Going down the elevator in the Washington office building, Sugar Ray Leonard isn't all that happy. Maybe it is that mood he gets before a fight, and he's fighting Feb. 9 against Terry Norris. Once he begins training, he says, "I'm tough to live with. I'm not a nice person to be around all the time. I get edgy. I'm short with people."

On the sidewalk, passersby recognize him immediately. Turning buoyant, Leonard signs several autographs and poses with a woman for a photograph -- big grins, heads close together. Then he slides onto the plush back seat of his black Lincoln, so long it's parked in front of two addresses and so big inside that your average guy could happily vacation in there for a month and never come out. His toothy smile vanishes.

Maybe it's the upcoming fight. Maybe it's the day. Maybe it's the approaching winter. Maybe it is the holiday season. But Leonard isn't quite himself -- or maybe he is. His close friend, Ollie Dunlap, would say later that "Sugar Ray Leonard" is the happy-go-lucky Leonard seen in public, whereas he knows "Ray Leonard," and the Leonard in the back seat has been a bit of "Ray Leonard." Just plain Ray had a number of things on his mind, not all of them happy.

He talked openly and pensively about his failed marriage, the breakup of which he called "the worst experience." Last month, he and Juanita Leonard reached an out-of-court settlement of their divorce that became final this past week. Riding along in the car, Leonard takes the blame for the breakup and says he regrets deeply that it has to involve his two sons. Dunlap says later that Leonard has "times when he's saddened."

As for his boxing career, Leonard is similarly wistful. He says that he hadn't really fought to a draw with Thomas Hearns in June 1989 -- that was the judges' controversial decision on what appeared to be a Hearns victory. As the car heads toward his Potomac home, he says he really felt that Hearns won -- "He knocked me down twice" -- and that he has told Hearns so.

Further, Leonard says he hasn't been all that comfortable as an analyst with HBO, the cable network he split with several months ago after being part of its announcing team for 10 years. "It's not my forte," he said. "I've done my homework. I've tried to be professional. But I'm not a journalist."

Leonard himself brought up the subjects of his marital turmoil, of Hearns, of his TV work -- streams of consciousness that began flowing as he talked about his state of mind while preparing for his first fight since dominating Roberto Duran last December.

He wished he didn't have to wait more than a year for this fight, but nothing could be worked out sooner. "This annual stuff is tough," he said. "Other things happen. Your priorities change. You think of the kids." Ray Jr., 16, lives with him in Potomac and Jerrel, 6, with his mother in Bowie, Leonard said. "I pick him up on weekends," he said of Jerrel, but Leonard worried about his younger son being "a little rebellious" with his mother and without "a male figure."

He was thinking more about his children than Terry Norris.

"I'm not totally focused {on Norris}, but I've never been totally focused this far out from a fight" -- still seven weeks away. At 34, he still likes being in the ring, "going against the odds." Yet he shrugged. At least this day he seemed to feel it wasn't worth it, being at the center of things. "It's such a contradiction," he said. "So crazy. Such a crazy thing."'Something Has to Give'

His marriage breakup, he said, had been a long process. "It was going on during the {Donny} Lalonde fight" -- November 1988. "I was going through it heavy then. My father didn't know. Mike {Trainer, his lawyer} didn't know, I don't think. Craig {Jones, Leonard's bodyguard} knew -- he lives with me.

"It's hard for me, for the kids and for her. The thing is, we're closer now. We talk. I spoke to her last night. We communicate far better than we did as husband and wife."

After he upset Marvelous Marvin Hagler in April 1987, Leonard seemed to have everything he ever wanted.

"But I was on the go, go, go, go, without looking at what I have here." To his way of thinking, "You can't have success and have a wife; something has to give. I speak from experience. It was the culmination of everything. Nobody is at fault but me. I controlled everything."

It sounded familiar when Leonard said he was going to reevaluate his boxing career after this fight. Before Hagler, he said he was fighting just one fight. After that, he called a news conference and announced his retirement. Then he unretired for Lalonde, and stuck around for Hearns. Before Duran III, he suggested that he might "fade into the sunset."

"I'm going to take a long, long, long look into myself," he said in the back of the car. "I have to see, is it worth not putting that time toward my kids' future? Being a single parent, I must do as much as I can -- the bonding -- to keep the mother-father aspect. I don't want them to lose that other person, and have that void."

He's going to reexamine things, he said, because "If I can't give 100 percent {in the ring}, then {fighting} is very risky. I am jeopardizing myself. I can't give 100 percent when I'm thinking about my family."

He kept coming back to his "two great boys." Of Ray Jr. he said, "I'm very proud of him. He has been through hell.

"People say how traumatic it was for the mother. They say how traumatic it was for me. But look at the kids; the kids are the ones who suffer."

Again, of Ray Jr., Leonard said, "He's had to withstand all this crap, seeing the miscommunications, the confrontation. It's given him a first-hand look at life, at problems that can affect everyone.

"I try to explain things to him, that his mother and I are no longer married, and it's okay if he sees me with another woman or her with another man. He says it's not right. I say, baby, it's okay."

He spoke of the good feelings he experienced watching Ray Jr. play football and run track for Churchill High, of being out in the rain one day with him at a meet.

Leonard expressed a regret. He called his former wife "perceptive," saying that she gave good advice about people and events in his life, and lamented that he had "not let her be a part of my career. I think it hurt her from a wife's standpoint. I know it now, because I don't have that kind of person to discuss this kind of thing with, and never will."

Juanita Leonard, who could not be reached for comment, was active in Leonard's career before the Hagler fight when she helped manage training camp at Hilton Head, S.C. Looking back to that time, Leonard observed that things went smoothly with her help -- "and you'd think I'd learn from experience."Changing Times

At his house, Leonard picked up luggage for a trip to New York and Philadelphia to promote the Norris fight. He'd be traveling after working out at his gym in Palmer Park. Leonard changed clothes, and put on a black, wide-brim hat. He introduced a friend, Bernadette, as she got into the limo. She brought along a five-week-old boxer puppy named Buster.

The size of the home, the cars in the drive are but hints of the immense wealth Leonard has gained in the ring. Forbes magazine earlier this year listed him near the top of the highest-paid sports figures. He will make $13 million this year alone, the magazine said, placing him third behind Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas among all athletes in 1990 earnings. (Jack Nicklaus, for instance, was sixth at $8.6 million.)

Leonard also has his health -- despite suffering a detached retina in 1982. But while outboxing Duran last December he suffered facial cuts late in the fight that required 60 stitches. He still isn't sure how it happened, and mentioned the cold Las Vegas weather that night as possibly a factor. He wondered if perhaps it made his skin susceptible to being cut, and asked Bernadette her opinion. She thought the weather had something to do with it.

What he did feel certain of was that Hearns had beaten him in June 1989. Leonard said he called Hearns recently. "He won that fight, and I told him," Leonard said emphatically.

"Tommy, you kicked my ass in Vegas," Leonard said he told Hearns.

Leonard said Hearns was taken aback by the phone call, but that they settled into an easy conversation during which Hearns related his feelings about their first fight in 1981, when Leonard rallied and stopped Hearns in the 14th round. "I was so scared when I fought you in 1981," Leonard quoted Hearns as saying. "I was used to fighting in front of 5,000 people and now there were 15,000."

"The second time, if anything, I was afraid," Leonard said he told Hearns. "You were so much bigger and stronger."

"Ray, you're a little guy," Hearns replied, according to Leonard.

Dunlap said that he could envision Leonard and Hearns fighting a third time. But neither Dunlap nor Leonard believes that Hagler would ever step into the ring again. Hagler made a reported $20 million in their 1987 fight, but considered the judges' decision robbery.

"Marvin had two years to come out of retirement and fight Ray," Dunlap said, "so I guess he decided to keep that bitterness within him."

"You can't hold a grudge for something that happened three years ago," Leonard said.

But Hagler can. Leonard, meanwhile, still makes light of the controversial decision with a laugh: "I just borrowed his belt for a while."

When Leonard recently was named "Fighter of the '80s" and encountered Hagler in Atlantic City, he found Hagler standoffish. "He put his hand on my shoulder -- kept me at a distance," Leonard said. But for praising Hagler in remarks after receiving the award, Leonard said Hagler thanked him.

Leonard looked out at the Beltway. Thoughts of Hagler still seem to recur. Leonard gives the impression he would like to fight him one more time, but that it's a fading dream.

He's had to settle for the New York bout with Norris, the World Boxing Council junior middleweight champion. In July 1989, Norris was stopped by Julian Jackson in two rounds. Leonard needs some motivation; he's been saying that Norris's youth is it. Still, Leonard was knocked down by Michael Ward in a sparring session recently in Palmer Park. "He caught me cold," Leonard said. "I was trying something. I won't try that again."

This particular day, he boxed six rounds and looked just fine. Everyone in the gym watched him closely; Bernadette, holding tiny Buster, seemed to wince a few times when Leonard was hit. She said she is "learning" to like boxing.

Boxing will continue to be Leonard's life. When he stops fighting, he said he wants to stay in the sport as a manager, "preparing others for the corporate world." For now, he's watched tapes of Norris and he's seen weaknesses. "He moves around," Leonard said, "and then he stops and leaves himself open." That seemed to say all that was necessary about Terry Norris.