Sugar Ray Leonard went home to Potomac and thought and thought. He thought of the good times and the bad ending. Did he have second thoughts about retiring?

"No, absolutely not," Leonard said during an interview last week. "I know this is the time. I always said, when the other guy hits me more than I hit him then it's time to move on. That's what happened."

But Thomas Hearns said Leonard was "cheating" him out of a third fight? Has that remark affected Leonard's decision?

"No," Leonard said firmly.

What if Marvelous Marvin Hagler pops up and says, "Ray, let's get it on."

"No way. It's over. I'm a stubborn guy, and when a stubborn guy admits it, that's it. There's no doubt."

Leonard said his morale is good. "I don't feel bad. I don't feel down. I feel good about myself. I've had a blessed career. And this is a blessing in disguise. I'm not overly religious, but it's like God saying, 'Pal, you've had a great career, that's it.' "

Physically, it's another story; Leonard continues to nurse his wounds. The swelling around his left eye has gone down. His lower lip is still puffed. His hip hurts -- he thinks he twisted it early in the fight. He's got no lower tooth in front -- for the first time in his career he had one knocked out.

"It happened in the third or fourth round," he said. "It was crazy. Instead of thinking about the fight, I was thinking, 'I lost my tooth. Am I going to lose any more of my teeth?' "

He could laugh now and he was -- he wasn't saying that he lost because of his tooth. Anything but. No, he was thrashed by Terry Norris. It was a beating the likes of which Leonard had never known.

"I think it was appropriate to announce the retirement there in the ring," said Leonard, reacting perhaps to criticism that he upstaged the winner. "Rather than wait even for the press conference, I wanted to end any speculation. I didn't want any doubt about it."

Leonard said he had considered making it his last fight, no matter the outcome, from the time he signed for it.

"I wanted to take the microphone and say: 'Thanks for coming. You not only have witnessed a victory, but you have seen my last fight.' "

He said the only person he mentioned the possibility to was his father, Cicero, during training.

Norris eliminated any doubt.

"That's the thing," he said, "I took the risk, and by taking it, it freed me from all doubts. There was nothing ambiguous about the outcome."

He keeps a poem called "The Dilemma," which has to do with taking risks or risking nothing. It concludes: "Only a person who takes risks is free."

That, he said again, is how he feels now.

"It would be easy to rationalize that it was an off night. But it wasn't. I trained hard. Physically, I was in the best shape ever. When I was in the dressing room, I felt great. But then I knew walking to the ring, it hit me -- that it was going to be a long night. I asked myself: 'Where's the tiger? Where's the focus? Where's the feeling?' I never felt it.

"I knew right away I didn't have it. Things didn't click in. They didn't click in against Donny Lalonde until I was hurt. They never clicked in against Hearns. But this was worse."

Cicero Leonard, who worked in his son's corner as usual, wanted to throw in the towel, Ray said. "I saw my father's eyes. It was a matter of a father seeing the beating his son was taking. But he understands I have my mother's fighting spirit. I couldn't live with being knocked out. I was going to stay in there. He would have had to kill me."

Ollie Dunlap, Leonard's close friend, was in the corner too, but as far as the possibility of him throwing in the towel, Leonard said: "Ollie didn't have the authority to. If he had done that, he wouldn't be with me now. I couldn't have lived with that. I wanted to go out fighting."

The greatest consolation Leonard received came from his son, Ray Jr. A 17-year-old high school senior, he went into his father's hotel room after the fight. "I was lying on the bed," Leonard said, "hurting and my face bruised, and he said to me, 'Dad, if I have an ounce of your heart, I'll be okay for the rest of my life.' It almost made me cry."

He choked up repeating his son's words. Looking Back

Five times he retired, but if he hadn't come back for Hagler he said he would have second-guessed himself for life. He thought he could beat Hagler, envisioned the thrill of it and came to realize it. "Hagler -- that was the number one satisfaction," he said.

The second was the first Hearns fight, coming from behind to score a 14th-round knockout in 1981. The ending of that fight usually shows up in tapes of all-time great fights.

To Leonard, those nights surpass the "No Mas" fight with Roberto Duran in New Orleans in 1980. Five months earlier, he had lost to Duran and wanted a quick rematch. But Duran's quitting in the eighth round eliminated the satisfaction he drew from the sheer effort it took to beat Hagler and Hearns.

"It's not bad -- two losses officially {36-2-1}, although I say three because of the second Hearns fight. He really won that one."

Leonard grossed more than $55 million from his last five fights. But did he stay too long for his own good? Would the pounding he'd taken from Lalonde, Hearns and Norris affect his health?

"No, I don't think so," he said. "I wasn't fighting that often. There was time between the fights, like 14 months."

As usual after fights, he will have his eyes examined at Johns Hopkins. In May 1982, he was operated on for a detached retina of the left eye, the one now swollen. "I'm scrupulous as far as having exams," he said.

The surgery led to his first retirement as a professional in November 1982. He stayed out 13 months before he announced a comeback to fight Kevin Howard. He was knocked down but rallied to win -- and retired again. "I was only 28, but the experiences, the trauma, the pressures I had been through. . . . When I got into the ring, it just was not there."

But he couldn't be happy until he fought Hagler. After beating him in April 1987, he called a news conference and announced he was retiring yet again. But he quickly unretired once more, saying: "I was too hasty. I retired because people wanted me to retire, not because I wanted to."

Again, he stayed around despite popular opinion that he should stop and enjoy himself. But he considered such advice contradictory, because it was in the ring that he found most enjoyment. That is, until last weekend. He miscalculated badly.

"I thought I was going to hammer him," Leonard said.

And so he came out flatfooted -- not as he had against Duran, dancing and jabbing. He went toe to toe with Norris. In retrospect, that's how he'd worked in the gym -- he had been testing his power when he floored a sparring partner four days before the fight.

"Terry was tight in the first round, but I couldn't take advantage of it," Leonard said.

He still had hoped to get started, as he had against Lalonde and Hearns. But when Norris decked him with a hook in the second, Leonard no longer had the legs to move.

"I didn't have the speed to move back and slip a punch," he said. "I've never been hit with combinations like that, three or four punches. Hagler never landed a clean combination. And Hearns didn't to that extent.

"I didn't have the speed or the power. I was like on fumes" -- not gas. "Nothing happened."

By the seventh, when he was decked with a right, he knew without question what he had thought "at the first bell -- that I was not Sugar Ray Leonard."

He insisted that in his case it wasn't so much that age caught up to him -- he's 34 -- as it was a lack of "focus." Distractions.

"I don't see one person anymore. I see too many things. I just can't focus anymore."

The result was that too often against the 23-year-old Norris he was almost a stationary target, looking old as he reached for the ropes, trying to duck away, hoping to land a lucky punch to save the night yet knowing that he wouldn't.

One time he threw his hands out -- he said it was to acknowledge he was losing. "I just wanted to go out on my feet," he said.

Looking Ahead

Getting in shape for the second Walcott bout had been an onerous chore for Louis, who had slowed up at least 20 percent by his own admission. For 10 dreadfully dull rounds he was behind on points as he shuffled after the fancy-dancing Walcott, who even floored the champion with a sharp clip to the chin in the third round. Even though he won with a brief flash of his oldtime fury, he was through and he knew it. In the future he will devote himself to insurance, a grape drink called Joe Louis Punch and possibly politics. -- Life, July 5, 1948

Who's to say what Leonard's future holds? A fighter's future is especially unpredictable. Louis came back and fought 10 times after that Jersey Joe Walcott fight. His career, like Leonard's apparently has, ended at Madison Square Garden. Louis was knocked out by Rocky Marciano.

Leonard has a long list of possibilities. For now, he belongs to the John Akridge D.C. baseball group that is among the six finalists for a National League expansion franchise. He could do more television boxing commentary. He may stay active in boxing as a manager or promoter. "I'd like to work with a fighter directly," he said. "I've been there, and I think the way I've done it exemplifies the best way to do it."

For now he wants "to relax and take the time to enjoy life." He'll play tennis. He wants to learn golf.

He'd also like to pursue a film career, in Hollywood, and he's buying a condo in Santa Monica, Calif. "I'll have some place to stay when I go out," he said. "I'll be bicoastal."

There's a possibility he can host a TV show aimed at youngsters, he said. "Young people are always in my thinking for the future. I look forward to be involved with young people."

It's hard to find a followup to one's own brilliant first act. F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American lives.

Certainly, Leonard in his many retirements never has been able to settle into something besides boxing and relish it. But he suggested the reason was because "it was always short term" -- he always thought of coming back to boxing. Now he won't be.

In fact, there can be good "second acts." Jimmy Carter's life after the presidency, for one, has been one of service to others. Among boxers, great "second acts" are hard to find, but there are some. Although both lacked Leonard's immense wherewithal, Archie Moore in San Diego and George Foreman in Houston have been much involved in helping youth over the years.

Some say that during his boxing career Leonard earned a unique power to inspire -- that he can lift the hopes of youth with his presence and his words, that he lost none of that power by losing to Terry Norris. The tragedy would be only if he lost that power.

"A young man, a big kid, came up to me the other day and said, 'We still love you,' " Leonard said. "For a kid to tell you that, it's so flattering."

But to suggest is to presume to know what's good for him. It's like all the suggestions given him to retire. Of retirement, he said, "I had to do it on my terms." What he does now has to satisfy him.

Having been a perfectionist in boxing -- "I was satisfield with none of my fights; there was always room for improvement" -- he'll probably be searching for something out of the ordinary, or for some high level of accomplishment. All he knows for sure -- and this he said completely satisfies him -- is that what was his act one was special from start to finish and that "I walked away with my head held high, with a sense of accomplishment.

"I broke into professional boxing by winning a decision over a young fighter and the irony was that in my last fight I lost a decision to a young fighter," he added. "But I hope if there was a message in the last fight it's that losing isn't bad in itself. It's what you were doing when you lost that counts. I was giving a hundred percent."