Everyone who knows nothing about it seems to think Ray Leonard's left eye will explode or something if he ever gets hit again.
"It's very unusual to have a repeat detachment of the retina," Dr. Ronald G. Michels, who did the surgery, told the press Sunday at the Wilmer Eye Institute in Baltimore. "We hope he'll be able to resume his career."
The surgeon's optimism was lost in the gloom-and-doom moaning of assorted experts such as Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, the Miami doc/TV color man famous for every day telling an old patient, Muhammad Ali, to quit boxing. Pacheco said the eye wouldn't ever be as good as God made it.
Not in this case, anyway, if we believe Dr. Henry Starr, an eye doctor from suburban Riverdale.
When Leonard complained of a blur in his vision and was told by a doctor in Buffalo that the problem might be a detached retina, Leonard's lawyer, Mike Trainer, had his secretary call Starr. Three years ago, Leonard saw Starr after being thumbed in the eye during the Marcos Geraldo fight. Nothing was wrong that time.
This time, because something was wrong, Trainer asked Starr for the name of the best eye surgeon there is.
"I recommended Ron Michels," Starr said. "He is a retina surgeon par excellence. He is as good as he says he is. He is innovative, careful and he gets outstanding results. We all aspire to be as good as Ron Michels, but none of us is."
Alhough Pacheco and others on the gloom-and-doom bandwagon say it is foolish to fight after retina surgery, Earnie Shavers said his surgeon told him his reattached retina would be stronger than ever. And Ron Michels did the surgery on Shavers, a heavyweight contender still working at age 37.
Which side do we come down on? Doctors 800 miles away, former big shot boxers, old trainers, blind fighters, even sainted sportswriters--all are clamoring for Leonard to retire because of the surgery. Shavers, on the other hand, says Michels told him the retina never was so good.
"In Dr. Michels' hands, this is true," Starr said. "When he gets through with an eye, it's stronger than the other one."
Two other factors work in Leonard's favor.
One, he acted quickly. Two, the retina was at most 40 percent detached and detached in a place that didn't cause vision problems.
Leonard complained of a blur or a spot only in the two weeks preceding surgery.
"That's important," Starr said, "because the longer a detached retina is neglected, the worse it can get. The retina derives nourishment from the outer eye. Once it's detached, it loses that nourishment and begins to deteriorate. If you let it go too long, it gets to a point where it can't be reattached."
So Leonard acted quickly and went to the best surgeon available to correct the kind of I-see-a-spot problem that other fighters often choose to live with (perhaps out of ignorance or fear or poverty, or all three).
It may be four months before we know how well Leonard heals. But we know he has used great common sense so far. It is likely he will use all this time for healing before he makes a decision about fighting again. Only one thing is now certain: Leonard is a bright and wealthy young man who will do nothing foolish.
If we see Ray Leonard fighting again, you can bet he has asked Dr. Michels every proper question. Before Leonard fights again, he will know enough about his eye that he won't worry a second about it.
Certainly, there will be risk. But if the eye heals properly after repairs by the best surgeon available, the risk seems no greater than the risk Leonard has accepted for 10 years now.
Speaking of that risk, we have heard from a retired fighter, Harold Weston Jr., that maybe 30-40 percent of all fighters have retina damage. Yet apparently no state requires retinal examination before letting a man fight. New York has no such requirement, nor does Nevada, nor New Jersey, nor D.C.
A fighter need pass a cursory eye test that proves only that he can see the big E on the chart.
Had Ray Leonard not brought up his I-see-a-spot problem, the prefight examination would not have revealed it. Ask yourself this: would Leonard's largely unknown opponent, Roger Stafford, turn himself in to an eye doctor if he saw a spot the week before a title fight paying him $500,000?
"The examination for a detached retina is routine," Starr said. "It doesn't take long, but it does require a well-trained ophthalmologist. There are subtle changes in the retina that can be overlooked."
In Leonard's case, two doctors weren't certain of the damage. One prescribed eyedrops. The second said more tests should be done.
Boxing doesn't demand retinal examinations because, if a cynic may advance Harold Weston's thought, 30-40 percent of all fighters would be kept out of the ring.
Then the vampires of boxing, the promoters and matchmakers who would let a blind man fight if he knew the big E was on top of the chart, would die of thirst.