Terry Norris calmly surveyed the scene the other day when he entered Sugar Ray Leonard's gym in Palmer Park. Leonard was far away, training in Tampa. But everywhere Norris looked were mementos of his next opponent's long career, reminders not only of where Norris was, but of who he was as well. For this day, at least, Terry Norris was an interloper -- and not just because he was working out on Leonard's turf, sparring in Leonard's ring.
No, a more daunting task awaits the World Boxing Council super welterweight champion Feb. 9 in New York: the challenge of invading Leonard's most treasured space -- his aura of invincibility. It is a challenge left unaccomplished by many a boxer with a name more suited for the marquee, like Hit Man or Marvelous.
Norris, 23, turned professional in 1986, winning his first title -- the North American Boxing Federation super welterweight -- over Steve Little in December 1989.
He captured his current crown with a vicious one-round dismantling of John "The Beast" Mugabi last March 31. He has defended it once, scoring a 12-round decision July 13 against France's Rene Jacquot.
But fighting Leonard (36-1-1, 25 knockouts) holds more meaning for Norris, who says he grew up idolizing the Olympic and five-time professional champion. Such idolatry does not translate to awe or fear for Norris (26-3, 14 knockouts), however.
"He'll have to respect me," he said, responding to talk that Leonard may be gazing ahead of this bout for another possible match with Thomas Hearns. "If he looks ahead, he'll be looking up at me by the end of the fight."
Born and raised in Lubbock, Tex., Norris now lives and trains in Campo, Calif., at a private camp 60 miles west of San Diego called First Fighter Squadron. He works out six days a week with manager Joe Sayatovich and trainer Abel Sanchez, then goes home to his wife and infant son to enjoy Sunday.
Then another six days training. Every week. Twelve months a year.
The regimen is apparent in Norris's chiseled physique and extreme stamina. He can bench-press 250 pounds -- with ease -- and yesterday jumped rope for about 20 minutes straight, without breaking a sweat.
Norris started boxing at age 9, when his mother introduced him to the sport ("She won most of the time," he laughs). He excelled, though, in baseball, a fleet center fielder for Loveland High in Texas. That is, until an ugly day when he was racing around third with the winning run, and an opposing player uttered a racial slur Norris did not take kindly.
With four punches and one wild swing of a baseball helmet, Norris sent three opposing players to the hospital. Suddenly his career choice was frighteningly clear.
Baseball is now farthest from Norris's mind, though Baylor University renewed its scholarship offer as recently as a month ago. Norris declined politely.
Though he speaks few words, he spoke enough yesterday to express skepticism of Leonard's chances in three weeks.
"The last couple of fights, he went down after some punches that he never would have taken when he was younger," Norris said. "When Ray was younger he could go 12 rounds. I don't know about now.
"I think I can beat him on a points decision, but it has to be convincingly. I'm not worried about stopping him cold. He'll be doing some running, but once I catch up with him, he'll stop running.
"This is the biggest fight of my career," he said. "It's a great opportunity to make a name for myself. It will put me in history if I win, in the books. I have no idea when and where, but it will."