It was Joe Louis, lying on the canvas, a bald spot on his head gleaming in the lights. It was Muhammad Ali hunched over on a stool, his legendary reflexes unable to respond. It was Julio Cesar Chavez with blood streaming down his face and Bobby Chacon with his mind gone blank.
It is perhaps the saddest sight in boxing, a champion who takes on one too many opponents, fights one too many rounds, absorbs one too many punches.
It happened again Saturday night at the Atlantic City Convention Center. It happened to Sugar Ray Leonard, who should have known better after taking a beating at the hands of Terry Norris back in 1991 in his last appearance in the ring.
At the age of 40, six years after his last fight, eight years after his last victory, nine years after last winning a title, Leonard tried to come out of retirement for the fifth time, only to be hammered back into a life of leisure by Hector Camacho, who scored a TKO victory at 1:08 of the fifth round over Leonard before an announced 10,324.
At the end, Leonard looked like all the previous great champions who fought and lost to Father Time. Having already been down once in that fifth round from a pair of left uppercuts, Leonard was helpless on the ropes, blood coming down from a cut over his left eye, the hands that had dazzled so many opponents unable to handle the ferocious blows of Camacho.
Eight, nine, 10 times Camacho peppered Leonard with lefts and rights before referee Joe Cortez stepped in to let Leonard know what the rest of the boxing world had already figured out.
It was over.
“I tried my heart out,” Leonard said, “but it just didn’t happen.”
Afterward, Leonard tried to put much of the blame for his performance on a sprained right calf muscle, an injury he said first occurred a month ago and flared up again two weeks ago.
Leonard said that the injury had caused him to be secretly hospitalized and that he had required painkilling medication to function as well as he did.
“I had no control of my leg,” he said.
“I should have canceled the fight,” said J.D. Brown, Leonard’s advisor.
“Camacho was superb,” Leonard said. “I don’t want to discount that. I fought a better fight than I thought I could fight. For a couple of minutes, I got the jab, then I didn’t have the balance. He had the step on me first and I couldn’t push off on my right leg.”
While some may see the victory by Camacho, 34, who successfully defended his International Boxing Council middleweight title, as somewhat tainted because of the age of his opposition and the revelation about the calf injury, Camacho was not letting it dim his enthusiasm.
“As far as I am concerned,” Camacho said, “I gave him respect. I was honored to fight Ray Leonard.
“He didn’t hurt me. After three or four rounds, he was shot. He reacted the way I expected him to react.”
Camacho came out aggressively in the first round, while Leonard looked tentative and awkward. Leonard appeared to win the second round, discovering for one brief instant the devastating combinations that had put away some of the best fighters of the ‘80s.
But by the third round, Camacho was back in control, by the fourth, Leonard had the cut over his left eye, and by the fifth, he was gone.
Camacho, 64-3-1 with 32 knockouts, is looking ahead, saying he’d like to fight the winner of the April 12 Oscar De La Hoya-Pernell Whitaker fight.
Leonard finishes at 36-3-1 with 25 knockouts.
If, indeed, he is finally finished
“If there’s any indication that I should step down,” he said, “this was a pretty good indication. For sure, my career is definitely over for me in the ring.”
So Leonard finally learned what so many others had tragically learned before him.
Life may begin at 40, but boxing comebacks don’t.
In preliminary bouts:
--Robert Daniels (36-3-1, 29 knockouts) won the IBC cruiserweight title on a split decision over Kenny Keene (38-2, 24 knockouts).
--Former International Boxing Federation junior-welterweight champion Charles Murray (39-3, 23 knockouts) won a unanimous 10-round decision over former World Boxing Assn. lightweight champion Livingstone Bramble (38-19-3, 24 knockouts). The two had previously met in 1991 with Murray also winning by decision.
This one was so one-sided that Bramble, 36, who lost for the 17th time in his last 25 fights, didn’t win a single round on any of the three judges’ scorecards.
--Former IBF bantamweight champion Orlando Canizales (44-3-1, 33 knockouts) stopped Roland Gomez (24-14, 16 knockouts) at 2:57 of the third round of a scheduled 10-rounder.