Armed with blinding speed, finesse and power, Sugar Ray Leonard established himself as the preeminent fighter of the post-Ali era. Over the course of his storied career, Leonard won an unprecedented five world titles in five different weight classes. Add to that three National Golden Gloves crowns, two Amateur Athletic Union championships and an Olympic gold medal, and there's no denying that Leonard is one of the greatest boxers the sport has ever known.
Unfortunately, despite all his truly great accomplishments in the ring, there are some young fans out there who know Sugar Ray primarily as the host of the ESPN boxing reality show "The Contender," or as a contestant on "Dancing With the Stars."
But that's about to change, at least if those young boxing fans are also gamers.
When EA Sports releases "Fight Night Round 4" on June 25, it will feature a roster of 48 boxers, including legends like Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Marvin Hagler and, yes, Sugar Ray Leonard. Through the game, a new generation will get a virtual taste of the kind of fighters these icons were in their primes.
ESPN Video Games caught up with Leonard at the recent E3 expo, where he and EA Sports unveiled "Fight Night Round 4."
ESPN: So, you're in a video game. How does it feel seeing yourself in "Fight Night Round 4?"
Sugar Ray Leonard: It's really exciting. You know, all the hard work that I've done over 30-some years has paid off. The fact is that this becomes an extension of my legacy because all of a sudden now these young kids, this whole new generation will know who I am and what I was able to accomplish through a video game. It's amazing.
ESPN: Back when you were fighting, being in a video game was probably something you never thought about. Have video games replaced the Wheaties box for young athletes today?
Leonard: Without a question. With the Wheaties box, it was like you were on top. Back in my time it was like Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots it's no comparison. So yeah, now with video games, it's big stuff.
ESPN: Honestly, who is more excited about you in a video game, you or your kids?
Leonard: You know what? Honestly, it's me. I think I'm more excited about it.
ESPN: You've said that one of the things you really like about this game is its level of realism. Short of a console that actually throws real punches at you, is this as real as you can get with a video game?
Leonard: I really think this is as real as it gets at least for now. Naturally, EA Sports will continue to push the level of realism as new technology develops, but this one, "Fight Night Round 4," is so amazingly true to form that it's scary.
ESPN: Obviously, every fighter has a unique style when they're in the ring. You were always known for your speed and a sort of finesse way of boxing. When you look at the game, does that guy look like you? Does he move like you?
Leonard: Well, he definitely looks younger than I do, unfortunately [laughs]. But he does move like I do, right down to my little bolo punch. I was amazed by how they were able to capture those idiosyncrasies of the fighters. It's really amazing. Because you actually have the style of a Mike Tyson, of an Oscar de la Hoya, or even a Sugar Ray Leonard.
ESPN: You mentioned before that you thought that a new generation will discover you as a fighter through this game. Do you think this is a good way to keep alive the history of boxing, especially among the young fans?
Leonard: I think so. I think this format, this whole process, speaks volumes to keeping the names of so many incredible legends alive and going strong and keeping them present.
ESPN: One of the great things about the roster in this game is that it does have that mix of legends and current fighters, so all of a sudden era doesn't really matter. You look at the cover and you have Ali and Tyson. You can have you and PacMan. Does this game get us any closer to being able to answer the questions of who were the all-time greatest fighters?
What is so important with this game is utilizing a fighter's physical attributes, his natural attributes. With me, it's my speed. My speed will beat a Hagler or a Hearns. All the things that really make boxing the sport that it is, they're in 'Fight Night Round 4.' You'll be able to win a fight based upon that speed, or that power or whatever. So it's real. And that's pretty cool.
”-- Sugar Ray Leonard
Leonard: It does give us a sense of bringing those "ultimate" fights to fruition. Whether it's Tyson and Ali, or me with Oscar de la Hoya or PacMan or Mayweather, the thing about it is that it satisfies a thirst and an intrigue, because those sort of fights are definitely intriguing matchups.
ESPN: And it also allows you to replay history ...
Leonard: You can almost control history in a sense. You can even manipulate history by having me, or Durant, or Hearns, fighting Tyson, which I actually had interest in doing at one time.
Leonard: Well, not seriously. Because Tyson was so big and he still is so big. But I never had the opportunity. But now I can do it.
ESPN: And not get hurt.
Leonard: Yeah, not get hurt, but more importantly, not have to train [laughs].
ESPN: If someone out there is playing "Fight Night Round 4" as Sugar Ray Leonard, what do they have to do to beat a Hagler? Or better yet, how do they beat a Tyson?
Leonard: What is so important with this game is utilizing a fighter's physical attributes, his natural attributes. With me, it's my speed. My speed will beat a Hagler or a Hearns. Or with Tyson, me being short, it's the jab. All the things that really make boxing the sport that it is, they're in "Fight Night Round 4." You'll be able to win a fight based upon that speed, or that power or whatever. So it's real. And that's pretty cool.
When I played this game earlier and I knocked Hagler down, I loved that [laughs]. It wasn't like violent, it was like fun. Someone got knocked down, but no one got hurt. It's a win-win situation.
ESPN: I was watching you play earlier and you had a controller in your hand you were moving. Your whole body was into it. Is it just instinct for you?
Leonard: Oh, I know. It's partly muscle memory. You know, I feel it. I felt like I was leading up to a knockout and it was just that instinct ... the fighter's instinct. You really feel it.