the fighter and Leonard the personality. I have to beat him physically, but I have to beat him mentally, too."