Equipped with speed, ability and charisma, Sugar Ray Leonard, filled the boxing void left when Muhammad Ali retired in 1981. With the American public in search of a new boxing superstar, Leonard came along at precisely the right time.
Leonard was named "Fighter of the Decade" for the 1980s. And why not. He entered the decade a champion and left a champion. In between, he won an unprecedented five world titles in five weight classes and competed in some of the era's most memorable contests.
There were few things Leonard could not do once the bell rang. But what he did best was analyze his opponents and devise a strategy to overcome them. He found a way to beat stylists, sluggers and brawlers. And beneath that flashy surface was a competitor with the remorseless ability to put an opponent away when they were hurt. There were few better finishers in boxing.
Leonard surfaced in the public's imagination after winning a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics. He won the WBC welterweight title in 1979 after stopping fellow Hall of Famer Wilfred Benitez in a violent chess match that pitted two of the game's master technicians.
After one successful defense, Leonard faced legendary lightweight champion Roberto Duran in what may be the most anticipated non-heavyweight fight in history. In a fast-paced battle, Duran dethroned Leonard with a unanimous 15-round decision. Leonard regained the title when Duran quit in the eighth-round of their rematch.
In 1981, Leonard climbed the scale and knocked out junior middleweight champion Ayube Kalule. He then returned to the welterweight division for a unification showdown with WBA champ Thomas Hearns. Leonard and Hearns waged a memorable war but Leonard, behind on all three scorecards, managed to knock Hearns out in the 14th round.
After one more fight, Leonard, suffering from a detached retina in his left eye, retired. He returned to the ring in 1984 and knocked out Kevin Howard only to retire again.
After nearly three years of inactivity, Leonard returned again and pulled off the Upset of the Decade when he outpointed Marvin Hagler to win the middleweight title in 1987. Leonard added titles four and five in November 1988 when he recovered from an early knockdown to stop power-punching Canadian Donny Lalonde. At stake that night was Lalonde's WBC light heavyweight title and the vacant WBC super middleweight title.
Leonard made two successful title defenses of the super middleweight title, fighting to a controversial draw with Hearns and decisioning Duran in their third and final encounter.
Leonard retired again, but could not stay away. At age 34, he challenged WBC super welterweight champion Terry Norris in 1991. He was dropped twice and lost by unanimous decision at Madison Square Garden.
The former five-division champion announced his retirement in the ring immediately after the Norris fight. But in March 1997, he launched another unsuccessful comeback, which ended via a fifth-round TKO to Hector Camacho. It was the first time Leonard had ever been stopped.