HE WAS THE MIDDLEWEIGHT CHAMPION WHO WILL BE FOREVER LINKED TO THE WELTERWEIGHTS!
Muhammad Ali revived the sport of boxing in the 60s with his brash personality, flare and traits he borrowed from the great pro wrestling sensation, Gorgeous George. Ali’s style was copied but never duplicated. The heavyweight division was full of stars, in the 60s and 70s but none bigger than Muhammad Ali. There was Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton, Ron Lyle, Ernie Shavers and others who help to make the fight game legit again. During the Ali era boxing attracted the Hollywood stars, pro athletes, the entire entertainment world, the gangsters and would be gangsters. When Ali retired in 1985 the game lost some of its glitter and gold. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-JZf8J0Dsk
The vacuum was filled by the little guys who would become giants of the game like Wilfredo Benitez, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Alexis Arguello, and Aaron Pryor, The former middleweight champion of the world, Marvelous Marvin Hagler was a step above the little guys in the welterweight division, but he would be a force to be reckon with in their later years. Hagler died on Saturday March 13, 2021 in Barlett, New Hampshire. During his career he caught hell chasing the middleweight champion. Fighters and their managers wanted no part of him. In 1980 he finally got the opportunity to win his first middleweight championship in Wembley, London. The champion Alan Minter played The Race Card saying, “I hope that black boy don’t think, he is coming in here and win my title.” Hagler knocked Minter out in the 3rd round. He changed his name in 1982 to Marvelous Marvin Hagler. The changed was made because network announcers often refused to refer to him by his nickname “Marvelous!”
Hagler was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey. He moved with his family to Brockton, Massachusetts in the late 60s. Hagler’s name will be forever linked to the welterweight division, it was there he had some of his most controversial and memorable fights. There was Roberto “The Hands of Stone” Duran. Duran took him the full 12 rounds and Hagler won a unanimous decision. He would next face Thomas “The Hit Man” Thomas Hearns in what is called today, the greatest three rounds of boxing in the history of the game. Hagler knocked out Hearns in the third round. His third and most controversial fight was with boxing great welterweight champion, Sugar Ray Leonard. Hagler’s ring record of 62-3-2 with 52 knockouts was nothing to sneeze at. Marvin had to literally chase Ray around the country for over five years trying to talk him into a fight. The fight between the two would be worth millions of dollars to the promoters and the fighters if they could come to some agreement. Ray lured Hagler to the Capitol Centre arena in Landover, Md., a stone’s throw from where Leonard grew up in Palmer Park, Md.
In a packed arena with thousands of boxing fans looking on, Ray took the microphone to make the announcement on his future in boxing. When it was all said and done, Hagler felt like the bride left at the altar. Ray announced that he would be retiring and there would be no fight between him and Hagler. Time brings about a change, the two later signed their names on the dotted lines for a fight that has gone down in boxing and folklore history.
The long-awaited fight was scheduled for April 6, 1987, in Caesars Palace. The fight would take place in a temporarily sold-out arena built just for Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Ray had fought just once in five years because there was potential for a career-ending eye surgery. This would be the biggest fight of his career bar none. Hagler was one of the most feared fighters on the planet. He was no joke and 52 knockouts proved he was to be feared. The fight was everything I thought it would be except the controversial split decision awarded to Sugar Ray Leonard, but I understood the how and why of the decision.
Sugar Ray Leonard is the greatest rags to riches story in the history of boxing. I was there when he arrived home from the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada with his Gold Medal expecting a ticker-tape parade in his honor. The Washington media had other ideas, they made him the lead story for having a baby out of wedlock, what a difference a day makes (1976-2021). Ray lost all of his self-esteem and went into his home in Palmer Park, Md and refused to come out.
I was playing tennis at Anacostia Park in SE DC on one beautiful September evening and I looked out into the parking lot and I see Janks Morton and Melvin Jackson. Janks was the trainer of Sugar Ray Leonard and Melvin was a close and dear friend of mine. It donned on me, both were great athletes, but neither played tennis. I stopped play and went out to greet them. We shook hands and I asked, “What’s up?” I was surprised when Janks explained the reason for their visit.
He said, “We have a problem with Ray” my response was “Ray who?” I could not believe my ears as Janks explained that Ray refused to leave the house because of the media attacks on his having a baby out of wedlock! I laughed and asked the question again “What’s up?” Melvin then chimed in and said, “We need for you to go over to the house and talk to him. He respects you and will listen to you.” I said, “No problem, I will check him out in the morning and see what the problem is!” I returned to the tennis court to finish my game. Ray and I had established a “Big Brother” bond during his amateur boxing days.
I would show up when they were trying to raise monies to go on trips to fight in different cities around the country. I encouraged my partner radio talk show host Petey Greene and Congressman Walter Fauntroy to support the Palmer Park boxing program. The following morning after the visit from Janks and Melvin I made my way out to Palmer Park to visit Ray. It was around 10:00 a. m. when I knocked on the door. He opened the door with tears in his eyes and I jumped right on his ass. I cannot use the language in this story that I used to get his undivided attention. But I will sum it up by saying, I suggested he put on a tie and suit and put his Gold Medal around his neck and follow me. I had called a friend of mine on the way to Ray’s house, his name was Mr. Cousins and he was the Principal of Harrison Elementary School in NW DC. I asked him to do me a favor and have a group of students ready for a visit from Sugar Ray Leonard after lunch. He said, “No problem.”
The kids treated Ray like the hero he was and you could see him regaining confidence as he told the kids about his winning the Gold Medal at the Olympic Games. We would visit more schools in the area and I made sure they were all elementary school children because they had not yet developed or grown into the envy and jealous characteristics of some young adults. Ray would slowly come out of his shell. I let him co-host my Inside Sports talk show on Saturdays to help him grow as a public speaker. Ray and I were both butchering the King’s English so bad my wife Hattie a teacher in the DC Public schools brought Ray a book of poems. She suggested he read the poems out loud to himself to improve his pronouciation and diction. We gave it to him as a wedding present.
Ray still had not made up his mind on what he wanted to do for his future. It was between turning pro or getting a job to support Junita and little Ray. He claimed his hands were too brittle to turn pro and he thought it best to find a job. I contacted my friend Dr. Bill Rumsey, he was the Director of the DC Recreation Department. Dr. Rumsey was a well-known educator and former athlete in the DC Public Schools. I set up an appointment for Ray to meet with him about a job opportunity. We met in his office with, Willie Wood (NFL), Jim Vance (TV 4 anchor), and Sonny Hill (NBA color analyst).
Ray was offered a job, but before he could start work, I received a telephone call one morning around 8 a. m. saying, “Sugar Ray Leonard was holding press conference in The National Press Building. The caller was boxing promoter Don King. I broadcasted my Inside Sports talk show on WYCB radio in the National Press Building.
Don wanted me to meet him and Larry Holmes (Heavyweight Champ) at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in downtown DC. I arrived around 10 a. m. This was all a surprise to me the press conference was scheduled for 11 a. m. When Don asked me did I know anything about the press conference all I could say was “Hell no!” Ray was announcing he was turning pro and I was the last to know. I was being scooped in my own work place.
I swallowed my pride long enough to get Ray, Don King, and Larry Holmes in the studio for an interview. I should not have been surprised by Sugar Ray Leonard’s announcement to turn pro. Ray didn’t have two pennies to rub together and he needed the money. He went on to become the first pro boxer to earn 100 million dollars in boxing revenue.
When Sugar Ray Leonard needed a way out of no way, there was no Janks Morton, Mike Trainer, Charlie Brotman, J. D. Brown, Rock Newman, Glenn Harris or anyone in his family there to give him advice or to lend a helping hand.
For example, when his best friend Joe Brody brought to my attention that Mike Trainer was seeing Ray’s checks before he saw them, it was me who pulled Ray aside and told him, “this cannot continue.” I suggested he put his sister Bunny in Trainer’s office to be the caretaker for all his mail, she had an accounting background. Bunny, barely lasted a year in the office and she was gone. I saw the handwritting on the wall and told Ray, Janks Morton, Ollie Dunlop and Dave Jacobs, “when this ride is over Trainer will own the bank!” I became the “Trouble maker” in the camp when I saw Trainer or Janks talking down to to Ray’s family, I would remind him, that blood was thicker than water!
I made arrangements for a bus to take a group of Sugar Ray Leonard fans to the Baltimore Civil Center to watch him make his long awaited debut against Luis ‘The Bull’ Vega. The group included, radio talk show host Petey Greene, television news anchors Jim Vance, Fred Thomas and Maureen Bunyan, actor Robert Hooks and his son Kevin were among a host of fans and friends who would be there to cheer him on. I coordinated “The After Party” for Ray to meet and greet family and friends. The jockeying for position to be around him was a little overwhelming for me. It was then I walked away from the madness.
In December 1979 I was in the WYCB radio studio hosting my sports talk show with comedian Chris Thomas. This was after Ray beat Wilfredo Benitez for the welterweight championship of the world. My producer started to wave frantically that I had a call on line two. I punched in the line and on the other end was Sugar Ray Leonard LIVE. He called to thank me for all that I had done for him because I was there when no one else was. I thought the call was pretty special, but the call runs a distance second to the call I received from Muhammad Ali. It was five years earlier after Ali beat George Foreman for the undisputed heavyweight championship of the World in Zaire, Africa in December 1974.
I received a blog correspondence from Sugar Ray Leonard, Jr. several years ago. He was responding to a blog I had written about an alledge encounter he says he did not have with his father. He wanted to clear the air and set the record straight and he did. I let it go. The heading of his blog read, “I Am Not My Father!” He went on to say, “I am trying to be a better father to my children than my dad was to me.”
Despite all his success in the ring and the millions of dollars he has earned, Ray Leonard Sr. is a loser in the Game Called Life. He has left a trail of deceit and the sad part of his deceitful journey, he has not fooled his first born, Ray Jr. He mentioned to me he wants his father to go on a tour of the U. S. to discuss domestic violence–I told him not to hold his breath.
I understood exactly where Ray Jr. was coming from because his father and his partner Janks Morton had done the exact same thing to me, but they use one of the most read newspapers in America- the L. A. Times to tell lies about things that never happen as it related to my relationship with Sugar Ray Leonard. The story was written in 1989 by legendary sports columnist, the late Earl Guskey. It was written during the second Thomas Hearns fight in Las Vegas. The column was about Ray having to leave members of his entourage home for this particular fight including his brothers.
I have no clue how my name got mixed into Ray’s entourage. According the late Mike Trainer, I was one of those guys who helped Ray out when he first started, but I had become pissed off after I asked Ray for a job and got turned down–it never happen??? What really pissed me off was that Ray and Janks Morton allowed this “Redneck Proud Boy” to lie about my relationship with them. First, I have never been a part of anyone’s entourage including Muhammad Ali, second I have never asked Ray for a ticket, a dollar bill or a job! When I did need some help and support he never answered his phone.
His drug habit and domestic violent problems were of his own doing. His best man Joe Brody was the only one to come to me saying, he was scare Ray was going to OD and die. Joe said, he was drinking congac straight and snorting cocaine at the same time. Joe begged me to talk with him. He came with the old familiar song, “He will listen to you”, I reminded Joe that was when he was broke, but now he has money, he thinks he is smarter than me. In my last correspondence with Ray Jr. I asked him to do me a favor and ask his father if I ever asked him for a job, money or a ticket. I wanted clear the record also. I am still waiting for a response.
In my last face to face interview with Sugar Ray was in DC in 2014 when he was promoting “The Contender” a boxing series for NBC television. The show follows 16 promising pro boxers who come to LA to compete in a tournament. The finals taking place in Las Vegas and the winner taking home one-million dollars. Ray would be an analyst with Sylvester Stallone. He got his his first broadcasting experience co-hosting Inside Sports and now he has his own show on ESPN and now shares analyst duties with Hollywood icon, Sylvester Stallone. The beginning of the interview it looked like Ray was looking for the closest exit out. Yea, ESPN and NBC was eons away from W-O-O-K radio in NE DC. TRUTH needs no evidence!. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEC9hX3jQVo/
The Monday Morning Quarterbacks had it all wrong on why and how Hagler lost the fight to Ray. A debate that is talked about today in barbershops around the world. There are claims that Ray did absolutely nothing during those 12 rounds to earn a split decision and then there are those who claimed Ray stole the fight in the closing of each round with the flurries and that is what impressed the judges. I think that is a valid point.
My thoughts, Ray won the fight in the eyes of the judges because he outsmarted Hagler not because he outboxed him. His thing was to stay out of harm’s way and not be a victim like Thomas Hearns. Hearns decided to go toe to toe with Hagler. The judges were blindsided because they were saying to themselves, “If Hagler didn’t knock Leonard out he lost the fight.”
Ray outsmarted Roberto Duran and Don King in New Orleans in 1980 in much the same way. He frustrated Duran until he quit. Duran had the fight won before he entered the ring, but he let his ego determine the outcome. Why would I say Duran had the fight won? I was in Don King’s suite when Duran’s brain trust met with him shortly before the fight. The door in the other room where I had fallen asleep was left open. I heard Don tell Roberto’s braintrust corner that all he had to do was stay on his feet and he would be the winner—the fix was on. Duran’s ego got the best of him and he decided to do his own thing and the rest is boxing history.
The one thing that fight fans and the so-called experts overlooked—Sugar Ray Leonard was “THE CASH COW” of professional boxing during the 70s and 80s. The best example, in 1979 he beat Benitez in what was a close fight until Ray knocked him down in the 15th round. Benitez beat the clock, but the referee stopped the fight with 15 seconds left on the clock? I still had Ray winning the fight.
The first Thomas Hearns fight in Ceasar’s Palace in Las Vegas Hearns was leading on all three scorecards, 124-122, 125-121, and 125-121 going into the 13th round. Ray desparately needed a knockout and he got a tko in the 14th round.
The fight still haunts Hearns today. Predictably, there was controversy over the tko some experts believed that Hearns was not hurt when the fight was stopped. Evidently, those second guessers had their heads up their asses. Then there were those second-guessers asking, why the fight was not stopped in Hearn’s favor because Ray’s eye was almost completely closed–Cash Cow? In the second fight Hearns defensive skills were vastly improved. The fight would go the distance. Hearns easily outboxed Ray, Ray was holding on for dear life. The fight was called a draw. Ray later admitted Hearns had won the fight.
I think the first Hearn’s fight was some of Ray’s greatest work in his ring career. He was losing the fight going into the later rounds, but he dug down deep and proved his heart was as big as the ring he fought in. If Ray had lost that fight in 1981 Hearns would have easily become “The Cash Cow!” The brain trust in the Kronk Gym in Detroit with Emanuel Stewart, Prentis Byrd and the corner men were class acts and were heads and shoulders above Ray’s brain trust of Mike Trainer, Janks Morton, and Dave Jacobs in Palmer Park. Ray was the nugget that carried the Palmer Park Gym on his back and he was in the right place at the right time.
In Detroit, the Kronk Gym had several champions in Thomas Hearns, Hilmer Kenty, and others standing-by waiting their turn to become champions. Aaron Pryor was the great one, on the outside looking in at Roberto Duran, Wilfredo Benitez, Thomas Hearns, and Sugar Ray Leonard. They were The Big Four of the welterweight division.
There was a story written in a sports blog called “Undefeated” in 2016 by a writer named Branson Wright that was completely false. The story was titled “Aaron Pryor: A Boxing Life Remembered!” It was and is “Fake News” completely false as it related to an encounter in 1979 with Sugar Ray Leonard and Aaron. The encounter was falsely claimed to have taken place at a boxing gym in Cincinnati, Ohio. Unless Aaron Pryor has a twin the 1979 encounter reported by Branson Wright is a bald-faced lie. In 1979 the only encounter Pryor had with Sugar Ray Leonard took place in Washington, DC/Palmer Park, Md. I was responsible for transportation and housing for Aaron Pryor during that encounter. Sugar Ray Leonard and Janks Morton invited him to DC to work with Ray for a week and help to prepare for his upcoming fights.
Aaron was a handful for me to handle. He brought his girlfriend/wife with him and he use her as a punching bag. They almost destroyed the apartment I got for them to stay in. My brother Earl was a DC cop and he had to call me after a disturbance at the apartment one night. He was getting ready to lock him up when Aaron blurted out my name–that is what you called being saved by the bell. After 3 days of workouts, Aaron gave Ray a boxing lesson each day. He was too much for Ray to handle and Janks cut the week short and gave him the money owed for the week and plane tickets back to Cincinnati. Aaron Pryor is definitely a boxing life to be remembered, but let us get our facts straight.
Hopefully, Branson Wright will discover a lie will change a thousand times, the truth never changes–truth needs no evidence! Marvelous Marvin Hagler is without a doubt a boxing life to be remembered—and still champion of the World!
The BIG LIE / https://theundefeated.com/features/aaron-pryor-a-boxing-life-remembered/ Branson Wright (Undefeated)