Sugar Ray Leonard is a man who needs little introduction. He is a two-time World Boxing champion, once winning the WBC World Welterweight and WBA Junior Heavyweight championships. He is a former Olympic gold medalist, winning it all at the 1976 games. He won two AAU championships, the Pan AM Games in 1975 and three Amateur National Golden Gloves titles. He was voted the boxer of the ’80s and is considered one of the greatest boxers of all time.
What do you miss most about boxing?
It’s so amazing for me and other people. You don’t appreciate things until they’re gone. The moments that I cherish with my family, my dad, my brother, my friends, I miss my friends. I don’t miss boxing, I miss the camaraderie. Being around my friends and family, when that comes to an end it’s, like…wow…
It’s very unique that you say that because a lot of athletes that are in the book are from team sports, like hockey, baseball or football. Some of them are retired, some of them are getting ready to retire. My question to them is always: Number 1, What are you going to do with yourself, and, number 2, Are you going to miss it? The team sports guys always tell me that they miss the camaraderie and their teammates. That’s what they talk about It’s interesting to hear you say the same thing, because boxing isn’t considered a team sport…
Boxing is individual, although there’s a team concept because you need a great corner. You need a great trainer, you need a great prep man, you need all of these things, but it’s more of a mano a mano. It’s more you versus me. I miss that time in training camp, and Dad and Mom cooking meals. It was one big family.
Right. All of the people that surrounded you and assisted you in your sport and all of those people created an unspoken team.
Right, right. Yeah, exactly.
Operating as a team sport instead as a one-on-one.
Exactly. Now that I look back on it, it was a team. You know, the trainers were more than just training me, they were rooting for me with their spirit and with their belief. It was awesome.
Well, for you to be successful, you really had to have that foundation and that belief. If you look at the real successful athletes, it seems that they had the strong push from their parents, and it seems like your parents totally supported you and gave you that necessary foundation.
Yes. I started boxing when I was 14. When people look at me or meet me, even my wife, she can’t believe that I was a fighter because I don’t look mean.
You don’t look mean. (I laugh because it’s true, but he was a world champion boxer. He chuckles as well). Right. I don’t have that edge or that air. I just don’t. So when they show a documentary about me, I look and I can’t connect the two. I mean, I am who I am. This is truly the way I am. I remember, eight months ago, they honored me at the Riviera Country Club. It was me, my wife and my kids. Daniel was seven at the time and Camilla was 11, and they showed old highlights of my career: the Olympics, some championship fights. I was watching my kids through my peripheral vision, and they’d look at me and they’d look up there at the screen because they couldn’t believe it, because, to them, I am Papa!
Right. They were having a hard time putting two and two together. (We both laughed hard at the thought of his wide-eyed son, puzzled at his father mauling so many hapless opponents. Doubt they’ll ever break curfew or get smart with dear old Dad!)
It was the cutest thing ever; it was so cute because they just could not believe that was their papa! I asked my kids, ‘Do you know what Papa used to do?’ They said, ‘You were a boxer. You won the Olympics!’And that’s what they know.
But they don’t know the visual of the sport itself.
No they do not, which is good.
What was your first car?
I wish I had that car. It was a dark blue 1967 Chevy Nova. I bought that car myself; I paid, like, $300 for the car. I worked at the Glen Arm Recreation Center. I saved my money and I saved my money and I bought the car. I remember, back then, years ago, you could change the gas pedal for a metal foot, so I did that because it was the cool thing to do. Then I changed my gear shift into a little ball. Yeah, and I had a little crucifix on the rearview mirror. That car was mine. I was so proud of that car. I bought that car with my own money and I cherished that car. It was so cute; I wish I had it again.
Where do you think that car is now?
Jesus Christ. I was looking for it.
You should find the VIN number and find it; it might still be in one piece!
You know what? My little car was so resilient; I bet it’s still around. I might put an APB out on it.
(WE LAUGH.) See, you have a passion about that first car. You bought it with your own money.
Oh, I did. It was my car. I bought it with my own money. I saved and I kept it clean.
Can you drive a stick shift?
Yes. Not well, but I can because I had my toys. I’ve had the Porsche, I had a Maserati, a Ferrari, I had all of those little toys.
And what happened?
I never drove it because I’d leave it in the garage and the battery would die. I had some wonderful cars.
How many cars do you think that you’ve had during your lifetime – since that first pride and joy?
Oh…I think…I would say…50 cars. Yes, 50.
Fifty, that is a great number. What cars do you have now?
The one that I drive, that I cherish and that I love the most is my Smart Car. I love that thing. My wife bought it for my birthday. She surprised me. Because I looked at the Mini-
Cooper. One day I saw a car zooming past and I said to myself, ‘What the hell is THAT?’ Because it looked like a golf cart, like a baby’s shoe, a large baby’s shoe. I remember we then looked for one. It was hard to find because they were on back order. We drove around looking for them and asked, and the manager said these cars are hard to come by. There’s a six-month or a year wait, sometimes. He said he’d keep an eye out, and if something came up, he’d call me.
After that, my wife pursued it. So, my birthday came around and we went to Orange County, being as my wife’s mom lives there, and my wife told me that we needed to go by her mom’s house to pick up something. We went by her house, she raised the garage door, I walked in the garage – and the garage is large – but I didn’t notice it sitting behind the trash can because it’s so small! It’s so tiny, she parked it parallel. And I thought, this is my car! I kept it in Laguna, so when we went to Orange County I always had a carto drive. Then I decided that I was going to bring this car to L.A.
I drove it, got off of the exit and on the freeway. I was driving, like, 50 miles an hour because it was so little. I thought I could get blown away by a tractor trailer. I tried it at 60 and I tried 70, then here comes a big truck flying by. The car didn’t move from the burst of wind from the big truck and that surprised me.
Sounds like your Smart Car has excellent grip.
Right. It’s stable. It hugs the road, it’s so low. I got it to 80; I wasn’t supposed to, but I did it because this is my car. I love it. I drive it every day.
What tires do you have on it; maybe the tires helped the car hug the road?
The same tires that come on it – muffin tires. They’re cute tires. The tires are no bigger than on a golf cart, but I love the car.
How many miles per gallon do you get in your Smart Car?
Thirty-five easy, maybe more.
Okay, so you have the Smart Car and what other vehicles do you have…
We have a Tahoe hybrid, and that car is for the kids. We take the kids to school in that car because my kids – and all kids, I think-they don’t believe in keeping a car clean. That’s their car. I love driving my car because, going a long distance with the family, it is a great car. The thing about it is, you don’t know the damned thing is on because you can’t hear it. Sometimes I start it twice, not knowing it is already started. But it’s a great car. I love that car.
So you’re all about the Green Movement.
No question, yeah. I have two cars-two vehicles-that I think benefit the environment.
Would you ever buy another gas-guzzling vehicle after owning the hybrids?
No. That’s my car. The Tahoe hybrid is my car, and my Smart Car.
If you had a dream car that you never pulled the trigger on, what would that be? I know you had the Maserati, the Ferrari and you had the Porsche. Was there ever a certain car that one of your friends has owned that you have desired?
The only car that comes to mind was an Aston Martin. That was a cool car. Didn’t James Bond drive that car?
Yes, the D.B. 9.
Yeah, yeah, I liked that. That is the only car that comes to mind. But I’m kind of past that point now; I’m a Smart Car and hybrid type of person now.
What’s your favorite color combination when it comes to cars?
I like black on black. I like blue with a cream-color interior. I like white. My wife doesn’t like white; she thinks it’s too showy, but that is why I like it!
Very crisp, like your Smart Car.
Yes. My Smart Car is white. I like my color combination of my Smart Car – white with kind of a red interior.
What kind of music do you listen to when you’re cruising down the freeway?
My kids laugh at me. I like the oldies, but the goodies. I like Luther Vandross.
Hey, Luther’s good. He’s not an oldie-but-goodie!
My kids have me listening to some of the rap. They like Tl.
Everybody’s into Tl, a lot of the athletes. Tl, Tl!
I also like Johnny Gill. My music is Johnny Gill. Johnny is a very, very close friend of mine and my family. Johnny will come over here and sing, and the kids love it. The kids love his voice.
Yeah, he has a good and grooving voice.
Oh, a great voice.
Have you ever been involved in a car accident?
Yes. Two accidents, to be exact. I was in one back in the late-’60s, with my mom. My mom was driving me and my two little sisters to South Carolina. What happened, it was late at night and she had just gotten off work but wanted to get on the road, and then fell asleep at the wheel and we went off the road and into a ravine. It was frightening. It sends chills up and down my spine when I think about it. You know how big the old jacks were back then?
Well, the impact of the crash, when we hit the ravine, sent the jack straight through the trunk and all the way into the back seat of the car. I had just grabbed my little sister and brought her up front. It was awful. Then I had a head-on collision in a Laredo Jeep. What happened, I took a left turn and this guy went, like, BOOM, straight into me. I had contusions and bruises, but you don’t feel the pain until, like, two days later.
Right like the inner bruising that you get from the impact
Yes. It was really, really horrible.
How old were you when that accident happened?
I was probably in my mid-20s.
How old were you when you were in the childhood accident?
I was in my teens -17, or maybe 18.
Do you have any favorite road trips that you like to take? I know you said that you have relatives that live in Orange County, but any driving trips that stick out in your mind?
Yeah. My wife and I like to go to Santa Barbara. It’s a nice drive down the coastline. It’s so beautiful. We also think a beautiful ride is to the Montage along the PCH. That’s a nice ride, and we know the owner of the Montage in Beverly Hills. He is a friend of ours. It is fantastic. Beautiful.
Do you prefer cars or trucks? Do you think that you lean towards one or another?
Well, I do like both. It depends on what the activity or trip is. If it’s a long trip, I like a big truck. If it’s just around the corner, I like the smallest car I can find – or a convertible.
How fast have you ever driven in a street car on the freeway?
The fastest I’ve driven…! drove 100 miles an hour one time because I wanted to see how it felt. I was scared of the police and it is not smart to drive that fast, but I had to do it. I did it for, like, two seconds and it was, uhm. I don’t know if it was a revelation or I got some big feel out of it, but I did it. I had to do it.
What has been your favorite car out of all of the ones that you have owned since you first got your driver’s license? Is there one that sticks out in your mind that you wish you still had?
You know, I truly loved my 280Z.
Oh my gosh, I am a huge Z person. Those are great cars.
There was nothing like it and I remember when I first had that car. To me, from my memory, when I got in that car, especially at night, the dashboard lit up like a cockpit of an airplane.
Yes, the orangish dashboard lights.
All the lights and all the whistles. I loved that car.
I was always a huge Z fan myself. Then they stopped making them in 1996. Then they came out six years later with the 350ZX, which was similar to an Audi TT or the Infinity coupe, so the Nissan Z no longer made a statement
Back in its day and time, it was the sexiest car on the road.
No question. It threw its hair back and said, ‘Look at me, baby.’
It was so cool. To be honest with you, I liked driving it at night because of that orange light.
Was yours an automatic or a stick?
It was an automatic. It was so cool.
What color was it?
I’m thinking it was a cranberry, like a reddish cranberry-
Did it have burgundy cloth interior?
It was burgundy! I also remember that car so well because, when I took it to the car wash, it smelled great and was clean. It smelled great, like a strawberry!
Sugar Ray Leonard was a genteel, relaxed, awesome man. He was so easy to talk to. To his kids, he’s Papa. He’s a devoted husband to his wife and, surprise surprise, into the Green movement. Here is one of the greatest boxers of all time – wealthy and affluent – a happy family man who drives a Smart Carl Go figure. Hard to believe his punch could literally kill a man. He could have been the greatest pound-for-pound boxer of all time. He had the fastest hands and the quickest feet. I’ll never forget this interview. Frankly, when we got to the questions about the cars, it was just like I was talking shop with an old friend.