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Searingly honest autobiography
on 29 February 2012
For anyone growing up in the late seventies and early eighties they will remember four names from boxing: Duran, Hagler, Hearns and Leonard. The late George Kimball's excellent book `Four Kings' covered this era and looked at the four fighters, yet here is a book written by one of those members of that elite club: Sugar Ray Leonard.
He first captured the public's imagination by winning a Gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. A few years after turning professional he won the World welterweight title from Wilfred Benitez and then between defences and comebacks fought the premium pound for pound best of his day: Duran, Hearns and Hagler in some of the most exciting and eagerly anticipated contests of the last half century.
Sugar Ray Leonard was big box office and on the outside seemed to have it all: money, fame, respect, a loving family and a lasting legacy in the Parthenon of All Time Greats. Yet this heartfelt autobiography reveals a much darker and far more complicated story than that.
I grew up believing the hype which the media presented: Sugar Ray Leonard the `Golden Boy' of boxing, the natural successor to Muhammad Ali (with Ali's legendary trainer Angelo Dundee in his corner), with his charm, winning smile and intelligence he appeared to have it all.
For the first time Leonard puts the record straight and a whole new story emerges as well as a more flawed and human Sugar Ray.
As I read this my jaw kept dropping as the revelations mounted. I will not reveal them here as you should read the book yourself but let's just say he did not have it easy!
Very early in life his trust was betrayed by those who should have had his interests at the forefront. He was dogged with hand trouble (a fighter's most important tools) as far back as his amateur career and this was one of the main reasons he announced his retirement after winning the Gold medal.
Some of the episodes here are familiar and Leonard is not alone as a sports star who has delved into alcohol, drugs and groupies, yet it is his searing honesty that impresses. This is no vanity project, rather it reads like a public exorcism as he rids himself of all his demons of the past and attempts to come to terms with what has made him the person he is. The answers may shock some fans of his.
I count myself as a fan of Leonard and believe he has been incredibly brave here. He could have easily written a straightforward account of his ring career and cherry picked episodes from his life to put him in the best light. Instead he shows us everything, even the most ugly episodes and heartbreaking moments and believe me he has had more than his fair share.
I went into this recalling the superstar of my youth, the media creation, the Hollywood version if you like. By the book's end I felt I had been granted access to a much murkier world where the main character had been through heaven and hell. This is a raw, engrossing and powerful account of the truth behind the myth and I recommend this to everyone who enjoys autobiographies whether they are a boxing fan or not.