Roger Leonard needed all the advice that little brother Sugar Ray could give him last night to earn a split decision over Herb Wilens in an eight-round middleweight bout at the Sheraton Washington Hotel.
In the cofeature, Irish Mike Baker of Arlington, 46-13-1, knocked out Atlanta's Jerry Hill, a.k.a. "Dr. Punchinstein," at 2:15 of the first round.
The Leonard bout, which was one of five in the Budweiser Washington Championship Boxing Games, represented a comeback for Leonard (17-1) after a year's layoff. The slow, lumbering Wilens almost wrecked what was supposed to be an easy fight by knocking Leonard down at the end of the second round.
Leonard, who had knocked Wilens down in the first round, fought cautiously for the next three rounds. By the fifth, both fighters were bleeding and appeared weary. Wilens threw straight left jabs and Leonard fired from long range. It wasn't very artful, but it did get the crowd of 4,000 on its feet.
One of those who was on his feet frequently was welterweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard, who left his seat beside Mayor Marion Barry between rounds to exhort his faltering brother.
The Budweiser bouts, held in a ballroom of the Sheraton, were an attempt to rejuvenate boxing interest in Washington and to appeal to a crowd that doesn't normally attend Friday night fights. It apparently was successful.
"This is more in line with the times," said Larry Dart, a salesman dressed like he was going to a party. "This is a place I can go and feel safe, spend some money and have a good time."
The boxers and their managers were even happier with the classy setting. Dave Jacobs, former trainer for Sugar Ray Leonard, predicted that, "Boxing has definitely come back to Washington." Jacobs is trainer for Lloyd Taylor, a Washington welterweight who has excited local boxing aficionados.
Last night, the 20-year-old Taylor had little time to display his talents. His opponent, George Scippio, in from South Carolina for the occasion, fell to his knees 30 seconds into the first round after a phantom punch.
The show attracted much of of Washington's gray-haired boxing fraternity as well as new fans. While they sat enjoying the impressive setting, they remained faithful to old times.
"There were better fighters in the old days," said Joe Bunsa, 66, who has been a referee for 34 years. "Thirty years ago, every social club in the city had fights and there were fights every day of the week."