I believe him.

I'm taking Sugar Ray Leonard at his word. I'm assuming he'll stay uniquely stylish among boxers. I'm betting that, unlike Muhammad Ali and so many others, he will fight the temptation to return to the ring as fiercely and successfully as he fought inside it the past five mercurial years.

Because Leonard began his career that put him among the richest athletes in the history of sport after insisting, following the 1976 Olympics, he would never fight again, reasonable men argue that his retirement will be temporary.

"I think personally he will change his mind in six months," said his former trainer, Dave Jacobs, who was a major influence through the amateur phase of Leonard's career, before a falling-out after the loss to Roberto Duran that evidently has been patched up. "It's not a money thing; he loves that ring."

Marvin Hagler surely hopes Jacobs is right. If not, the mean middleweight saw about $10 million dance in front of his eyes in the Civic Center here tonight, and then--poof--disappear at 8:38 p.m. It was the classiest moment of a mostly tacky night, rather like some of Leonard's fights: a slow start that built toward a close, heroic finish.

"An Evening With Sugar Ray Leonard" was part toast and part roast. It was bizarre at times. Ali looked and sounded awful, but all but stole the show; Hagler made so little sense in his tribute to Leonard one hopes he will shortly quit.

"We don't want to be like guys, Joe Louis," Hagler said. Then he added: "Ali, sorry . . . " and then drifted into something nearly impossible to comprehend. Many people in the estimated crowd of 7,500 could be excused for assuming a golden chariot had swooped down and taken Leonard off to boxing heaven, so sober were the remarks.

Two bucks was about fair value for the show, until Leonard's final six minutes of suspense. He had been teasing us for six months, since that operation for a detached left retina, to the point that it was getting irksome. For heaven's sake, Ray, get on with it; either do the sensible thing or take a whack at Hagler.

His mind won after all.

Probably, Leonard's speech was not as extemporaneous as it seemed. He almost never lets himself be put in a situation for which he is unprepared. And the entire athletic world was breathless for this moment. His theme was beauty -- and it was a beaut.

Everyone important to him was beautiful, in his eyes. And he played the scene so well, gesturing and moving about the ring. He kept us guessing, wondering as he moved toward a corner and looked down at Hagler.

"A fight with this great man, this great champion," he said, "would be one of the greatest fights in the history of boxing."

Applause began. He's gonna do it.

"Talk about money; talkin' Fort Knox. And this is the only man who can make that possible -- Marvelous Marvin Hagler."

Cheers increase.

"But, unfortunately, it'll never happen."

Wild reaction. Screams and clapping. Damned if he didn't go out exactly right. He added: "Thank you and God bless you all."

Skeptics raised their eyebrows.

"I'd be shocked if he came back," said Mike Trainer, Leonard's lawyer. "He's surprised people for so long I think he'll do it again by staying retired. And I don't think the eye had that much to do with it. He was ready to retire. Watching him, I'd sensed that he'd lost a little bit of enthusiasm.

"It was getting old. The (Thomas) Hearns fight was the heights. It was like he had reached all his goals, what he'd set out to do, and it was time to get on with the second stage of his life. But he never got down to telling me, never came in and said: 'Hey, Mike, this is it.'

"But my decisions have been made assuming that's it."

The spotlight Leonard so obviously covets will not be turned off, merely less intense. This should make the transition easier.

"A multiyear contract with HBO, negotiations with CBS," Trainer began. "Franklin Sporting Goods. We've been working for a long time on a made-for-TV movie. He's got a lot of things to do."

Trainer would like Leonard simply to enjoy what he's punched his way to achieve. As ex-champ, his value will not diminish.

"When he lost to (Roberto) Duran," Trainer said, "everything actually increased. He's not your run-of-the-mill guy."

Might not the challenge of Hagler eventually lure him back?

"Is (heavyweight) Larry Holmes a challenge to Hagler?" Trainer shot back. Good point; Leonard has beaten everybody his size. History won't demand anything more.

"Lots of people have missed the point about Ray," Trainer added. "They're saying the cute stuff, that he'll be back, that he's just milking this for as much money as he can get. That's not his nature. And I'm tickled to death with this. Relieved.

"He's come full circle." Trainer looked at the crowd leaving and said: "Lotta fights don't draw this many people."

As a fighter, beyond being champion, Leonard's legacy is showing that a man with a few close, bright, tough advisers can eliminate many of the parasites and actually get nearly all of what is due him. He turned pro for the right reasons; he left at the right time, one of the few men on earth who could walk away from a $15 million deal.

Why wouldn't he return was the popular quick post-retirement question; Trainer turned it around, saying:

"I don't know what he'd get itchy for."