Sugar Ray Leonard Video Interview On 'Big Fight: My Life In And Out Of The Ring,' Being Molested
When most people hear the name Sugar Ray Leonard, belonging to a man who won a gold medal in boxing at the 1976 Olympic Games and was named "Boxer of the Decade" in the '80s, words like "tough," "fighter" and "champion" probably spring to mind. But "victim"? Never.
Unbeknownst to most of his fans (and they are legion), Leonard fought a private battle that gnawed at him throughout his long, celebrated career — and it wasn't a secret about what he had done, but what had been done to him by a person Leonard thought he could trust. "It was one of those things that ate at me for over thirty years. It was killing me, it was really killing me," the boxing legend said in our exclusive interview, referring to a 1971 incident in which Leonard, only 15 at the time, was sexually abused by a prominent Olympic boxing coach.
The incident, which Leonard elaborates in his autobiography, The Big Fight: My Life in and out of the Ring, left him scarred and ashamed at a time when he was quickly climbing the ladder toward becoming one of the greatest boxers in the history of the sport. So what inspired him to come forward and talk about the intensely private and painful experience, after all these years? "One day I saw [Diff'rent Strokes actor] Todd Bridges on Oprah, and what he said and the way he stated how he felt after revealing that [he had been sexually molested at age 11], it kind of gave me a little bit more incentive, more courage to talk about it."
With the 2012 Olympic Games just barely in the rear-view mirror, it is difficult not to look back at Leonard's historic gold medal 36 years ago with a sense of awe. Leonard says he is still stunned. “Winning the gold medal was one of the biggest if not the biggest accomplishments of my career, and life," remarks Leonard.
Hear more of what Sugar Ray Leonard has to say in our exclusive interview.
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- Q: Did you feel conflicted growing up as a shy kid drawn to violence? - Uinterview User
- A: Well, you know, in fact I was a shy introverted kid that, you know, would do anything to avoid confrontation. But there was violence in my home, my parents, on the streets, so it was a kind of a dichotomy. I didn’t want it, but then I saw it and I lived it, so it was kind of a life experience that I dealt with as a kid.
- Q: How did you get your start in the boxing ring? - Uinterview User
- A: Well that’s quite simple because my older brother Roger, who was a boxer, he would be beat me up just because I was there, one of those things, and one day he encouraged me to come to the gym with him. I went to the gym and I saw these bags and people boxing and I tried it out. Naturally I was not very good at the beginning, but because I was so disciplined, I was so motivated. I had such a passion for the mano-a-mano that within six months to a year, I surpassed him, broke his nose, beat most guys up in the gym. I advanced very quickly.
- Q: How did your mother become the biggest inspiration in your life? - Uinterview User
- A: I look at my career, and I got my strength from my dad, but I got my firepower, you know, from my mom. She’s feisty, she’s 83 and she’s still feisty. I just have that fighting spirit from my mom. She never gave up, she didn’t think twice about losing, she was just one of those women who was strong-minded, and I think I got that part from her.
- Q: Why did you decide to share your story about abuse by a former coach? - Uinterview User
- A: You know, it was one of those things that ate at me for over thirty years. It was killing me, it was really killing me, depending upon what day or night I had of drinking, and one day I saw Todd Bridges on 'Oprah' and what he said and the way he stated how he felt after revealing that. It kind of gave me a little bit more incentive, more courage to talk about it.
- Q: What was it like to win the Gold Medal in the 1976 Olympic Games? - Uinterview User
- A: There was nothing greater, there was nothing bigger, there was nothing more exciting, first of all to be on the Olympic team, and then to have brought back a gold medal. I mean ultimate is not even justifiable with words, but it was kind of bittersweet, because at the point after winning the gold medal, I was going to quit boxing because I didn’t want to pursue a professional career. But that aside, winning the gold medal was one of the biggest if not the biggest accomplishments of my career, and life.
- Q: How do you land the perfect knockout punch? - Uinterview User
- A: There is no way to land the perfect knockout. If it were that easy I would still be doing it. But I think you just have to be focused, you just have to be determined, you have to win every round. That’s the most important advice I could give a young boxer, an amateur boxer, Olympic boxer. Win every round.
- Q: Is there any specific weakness you look for in an opponent? - Uinterview User
- A: The great thing about amateur boxing competition, especially the Olympics, is that you don’t have time for what we call a feeling-out process, that’s when you have a few rounds to waste to figure things out. In Olympic boxing, you have to go in there and do what you do best, whether it’s punching or boxing, whatever you do best, do that a 100 percent, and you should win.
- Q: How has the success of your career affected your family life? - Uinterview User
- A: Well, you know, Juanita was an incredible mother, and girlfriend, and wife; she tried the best she could with what she had. And little Ray was there, you know, waiting to have his father around and everything. But a career in boxing for me, you got to be selfish and I was selfish; it was all about my career, because it dictates, it takes you away, because your whole focus is on winning. And something has to suffer in that process and what normally suffers is the family, for sure.
- Q: What was it like to lose to boxer Roberto Durán and then have a comeback? - Uinterview User
- A: Well, I lost my first professional fight in 1980 against Roberto Durán in Montreal, where I won the gold medal, but he taught me the importance of psychological warfare, because he got inside my head. He was really a very clever guy, a very smart guy. But in the rematch I turned the tables around on him, because I understood more so about psychological warfare, I played against his mind, I did things in the ring that you normally don’t do, whether it’s the Ali shuffle, the bolo punch, I did those things, made the audience or fans laugh at Roberto Durán. He got highly frustrated and he quit, which was fun, big fun.
- Q: What is your opinion of mixed martial arts and the UFC? - Uinterview User
- A: I love it. I had a chance to talk to [UFC President] Dana White. What he has been able to produce is astounding and it’s impressive. But they both can coexist and I like them both.
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