Sugar Ray Leonard ‘humbled’ as he follows in Muhammad Ali’s footsteps with South Shields visit

Sugar Ray Leonard and  Hedworth Hall's Carl Mowatt, left, and Tony Singh
Sugar Ray Leonard and Hedworth Hall's Carl Mowatt, left, and Tony Singh

SUGAR Ray Leonard, one of boxing’s all-time greats, was a knockout when he appeared in South Shields last night.

It was a night when dreams came true for more than 200 boxing fans.

Sugar Ray Leonard, one of the sport’s all-time greats, was the star of the show at a talk-in event at Hedworth Hall in Dean Road, South Shields.

Taking to the stage, Leonard, winner of world titles in five weight divisions, took fans through career highlights including some of the greatest boxing bouts the sport has ever seen against the likes of Roberto Duran, Tommy Hearns and Marvin Hagler.

Speaking to the Gazette ahead of his talk-in, the 58-year-old said he found it very humbling that his name is among the select list hailed by boxing fans as all-time greats.

The American fighter said: “It is very special to me and humbling that people think of me in that way, especially as I never intended to be a professional fighter.

I see boxing as an art in which I choreographed my fights. I never feared any fighter, but at times there were some concerns.

“When I won the gold medal in the Olympics in 1976, I thought that was it. The only reason I carried on was that my father became ill.

“But boxing also kept me safe, and I also had good parents.”

Throughout his career, North Carolina-born Leonard was guided by the man hailed as the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali, also a visitor to South Shields, back in 1977.

He said: “Ali was my idol. Every chance to meet him, to talk to him, I took. He gave me advice. It just doesn’t get any better than that.”

When asked if he could relive any of his fights and would he do anything differently, the former boxer, the first to earn more than $100m in purses, said: “The selfish part of me would say yes, so I could be undefeated, but everything is a lesson.

“I see boxing as an art in which I choreographed my fights. I never feared any fighter, but at times there were some concerns.”

Giving advice to those wanting to carve a career out of boxing, he said there are “no short cuts” in the sport.

He said: “You have to work hard and be dedicated. The great boxers didn’t just say how great they were – they showed how great they were.”

The night, compered by Brian Houshby, saw fans asking him who was the hardest man he ever fought, the answer being Tommy Hearns.

He added: “Hearns was the toughest. Duran was tough, but Tommy Hearns is a beast.”

Hedworth Hall general manager Carl Mowatt said: “We are just proud and honoured to have been able to welcome Sugar Ray to the town and deliver a night to remember for the boxing fans who attended.”

Twitter: @shieldsgazlisa