Sugar Ray Leonard, the five-time world champion, began his training sessions for his upcoming fight with 23-year-old Terry Norris yesterday in his Palmer Park gymnasium.

Leonard will battle Norris (26-3, 14 knockouts) for the World Boxing Council super welterweight championship Feb. 9 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

"For me this fight is a barometer," Leonard said. "Boxing people know all about him, but the general public does not. Everything scares me about this kid. He's very confident and in great shape."

Leonard, 34, started his shadowboxing session at 160 pounds; he must get down to 154 by February. His longtime trainer, Jose "Pepe" Correa, was impressed with the light workout, which included steady and controlled work with the punching bags.

"He's so much stronger, so much more focused this time," Correa said. "I look for Ray to set some traps for {Norris} and take him to heights he's never seen, then dispose of him."

Leonard (36-1-1, 25 knockouts) admitted there is much work left to be done to lose the weight in time. "These love handles -- you've got to work on them. These babies have caused me trouble, but I'm sure I'll have no trouble losing the six pounds."

He added that with his marital troubles behind him he can now fully concentrate on his craft.

"No one had any idea what I had to endure," he said of his recent divorce from wife Juanita. "But I was happy with the outcome and that we resolved it without the involvement of attorneys. Now I can focus on the fight."

He has shunned the glitz of Las Vegas and Atlantic City to fulfill a dream: fight in Madison Square Garden. Yesterday he also avoided undue flashiness, even in front of the cameras.

He entered the ring in simple garb: white T-shirt, black shorts, white shoes. No flash, no dash, just the solemn, essential Sugar Ray, who sees a lot of hard work ahead.

One onlooker was particularly impressed: up-and-coming Fort Washington welterweight Michael Ward, 19, one of Leonard's sparring partners.

"Ray and I messed around in the ring when I was 16," said Ward, a graduate of Oxon Hill High. "I grew up with Ray as my idol and now I'm working with him. He's still got a lot of tools he can show me."