Welterweight boxing champion Ray Leonard will announce his career plans at the Baltimore Civic Center tonight in an event that promises all the dignity of a pie fight.
There was concern about slow ticket sales for "An Evening With Sugar Ray," but at the last minute Chicken George stepped in.
Executives of the Baltimore fast-food chain yesterday bought 902 tickets at $2 each to give away with their $2.99 three-piece dinners. That seemed to spark a late sales rally. By midafternoon, 7,000 tickets were gone and organizers expected close to a capacity crowd of 10,000 to turn out for the 7 p.m. program to learn what the champion will do.
Most boxing people figure they already know.
Leonard has confounded his fans for two months with conflicting indications. One day he says he wants to fight, the next day he says he wants to retire. Veteran ringsiders expect him to follow a boxing tradition and do both.
"He's doing a hell of a job of driving everybody up a tree," said Goody Petronelli, trainer of Marvin Hagler, the middleweight champion who stands to lose the most if Leonard quits.
Petronelli figures Leonard will retire as welterweight champion but leave open his options to box again. "He'll say, 'I'll give up my (title) belts,' and then he'll come back and fight one more big one," said Petronelli, who hopes the big one is with Hagler, a fight that could earn Leonard $15 million and Hagler about half that.
Most boxing insiders share Petronelli's view that retirement at 26 would be unacceptable to Leonard. His announcement tonight comes exactly six months after he underwent surgery in Baltimore for a partly detached retina of the left eye.
The operation forced cancellation of Leonard's last scheduled fight, a May 14 title defense against Roger Stafford, and sparked prolonged speculation about the future of the wealthiest boxer in history. Leonard has earned about $40 million in a six-year pro career.
Leonard is supposed to clear the air tonight at his heralded press conference, which is open to the public at $2 a seat ($1 for children), with the money going to a Baltimore youth jobs program.
Howard Cosell will be master of ceremonies. The Ojays, a singing group, and singer Wayne Newton also have accepted invitations and Leonard has invited a host of fighters. Hagler will be there, along with Muhammad Ali, Gerry Cooney, Ken Norton, Tommy Hearns and Matthew Saad Muhammad. Several other fighters and a long list of entertainers and celebrities sent along their regrets.