Fighter Strips Vegas Glitter Off His Gloves : Boxing: This time, Sugar Ray Leonard's return to the ring won't be hindered by fans, fanfare.


Before he fought Thomas Hearns in June, Sugar Ray Leonard put on a show almost every day. He'd arrive in a gleaming white limo for his daily workouts under a grand tent at a luxury golf resort in Florida. He looked terrific in hot-pink shorts. As if his entourage wasn't big enough, he'd entertain scores of admirers at each session. Who would have thought he couldn't beat Hearns?

Now it's quiet around Leonard. Very quiet. As his hands are wrapped, the only sounds are the hum of the air conditioner and the jangling little bell around the neck of his miniature schnauzer Gambler, sniffing at the feet of a visitor.

Leonard has lopped off his entourage, kept even his own two brothers at home, closed his workouts to the public. He trains in a bright new gym hidden securely in an industrial park, far from the glitter of The Strip. If he can't beat Roberto Duran Dec. 7, it won't be because of "distractions."

"It's a significant change in the atmosphere," says Leonard, sitting by the ring, dressed in a gray running suit, eating an orange after work.

"This is what I need," he says. "No distractions. No personality problems. No friction. At first I thought it would be tough for me to tell relatives and friends that the ride is over. But they understood."

For the third time recently Leonard has parted with a trainer. Dave Jacobs joins the jilted Angelo Dundee and Janks Morton. Leonard has settled on Jose (Pepe) Correa as the single voice in his corner.

"I think he's listening to his trainer more than he has in the past," says Leonard's friend, Ollie Dunlap. Correa adds: "He's going back to finding the things that made Ray Leonard so great."

Leonard lives in a sumptuous suite downtown in the Golden Nugget. But most nights he reads. In the mornings he runs on a golf course behind the huge Hilton, at an hour when Vegas' colored lights still glow in the silent, empty streets and the few signs of life number the all-night card players riveted around tables like statues in a smoky haze and sorry dreamers hunched at counters over steaming cups of coffee.

He goes inside to train in early afternoon as the town finally stirs and the sun warms the desert enough for women to lie out on lounges around the hotel pools. He leaves work in the dark, with no one to applaud him and the neon shimmering only at a great distance across flat, barren land.

"It's made an enormous difference with me," Leonard says, speaking of the new hush in his life.

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