For two decades after he captured the light welterweight title in Montreal, Sugar Ray Leonard may have been trying to set an Olympic record for retirements. Right after his win, he told reporters he was heading for college. But the next year he was back in boxing as a pro. He quit twice more, in 1982 and 1984, before hanging up his gloves for good in 1991.
The story behind all the false starts and stops is a painful one for Leonard, now 40 and still possessed of the sweet smile that helped popularize his brutal sport. Already a father by the time he reached Montreal, he buckled under the additional pressures of fame and multimillion-dollar bouts. When a detached retina kept him out of the ring for several years in the mid-1980s, he said he used cocaine and drank heavily out of fear that his career was over. His marriage to his childhood sweetheart, Juanita, was turbulent, and in their 1990 divorce trial, he admitted to having physically abused her. “I can never erase the pain and scars I caused so many people,” he told reporters in 1991.
Sober and much happier today, he is married to model Bernadette Robi, 38, and living comfortably in Brentwood, Calif., off his prudently invested $100 million lifetime boxing earnings. Thanks to weekly golf with pals like Kenny G and daily three-hour gym sessions, he says he’s in the best shape of his life. Long a Madison Avenue icon, Leonard hopes to act and recently shot a TV pilot and an HBO movie. What about the rumored comeback for a rematch with Marvin Hagler? “You fight someone your own age, and you can’t get hurt, right?” Leonard grins. “If Hagler knocks on my door…no, he would never knock on my door. If he sent me a letter…”