Tonight, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao will climb into the ring in Las Vegas for a huge payday. For a brief time, boxing is again in the consciousness of America. Pay-Per-View sales will be huge. Celebrities from all over the world will don their finery and pack the ringside seating where tickets cost well beyond most people’s means. Yet by Monday, the sport will again be almost forgotten. Last night, I overheard two men trying to name fighters of today beyond Mayweather and Pacquiao. It was a struggle for them.
Here are some images of a fighter that once was at the top of the list of greatest pugilists. Sugar Ray Leonard’s fights against Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler make the list of the sport’s epic battles. Even people who did not like boxing loved Leonard. He had a smile that melted hearts and seemed as All-American as any fighter of recent memory.
Part of Leonard’s training for his September 1981 rematch in Las Vegas against Thomas Hearns took place in a gym in Phoenix. When the photograph I made of Leonard in front of an American flag ran in the Arizona Republic, his camp immediately contacted me with a request for prints and an offer to attend final workouts in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace. The newspaper gladly flew me to Vegas. Unfortunately, Leonard’s camp already had a photographer for the fight, but the contacts made while in Las Vegas led to me covering other fights, including the Muhammad Ali fight published earlier in Images.
NBC recently brought back prime-time network coverage of boxing. CBS quickly followed. For today’s boxers, winning back a place in the minds of the sporting public will be hard, but NBC knew having Leonard as part of the broadcasting team was a wise decision. Perhaps the great boxer can help the sport make a miraculous comeback.