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Sweet Sugar charms Brum.

Byline: Ian Johnson

SUGAR Ray Leonard fought the best. Many feel that he was the best. And in Birmingham last night he looked as though he could once again rule the world.

The legend who outsmarted Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, and Carlos Duran - all of them also "greats" - was the star attraction at a sportsman's dinner at the Aston Villa Holte Suite organised by promoter Ken Purchase.

Leonard was immaculate. He dressed smartly. He was so articulate he must have trained President Obama. He looked as though a glove had never been laid on him.

He was cool and entertaining. He told me that he now teaches motivative speaking to businesses and universities.

Clearly the memories of an amazing boxing career were vivid but distant even though at 54 years of age he looked in good enough nick to get into the ring with Floyd Mayweather Jnr - having beaten Mayweather Snr way back in September 1978!

Leonard was beaten three times although he was on a comeback after retiring when he lost his last two fights in 1997.

Duran was the only boxer of any note to beat him and the great man reversed that 15 rounds points decision in Montreal inflicting a points win and a knockout.

The only other boxer to get anywhere close to Leonard was Thomas Hearns who snatched a draw for the WBC super middleweight title in 1989.

And one former boxer to pay tribute to Leonard last night was Dave Boy Green.

The Fen Tiger was the only Brit to challenge Leonard and he was knocked out in the fourth round for the WBC welterweight crown in 1980.

Green told me: "It was a fantastic honour to get into the ring with such a great boxer.

''I don't remember too much about the fight but we have been friends ever since visiting each other's homes on several occasions."

Leornard told me that he only went into professional boxing to earn money for his very poor family and especially his sick father.

Clearly he did quite well at it. He has taken up motivational speaking since he stopped boxing in 1997 and said it was an inner belief that brought him success as a fighter.

"That's everything," he said.

"The ability to believe in yourself, to have that determination, to have that perseverance, to not let go of your dreams has always catapulted me and given me that extra round I needed to win a fight."

And he was certainy a big hit with the fans last night.

Occupational therapy assistant Scott Dangerfield, aged 30, from Penkridge, said: "I grew up watching his fights on TV, he's the best boxer ever.

"He might not have thrown the hardest punch but the way he fought, the way he moved, his balance - it was pure boxing."

Gas engineer Mark Bash, aged 27, from Kings Norton, said: "I wanted to meet him because he's a legend of the ring.

"I've watched most of his fights on DVD and the man's an out and out technician, the way he mimics Muhammed Ali's expressions and the way he moves around the ring. He's an excellent boxer all round."


Fighting talk: Our man Ian Johnson with Sugar Ray Leonard. Picture: Neil Pugh fight against Marvelous Marvin Hagler in 1987, which he won on a split decision in Las Vegas.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Oct 8, 2009
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