Boxer Sugar Ray Leonard reveals in his autobiography that one of the key moments in his life -- not his career, but his life -- took place as a result of something that happened in Buffalo.
Some fans might remember that Leonard, one of the most skilled and charismatic boxers of his time, was slated to fight Roger Stafford in Memorial Auditorium in the spring of 1982. He set up training camp here when he suddenly started seeing spots in front of his eyes. The diagnosis: a partially detached retina. An operation was needed immediately. In other words, the Buffalo fight was off, and he never returned to boxing.
Leonard had to stop exercising for months after the operation. What happened next?
"Without the gym, I needed a new haven. It didn't take me long to find one. I don't recall where I was or who I was with when I did cocaine for the first time that summer," Leonard writes in his book, "The Big Fight."
In the years to come, Leonard developed a champion-size drug habit. He estimates that at one point he was going through $250,000 a year on cocaine.
That's one of the stories contained in the book, which scores some major points for honesty, even if the total picture isn't a pretty one.
Leonard sticks mostly to the days when he was in a boxing ring. He came out of a tough neighborhood in suburban Washington, D.C., and took up the sport. On the way up, he claims in the book he was sexually abused by an Olympic boxing coach who has since died.
Leonard eventually went on to charm America as he won a gold medal in 1976 at the Olympics in Montreal. Sugar Ray -- even the legendary Ray Robinson didn't mind passing along his nickname to such a talented fighter -- turned pro when his parents became ill and needed money for health care. That started quite a ride.
The boxing business needed a substitute for the fading Muhammad Ali in the late 1970s, and Leonard was ready to pick up the mantle. He was good-looking, a showman and a world-class talent. Sugar Ray even hired Ali's trainer, Angelo Dundee, for support in his corner.
Obviously, anyone who buys this book will want to read about Leonard's classic fights from the 1980s. There was, in hindsight, an amazing group of boxers at that point, and Leonard fought many of them. Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns and Marvelous Marvin Hagler all had classic bouts with Leonard.
It's interesting to read Sugar Ray's side of the story. Boxers always tend to play little games like touching opponents at weigh-ins to test reactions, or using real or imagined slights from other boxers or the media as motivation. There's a lot of that on display here.
A little of the luster came off Leonard during the course of his career. He retired a few times along the way, but always found that he missed the spotlight and was back in the ring before long. Leonard made more comebacks than Brett Favre over the years, which is saying something.
Some of the rest of the luster comes off during the course of the book. While Leonard had to admit to alcohol and drug problems during a divorce proceeding, many will be surprised to learn of the extent of those problems here.
Throw in a far-too-large appetite for women who weren't his wife during those 1980s glory days, and it's not a pretty picture. His first wife kept coming back to him despite all those woes; she gets points for loyalty if not for common sense before finally departing.
Leonard spends little time reviewing his life once his boxing career is essentially done in 1991 (he fought once more in 1997). He mentions in passing that he did some promotional work. From a Western New York standpoint, it would have been interesting to read a little about his relationship with perhaps his most famous client, Baby Joe Mesi of Tonawanda. The two worked together while Mesi was on his way up, only to separate.
Leonard remarried, has been busy raising a couple of more children, and says he has his addictions under control. Good for him. Still, autobiographies are usually more enjoyable when the subject comes across as a likable person.
"The Big Fight" displays someone who has admitted just how different his public and private lives were. A full story is always appreciated, but be forewarned that the book is at times anything but a pleasant read.
Budd Bailey is a News sports copy editor.
The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of the Ring
By Sugar Ray Leonard with Michael Arkush
Viking303 pages, $26.95