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Sugar Ray Leonard was a champion Olympic and professional welterweight boxer. He retired from the sport in 1997 and was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame.
By the age of 20, Sugar Ray Leonard had won three golden gloves, a gold medal at the Pan American games, and an Olympic gold medal In 1976, Leonard considered retiring and going to college, but continued to fight, becoming a boxing legend.
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Sugar Ray Leonard was born on May 17, 1956 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. He won the gold medal in light-welterweight boxing at the 1976 Olympic Games, and went pro the following year. His 1987 defeat of "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler for the World Boxing Council's middleweight title is considered one of the greatest professional boxing matches of all time. Leonard retired in 1997, and was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame.
"Boxing is the ultimate challenge. There's nothing that can compare to testing yourself the way you do every time you step in the ring."
"When I first started, I used to fight like Joe Frazier. I would come in low, bob and weave, and I knocked out many guys like that. I straightened out when I saw Muhammad Ali, when I started studying Sugar Ray Robinson."
One of boxing's most beloved and successful fighters, Sugar Ray Leonard was born Ray Charles Leonard on May 17, 1956 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. The fifth of Gertha and Cicero Leonard's seven children, he was named after his mother's favorite singer, Ray Charles.
When Leonard was 3 years old, he and his family moved to Washington, D.C. Seven years later, they relocated to a permanent home in Palmer Park, Maryland, a Baltimore suburb. Leonard grew up in a loving home, where finances were often tight. His father earned a living as a night manager at a supermarket, while Gertha worked as a nurse.
For Leonard, life was often tough—as a child, he witnessed lives around him wasted by crime and violence. Several of his high school peers died due to violent crimes; many others were sent to prison. Leonard, however, was determined not to succumb to his surroundings.
As an athlete, Leonard was only marginal at team sports. His two older brothers, who had begun to dabble in boxing, convinced him to visit the Palmer Park Community Center (their local recreation center) and strap on some gloves. His life would never be the same again.
Leonard soon became obsessed with boxing, and with perfecting his skills in the sport. "For some reason, I wanted it to so bad," he told Sports Illustrated in 1979. "I felt it in me, and I had to keep going."
Leonard was quick and deft. More importantly, he was eager to learn. In 1973, the fruits of his labor started to pay off. He won the National Golden Gloves that year, and a year later, he was crowned the national Amateur Athletic Union champion.
"When I first started, I used to fight like Joe Frazier," Leonard once said. "I would come in low, bob and weave, and I knocked out many guys like that. I straightened out when I saw Muhammad Ali, when I started studying Sugar Ray Robinson." Leonard's reverence for Robinson ran so deep that he eventually took the nickname "Sugar Ray," which stuck.
Over the course of his successful amateur career, Leonard won three National Golden Gloves titles, two AAU championships and the 1975 Pan American title. At the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada, he vaulted to celebrity status by overcoming severe hand injuries to win the gold medal in the light-welterweight (139-pound) division.
Leonard had no plans for becoming a professional boxer; he had hoped to cash in on his Olympic success, and never step back in the ring again. But family strains, including both of his parents becoming ill, forced his hand, and not long after the Games, he started fighting again.
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