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The Sweet Life of Sugar Ray

How the champion of five weight classes, Sugar Ray Leonard, found success outside the boxing ring
Michael Marsh
From the Print Edition:
Dennis Haysbert, Nov/Dec 2006

You knew business was down, but until the boss said you'd be flying to Las Vegas for a motivational speech by Sugar Ray Leonard, you hadn't realized how bad things really were. But you do know that Sugar Ray was a champion like few others, and you suspect that he'll kick your ass into next week—when business will be back up, or else.

When his name is introduced over the PA system, he steps to the stage as he once entered boxing rings: to thunderous applause. A champion of champions, with a boxing legacy written in sweat and blood and an aura that's larger than life, his confidence, charisma and energy are contagious.

Yet, he looks smaller than your memory of him when he was knocking someone out in a televised fight. It isn't long before your imagination takes over and you're in red boxing gloves and white trunks with black trim. Your heart races and your self-confidence surges as you await the opening bell of Round 1. In the opposite corner: Sugar Ray Leonard.

"I know exactly what you guys are thinking," says Sugar Ray, as the applause dies down. "You're thinking, 'Sugar Ray? He's not that big. I bet I could take him.'"

The thought that you might beat up on a 5-foot-10-inch, 160-pound man is understandable. Understandable, that is, if the man you were thinking of had not conquered the sport of boxing. Leonard, who won a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics, remains the first and only fighter in history to win world titles in five different weight classes and, along with being named Fighter of the Decade for the 1980s by Ring Magazine, was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997.

His style combined speed and strength, unwavering discipline and determination, and an instinctive ability to take advantage of an opponent's weaknesses. His physical and mental preparation leading up to a fight were second to none. He was always running that extra mile or hitting the heavy bag for an extra round, never cutting corners or taking an opponent lightly.

It's this work ethic that makes Leonard who he is today. What began in the boxing ring has carried over into every role he's played outside of fighting: from family man to businessman, from boxing commentator and analyst to boxing promoter, from mentor and host of the reality television series "The Contender" to motivational speaker with the reputable Washington Speakers Bureau.

"Boxing has given me an incredible ride," he tells his audiences at venues that range from Fortune 500 headquarters to beer wholesalers' conventions. "It's afforded me the opportunity to escape poverty, to travel the world and meet important people like Nelson Mandela, but it's also taught me that the same principles that I applied to become world champion are applicable in the success of life and business.

"Just imagine the obstacles that you can overcome in your life," he adds, "if you take the same qualities of that confident boxing champion and apply them to every aspect of your daily life, be it business, family or athletics. I'm talking about endless possibilities for success."

His speech is entitled "P.O.W.E.R.: Prepare, Overcome, Win Every Round," and Sugar Ray Leonard has practiced what he preaches his entire life. Leonard, the confident champion, continues on the road to success outside the ring. But, as he tells his audiences, he has had to remain a fighter to do it.

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