Ray Leonard's eye injury was so serious, his doctor told him before surgery May 9, that if the welterweight champion left it untended he could lose all sight in the eye within a week or two, Leonard said yesterday.
Leonard wore a pair of $7 glasses for protection and a formal black suit as he ended 18 days of public silence yesterday by discussing his injury, his condition and his future at a widely attended press conference downtown.
The wealthiest fighter of all time said his recuperation from an operation to repair a partially detached retina in his left eye is going well and the prognosis is for complete recovery.
However, he said he has not decided whether to box again and will not make up his mind until the recovery period is complete--sometime in the next six months.
Leonard left the impression that one goal still intrigues him--defeating Marvin Hagler to add the middleweight title to his successes. He already has won the WBC and WBA welterweight titles and the junior middleweight championship.
"I've been thinking, too, about Hagler and how good it would look on my resume to have another crown," he said.
Later, asked if he had anything left to prove in boxing, Leonard said, "No. I've destroyed the monsters and the animals. But Hagler would look good . . . "
Leonard said he did not feel there was overreaction to the injury. "It's a serious injury. The only way I feel you can look at the seriousness is, if I had waited (for surgery) it would have been a lot more severe."
He confirmed that the first doctor he saw in Buffalo, where he was training for the scheduled fight against Roger Stafford on May 14 and where he first started seeing spots in his left eye, did not recommend a postponement of the bout.
It was only when the spots persisted that he sought a second opinion from a specialist. The specialist told him "it wasn't an emergency but it was urgent to get it fixed."
Leonard said he had trouble grasping the difference between urgent and an emergency.
And when he flew to Baltimore the next day to Johns Hopkins' prestigious Wilmer Eye Institute, he said Dr. Ronald G. Michels told him that without an operation he could swiftly lose all sight in the eye. Michels told him "if I waited a week it could be progressive blindness--I could go blind," said Leonard.
"I thought, 'How could this happen to me?' " And in a prayer he remembers saying, "Please tell me if I leave boxing right now, I won't have to have the operation."
But Leonard called the injury a "blessing in disguise, because I always said I would receive a message when to leave (boxing). This is somewhat of a message, although I'm not sure. It could be a hint."
Leonard's damaged eye was red and swollen behind the horn-rimmed drugstore glasses he borrowed from his brother. But he said his vision was tested on Wednesday and he was able to read all but two letters of the 20-20 vision line. Normally, he said, his vision is 20-15.
Michels, who performed the surgery on Leonard and examined him Wednesday, said in a prepared statement: "The left eye is continuing to heal properly. The retina has reattached and the vision has improved to a nearly normal level.
"As is true in all cases with retinal detachment, it will be a period of additional weeks and months until the final result is known in the left eye."
There had been speculation that the injury could have occurred when Leonard fought Tommy Hearns in September. "I doubt very seriously if the Hearns fight did it, although it didn't help," Leonard said.
"I think it was misleading, the swelling that my eye had (after the Hearns fight). People felt Hearns did that. But my eye was damaged weeks before that in California, when I worked out with one of my sparring partners."
Leonard said his physical activities still are restricted as he recuperates. He has watched his weight and remains about 150 pounds, and within a week or 10 days will be able to resume nearly all activities, including running.
Leonard said he did not consider the injury, which forced the postponement of the Stafford fight, unfortunate. "It's fortunate it happened now," he said, "rather than in 1977, when I couldn't afford the hospital."
He said over the next few months he will study other career options, including acting and television commentating. As for missing boxing, Leonard said: "I just would miss the challenge. As far as adulation and crowds, I don't think I'd miss that."