NEW YORK, FEB. 10 -- What a ride it was, as long as it lasted. If he stepped into the ring too often, Sugar Ray Leonard at least had the good sense to save most of his money.
Leonard, whose announced retirement Saturday night followed his lopsided loss to Terry Norris, rode the first financial waves set off by pay-per-view television to heights that far surpassed even his immensely successful early career.
In all, the 34-year-old Leonard earned more than $90 million in the ring after turning pro in 1977 -- but he made well over half in just four fights beginning with his 1987 comeback victory over Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
Capitalizing on the ever-growing technology putting boxing into homes for a fee, Leonard amassed purses of $11.8 million against Hagler, $13 million for Donny Lalonde, $14 million for his draw with Thomas Hearns and $15 million for his December 1989 meeting with Roberto Duran.
Even before those payoffs, Leonard's lawyer, Mike Trainer, said: "If he never did another piece of work, never received another dime of new income, his estate would continue to grow. He's set for life. I don't think he could spend it all in his lifetime."
Recently, Trainer said that Leonard earns more than $1 million a year in interest alone from conservative handling of his money.
But Leonard's career soared not only because he sought the money but because he fought for what he termed "personal reasons" and perhaps too for a spotlight that in the end he found searing.
His greatest "personal" battles were the "No Mas" encounter with Duran that avenged his only defeat until Saturday night, and his upset of Hagler, whose specter tormented him through almost three years of retirement.
Coming back against the odds and beating Hagler was his finest moment. He described the preparation as an ordeal marked by doubts, a time that unraveled his nerves and caused him to lash out at close associates and one that brought punishment from sparring partners that surprised him. But the long effort sustained him against Hagler.
"That's me," Leonard said after surging back and hanging on in the late rounds for that victory. "That's my heart. That's my resiliency. I was into the fight to win."
His last graceful effort came in the third fight with Duran -- "Uno Mas." Having trained hard, Leonard easily outpointed the older Duran. But even that easy victory, following rugged bouts with Lalonde and Hearns, had its downside; Leonard received cuts that required 60 stitches.
After 14 months, Leonard returned to face the 23-year-old Norris. But his confidence proved to be overconfidence. Despite Leonard's sharp workouts, several boxing experts believed he had slowed too much and picked him to lose -- among them his estranged trainer, Angelo Dundee.
Dundee was one of several Leonard had pared from his camp, Dundee's services deemed no longer necessary after the trainer sought a contract following the Hagler fight.
After losing to Norris, Leonard retired with words that echoed ones he uttered after his poor showing against unheralded Kevin Howard in 1984: "When I got into the ring, it just was not there. I didn't feel the drive, the adrenaline flowing. Every round was a struggle. This is it, I'm giving it up."
Today he reiterated that he felt the same way against Norris -- and that was enough to call it a career.
Having fought just once in five years, Leonard uses impressive hand and foot speed through eight rounds, then survives a shaky ninth to earn a split decision in one of the greatest upsets in boxing history. Leonard's reward: the WBC middleweight title, $11.8 million and his third crack at retirement.
DONNY LALONDE Nov. 9, 1988
Leonard, who weighed in at a career-high 165 pounds with the admitted aid of two pockets full of silver dollars, survives a fourth-round knockdown -- only the second of his career -- en route to a nine-round TKO victory. He earns the WBC light heavyweight and super middleweight titles and $13 million.
THOMAS HEARNS June 12, 1989
Knocked down in the third and 11th rounds, Leonard rallies in the 12th to send Hearns staggering, earning a draw and retaining the WBC super middleweight title. "The War" earns Leonard $14 million
ROBERTO DURAN Dec. 7, 1989
The "uno mas" fight is a mismatch. Leonard earns a unanimous decision and the biggest purse of his career: $15 million.