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Childhood not always pleasant for Leonard
ABC Sports Online


In an excerpt from an interview conducted for the Wide World of Sports 40th Anniversary, Sugar Ray Leonard takes a look back on his childhood and what comes with the nickname "Sugar".

ABC Sports
Has that bothered you that you were always stuck with the nickname, Sugar Ray?

Sugar Ray Leonard
No, actually, it's been a true honor and very flattering to know that I'm being compared to Sugar Ray Robinson, who was indeed one of the best fighters in the world. That name was actually given to me by the late Sergeant Thomas Johnson, who incidentally was the assistant boxing coach in the 1976 Olympics. He gave me that name back in '72 when I lost in the quarterfinals trying to qualify for the Olympics. I was in the dressing room and I was crying and he said, don't worry, Sugar Ray. You'll be more experienced in '76. You'll be okay. The name kind of stuck.
Sugar Ray Leonard defied the odds and silenced his critics when he defeated Marvelous Marvin Hagler in 1987.

ABC Sports
Is Sugar Ray Leonard and Ray Leonard the same person, or are there two different people there?

Leonard
Are they two different people? I want to say no, but they are two different people. Ray Leonard is more the family man, kind of quiet. He's not as outgoing as Sugar Ray Leonard. Sugar Ray Leonard was very determined, very focused, very outgoing and very selfish, if you will. There are two different individuals there.

ABC Sports
Ray Leonard has always been associated with coming out of Palmer Park, Md., and people always have this kind of middle-class upbringing for Ray Leonard. But that really isn't the case, is it?

Leonard
I wish that was the case, but it was not. I was not from a middle-class family at all. I did not have middle-class possessions and what have you. But I had middle-class parents who gave me what was needed to survive in society. That being respectful, honest with yourself and working hard -- all those traits, all those special things they gave me and it was from a family that apparently, was doing well.

ABC Sports
But there was a time before Palmer Park, Md., when times weren't quite so good for you.

Leonard
They were not good. I used to walk to the Washington Monument from North L Street Northwest. And I was so hungry at times, I would stop and look into the trash cans and if there was a half a sandwich, I would take that sandwich and eat it. It was just a matter of survival. I didn't think much of it, but it was just the way things were.

ABC Sports
What was it that drew you into boxing and made that connection for you?

Leonard
It was my brother Roger, who incidentally was number two in the world as a welterweight and junior middleweight. He was more athletically inclined. He was more of the athlete in the family, with my brother Kenny. Basketball, football, they did track, they did everything, and they excelled. I was more to myself and he introduced boxing to me, in Palmer Park, back in 1970. It was a sport that I wanted to be involved with because boxing does not discriminate. You can be 5-foot-2 or 6-foot-2. No matter what height or weight you are, you can compete and participate. I found that boxing gave me a sense of pride, a sense of self, and because the results mattered, or depended upon what I put into it, I gave it a 100 percent, 110 percent, at all times.

ABC Sports
Was there any time there where you just thought that boxing is fun, but it's not really for me?

Leonard
I made an instant connection with boxing right away. Boxing became such a part of me. I ate boxing, I slept boxing, I lived boxing. Boxing was a way of expressing myself because I was not that outspoken. But I was so determined, so dedicated that I would run to school at times and run home from school at times, instead of taking a bus. I would run three or four miles. Back then, my teammates and some of the kids at school thought I was crazy because, who would run to school three or four miles and run back home three or four miles. But I was such a determined young man that all that mattered was that I excel.

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