After giving his order, in Chinese, at a Hunan restaurant in Manhattan, Leland “Sugarman” Hardy loosens the jacket of his dark business suit and addresses the topics of achievement and image. A successful stockbroker with the prestigious Wall Street firm of Bear Stearns, Hardy, 28, has some knowledge of these matters. He boxes and acts—both professionally—on the side. He speaks four foreign languages (Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, French) and holds two graduate degrees. Now he speaks to the issue of heavyweight champ Mike Tyson’s public image, which is not that of a kinder, gentler champion. “If I were his guardian, I’d have him learn to play the piano,” pronounces Hardy. “I would tell him to go to Juilliard, find the most renowned teacher and have him teach me. What’s he doing up in Harlem at 5 in the morning anyway?”
If the notion of Tyson taking on Chopin seems unusual, so is its creator, a young man who makes the word “over-achiever” seem a linguistic failure. “All my life I have wanted to be world famous,” Hardy says readily. “I want to walk out of a restaurant and have people say, ‘Hey, that’s Leland Hardy’ ” If he isn’t there yet, it’s not for lack of commitment. The stockbroker has had four heavyweight bouts in Madison Square Garden, winning three by knockout and losing one (he’ll try for another KO this week). “Leland’s got good boxing tools,” says Bob Goodman, a Garden VP and matchmaker. “His third-round, come-from-behind knockout of Ike Padilla was a classic.” Hardy has also appeared in national TV commercials for Reebok and Miller beer and had a small part in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Later this year he will play a judge in Presumed Innocent with Harrison Ford.
Hardy has never been cursed with false modesty. When he called himself “the most interesting man” in a job application five years ago, he claims, “I wrote it as a lark. But people say, ‘Hey, I like it because you’re backing it up.’ ” And he is serious about his acting and fighting. “If you get into boxing, you want to be heavyweight champion of the world,” he says calmly.
Hardy comes from a West Philadelphia family in which thinking big was encouraged. The youngest of four children of Melvin Hardy, a business manager for public housing, and Avis, a registered nurse, Leland says his parents were “extremely encouraging about getting an education, not just college but beyond.” His siblings have in fact earned postgraduate degrees, although Leland hit his stride late. A so-so student in high school, he began to excel at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he learned Mandarin. During freshman year he also answered a gym’s ad for boxers. “In my first fight I was paired with an offensive lineman on the football team,” he recalls. “I beat him soundly.” Soon he was traveling the state, flattening opponents, and in 1983 he won the Pennsylvania Golden Gloves heavyweight championship.
The next year Hardy enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania’s Lauder Institute program for his M.B.A. from Wharton School and an M.A. in international studies from Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences, specializing in Chinese studies. Before the year was out, Hardy was off to study in Beijing for three months. He was overwhelmed by the Chinese people. “They knew a lot about black history,” he says. “The pleasures you engaged in were talking or playing chess, not hopping into a car and running off to a disco.” In 1985, back at Wharton, “I was watching a fight on TV, and the announcer said [Muhammad] Ali was going to China. I said I had to be involved with this damn thing.” After a few phone calls, he was signed on as the ex-champ’s interpreter for the 3½-week trip.
The stockbroker shrugs off suggestions that his ambitions are at all out of the ordinary. “I happen to have hobbies other people would consider work,” he says, and with all that, he still finds plenty of time to date. He intends to continue fighting but, he acknowledges, “Boxing is like drinking, you have to know when to say when.” Still, if Tyson doesn’t phone, he’s sure Hollywood will. “It would be great if Stallone called and said, ‘I’m doing Rocky V, there’s a part for you,’ ” Hardy says. Then, not atypically, he adds, “I think I’d be perfect.”