Sugar Ray: Mayweather retirement "Premature"

By George Willis


Sugar Ray: Mayweather retirement "Premature"

After hearing Bernard Hopkins say for nearly two years he wouldn't box past the age of 40 to honor a promise he made to his late mother, his "retirement" was shorter than a Don King press conference.  Meanwhile, Oscar de la Hoya has changed his intention to retire after one more bout, saying he'll fight indefinitely. And God only knows when Evander Holyfield is going to apply for AARP card.


If Floyd Mayweather Jr. wonders why no one believes him when he says he'll end his career after fighting de la Hoya in May, history has taught us to view such announcements with skepticism.


It doesn't matter how many titles they've earned, how much money they've pocketed or whether they might actually be good at doing something else for a living, the lure of the ring is a hard drug to shake for fighters:  just ask Sugar Ray Leonard.


"I just kept pushing the envelope," said Leonard, who retired at least five different times during his brilliant career that spanned from 1977 to 1997. 'My reason for coming back was always defiance and beating the odds because that's what stimulated me.  That's what got me going.  (Retiring) is an individual choice that the fighter has to make.  The majority of the time, it's not smart because we don't go by logic. We go by our gut feeling. If it was logic, we wouldn't be fighting.'


That's why Leonard doesn't believe Mayweather, 29, will retire after he fights de la Hoya in May. Leonard was 26 when he first tried to walk away from the sport.  Like Mayweather, he was entering his prime and at the top of his game.  He wasn't truly ready to leave the sport and thinks Mayweather will feel the same should he try to retire.


'I think it's premature without question,' Leonard said. 'Trust me, I know it's premature.  I think Floyd's biggest gripe is that he's not totally accepted. He wants to be known as an all-time great. And he won't be able to walk away for good until he feels he has achieved that.'


Leonard turned 50 this year.  Today, he looks back on his career and wonders what he was thinking when he made his final two comebacks against Terry Norris at the Garden in 1991 and against Hector Camacho in 1997.  Both fights ended in defeat.  'Looking back, that was a mistake because I hadn't been 154 (pounds) since '81,' Leonard said of the Norris fight. 'And I was 35 years old. My life was different and I didn't have that total tunnel vision you need.  I shouldn't have done that fight.'


'Against Camacho, I had an injured calf muscle that kept me from running. But I was such a knucklehead; I thought I could beat him at 30 percent. That fight was a realization that I didn't want to take a punch anymore. If I had won that fight against Camacho, who knows' I might have still been fighting until I was 45.'


Leonard remains close to boxing through his involvement with The Contender television show and the promotional company that handles the boxers.  He was in Manhattan last week to attend the formal press conference announcing Joe Calzaghe's defense of his super middleweight title against Peter Manfredo Jr. on March 3 in Wales.

Manfredo was featured on the debut season of The Contender and is the first from the show to challenge for a world title.


Manfredo will be a huge underdog in the fight against the unbeaten Calzaghe, who will be making the 20th defense of his title. But Leonard is confident Manfredo will hold his own, which would give the show more credibility.

'Coming out of the box The Contender was perceived in the first season as a reality show, a game show,' Leonard said. 'That's because of the Hollywood elements that we used.  But Pete's performance (against Calzaghe) would really do us justice and show that The Contender is for real.'


Now airing on ESPN, The Contender has been successful attracting viewers that might not otherwise be exposed to the sport. 'It's the only outlet that the general public can get to know these guys,' Leonard said. 'Now these fans become caring fans because they have a vested interest now.  They know these guys.  They may not even be boxing fans, but they tune in because they care for that guy.


'Look at Alfonso Gomez. He didn't win. But he was loved.  That's the only way boxing will get back to where it used to be where it's not just fight fans, but sports fans, liking these guys.'


After operating his own promotional business for a time, Leonard likes his involvement with The Contender. 'This is my sport. I love this sport,' he said.  'I'm happy The Contender came about. It's been an incredible experience for me. The first season was my first entry to that world and how they do things.  It was an experience. It was fun and it was challenging.  When you see it finalized, it's great to see how it all comes together. I see it as a show that can go on and on and on.'


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