Five or six working stiffs sat with cups of beer in a minor league hockey team's dressing room, waiting for Ray Leonard. It was two hours after he said, "That's it, that's it." He did 20 television interviews, saying he would never fight again, and now he sat at a splintery wooden table where they tape hockey players into one piece.
"This iced tea?" Leonard said, hefting a beer.
"Got sugar in it?" he said.
"Good." He took a sip.
The eye surgery was part of it, but not the whole thing. Maybe 20 percent, he said. His wife Juanita and son Ray Jr. wanted him to quit long ago. His friends seemed eager that he pack it in. He knew all that, he said, but the decision would be selfish, it would be what he wanted to do.
Juanita said he told her he was quitting an hour before he announced it. Sports Illustrated's cover story this week, necessarily written last week, is Leonard's own account of why he is quitting.
But Leonard insisted the other night that he decided at the last minute, in the ring, looking down at Marvin Hagler who was looking up at what he called the fight of the century. There was no urge to fight Hagler, Leonard said. Nothing.
He knew it was, for sure, time to quit.
But if he told his wife the hour before and wrote a magazine story a week earlier, why did he tell everyone else that he made up his mind in the ring?
For melodrama? Did this brightest of media creatures think it made a neat, happy ending to his movie of a career? Maybe. If he misled everyone when, as he writes for the magazine, he made up his mind months ago, then the "Evening With Sugar Ray" was a deception unworthy of Leonard.
But let's give him the best of it. Let's guess that Leonard's decision was more difficult than it looked, that he gave himself a silent option to change his mind in the ring. So it wasn't a decision to retire that he made in the ring; it was a decision to not change his mind. And that decision was made when he looked over the ropes at Hagler and felt no need to break the poor fellow's face.
Some fighters become warriors. They fight because they must. The war defines them. For Duran II, Leonard dressed in black shoes and black trunks. The legend on his belt was "Leonard," not the usual "Sugar" sweetness. Duran had beaten him. The night in black, Leonard was a warrior on a mission. He captured greatness.
The war is over. "The feeling is gone, that's it," he said. "If I didn't find it for Marvin Hagler, I'll never find it."
Leonard looked at Hagler at ringside, looking for a reason not to quit, not to walk away from a $20 million payday.
It would be a Fort Knox of a fight, he said.
"Unfortunately, it will never happen," Leonard said.
Let's guess Leonard wanted to fight because he is the best at what he does and could make $40 million the next three years.
But he wasn't angry anymore.
There always have been two Leonards. The sweet kid and the cruel finisher. One minute you see him selling 7-Up with his little son, the next you see him dropping eight-punch bombs onto somebody's bleeding face. "Something comes over me and I become violent in the ring," he often said.
Men who live as warriors become craftsmen at horror. For Muhammad Ali, the job lasted 20 years. The recurring metaphor of the cruelest sport is the aging warrior carried out on his shield, as Ali was a year ago, fat and weak at 39.
The sweetness in Ray Leonard won a TKO over the cruelty.
"I didn't even tell myself what the decision would be until I got in the ring," Leonard said over his beer. "That's why I was pumping for Marvin Hagler to come to the announcement . . . You might have noticed how, right after I pointed out how big a Hagler fight would be, I paused. I was nervous, because I thought I might say, 'Hey, let's go for it.'
"But I didn't say that.
"There wasn't any urge, no electricity. I looked right at Hagler and the feeling wasn't there. The feeling -- it's difficult to describe. It's something I've used, something that creates a challenge. Tommy Hearns gave me that, Duran II gave me that, Ayub Kalule gave me that. I just didn't have that for Hagler. Mentally, that was the key. Maybe it was because of the eye. Maybe I was concentrating so much on that. I don't know.
"But I didn't have the mental drive it would take to step in the ring with Hagler. If I fought Hagler tomorrow, he would beat me because mentally I would not be prepared for it."
He wanted Hagler once. Leonard would allow Hagler to fight at 160, but only if they weighed in at fight time, not the morning of the fight--and for every pound over 160, Hagler owed Leonard $1 million of his $6 million purse. Hagler said no deal.
Now Leonard doesn't want anyone. There is no challenge, he said. Let's guess there is no anger. He hasn't had gloves on in six months. Before that, he fought 33 times in five years, never out of the gym more than two months.
"Once Ray enjoyed the other things in life," said Mike Trainer, his attorney, "he said boxing isn't the most important thing in the world. And if it isn't the most important thing in the world, you better be careful of it."
Leonard won't miss the fame. "I never dwelled on adulation," he said.
Would he miss the athleticism, the war at which he was the best?
"I'll punch a bag," he said, smiling. "It doesn't punch back."