It's Been a Sweet Ride Through the Decade : Boxing: Nobody knows if this is Sugar Ray Leonard's last fight, but everyone agrees the sport has been his in the 1980s.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The question has been asked all week: Will Sugar Ray Leonard, who with Roberto Duran kick-started this decade with its first megafight, Leonard-Duran I, finish the 1980s by winning Leonard-Duran III, then retire?

"If I do, I won't call a press conference to announce it," he said, teasing reporters Tuesday. "I'll probably just fade away into the sunset."

"But how will we know if you've retired?" someone asked.

"If 10 years go by and you haven't seen me fight, I've probably retired," he said. "Besides, if I announced it, you wouldn't believe me anyway, right?"

He's right. Boxing folks tend to smirk during Leonard's retirement speeches. There have been a few.

If he does retire, or even if he doesn't, no one can argue the point that in this decade, boxing has been his. He has made more money and been involved in more memorable engagements than any fighter of the '80s.

The three Leonard-Duran fights alone will have rewarded the participants with about $60 million. Then there were two rich battles with Tommy Hearns and, in 1987, the keystone achievement of his career, the upset victory over Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

Leonard, according to his lawyer, Mike Trainer, will top $100 million in career earnings with this fight, by way of suggesting that it's a nice number on which to bow out. But Leonard seems to bristle a bit at what he calls "people trying to psychoanalyze me."

He said: "Don't try to figure out what makes me tick. That's a mistake. You don't need to figure out what motivates me at this stage of my career. I'll tell you: Competition motivates me. Roberto Duran thinks he can beat me. That motivates me.

"I've been doing this (boxing) for a long time and it gets to be too much. . . . People trying to figure me out and me having to defend boxing and my opponents."

If Leonard wins Thursday night and decides to quit, much will be made of the decision, made several months ago by Leonard and Trainer, to cut down the Sugar Ray Leonard entourage.

The Leonard traveling squad for this fight, Trainer said, was reduced from 20 to seven, leaving some unhappy campers behind in Washington. Among those failing to make the cut were two of Leonard's brothers and a trainer, Dave Jacobs.

The sole trainer now and the only one who will talk to Leonard in his corner Thursday night is Pepe Correa, who has been with Leonard for years but was never the No. 1 trainer.

"The toughest part was telling my two older brothers, Roger and Kenny, that this is so important to me that I didn't want anyone around," Leonard said. "So when the rest of the staff questioned my decision, I said, 'If I dismiss my brothers, what do you mean to me?' "

Traveling light, to Leonard, meant fewer distractions, and silence instead of showtime commotion. Leonard has trained in the past in casino hotel ballrooms and arenas, and always seemed to enjoy working out before hundreds of spectators who cheered his world-class jump-rope drills.

Before his draw with Hearns last June, Leonard filled Caesars Pavilion, with 2,500 seats, for one workout. Only Muhammad Ali, Arum said at the time, had filled an arena for a Las Vegas workout.

This time, there have been no crowds, no cheers. Not even music. One of Correa's first orders: No boom boxes during workouts.

Leonard, until he agreed to work out publicly in a Mirage Hotel ballroom in the final days before the fight, has worked out at Arum's new gym in a Las Vegas industrial park. Media people were admitted, but no one else.

The squad cut left some soreheads back home, among them Harold Bell, a Washington radio sports commentator who often rips Leonard on the air.

"A lot of people who helped Ray when he was just starting out have been treated very badly by him," he said. "What happened to Janks (Morton) and Dave (Jacobs), that's just recent stuff. Ray has been doing that to people for years. I was once close to Ray, but when I saw how he treated people, I walked."

Trainer said: "Harold Bell is a guy who got turned down when he once asked Ray for a job, and he's been unhappy about it ever since," Trainer said. "He also knocks Ray because Ray doesn't happen to contribute to Harold's favorite charities."

Trainer said the cutback was agreed upon after Leonard reviewed the video of his disappointing draw with Hearns last June, a fight in which Leonard was down twice and seemed at times to have balance problems.

"The major change was having one trainer, not two, and Ray settling on Pepe," he said. "The second major change was no public training in Las Vegas. Ray felt that at 33, maybe he needed a little more concentration in his preparation. He loves signing autographs and giving away T-shirts at workouts, but this time he decided he didn't want to do that."

In his news conference, Sugar Ray talked about the scaled-down Team Leonard.

"I just decided three guys can't carry a duffel bag," he said. "For the Hearns fight, I found myself worrying if people had enough assignments."

Asked about his performance, Leonard just shrugged.

"Tommy proved he's a better fighter than everyone thought," he said. "And I had a bad night, and maybe there are a lot of reasons for that. But one bad night doesn't necessarily mean my career's over. Remember, Tommy's a very tough guy to fight."

Duran's people whisper that they believe Leonard has been favored by Nevada judges in past fights here, and they cite the draw with Hearns and the decision over Hagler. Some still believe Leonard lost both fights.

Leonard said he is growing weary of defending himself, his opponents and judges.

"I've been in no-win situations since the Hagler fight," he said. "They said Donny LaLonde was a built-up white fighter with a manufactured title. They said Tommy was washed up. Hagler was too old. It seems like I always have to defend something. In the second Duran fight, people wanted to almost perform medical research on Duran, to find out why he quit, instead of saying, hey, maybe Ray had something to do with making him quit."

The soft-spoken Correa said Leonard will come into the ring exceptionally fit.

"I have never been as pleased with a fighter's preparation as I am with Ray for this fight," he said. "There is no man on earth who can outbox this man when he's right, and this man is right.

"Before we went into training, we broke down everything in boxing that made Ray great, and we put it all back together."

Early Tuesday morning, Leonard weighed himself. He was 160 pounds. Both he and Duran are contracted to weigh 162 or less.

"I called Pepe and told him I was 160, and he told me not to run. I liked that. It was nice to go back to bed. It was cold outside this morning."

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