Not a knockout, but a revealing confession from a champ who was often accused of being a packaged TV commodity.
Leonard was the right fighter at the right time—an Olympic gold medalist, articulate, handsome and personable, at a time when the retirement of Muhammad Ali left boxing hungry for another standard-bearer (and Howard Cosell eager for a new buddy to tout). Yet, little known to the American public, he was also an abuser of cocaine, alcohol and ultimately of his wife. Now clean and sober for four years and happily remarried, he takes full responsibility for his transgressions—“Looking back, I can offer no defense for my conduct. I was wrong”—without absolving the women who threw themselves at him (more beautiful and greedy the more famous he became), the family and friends who put their financial considerations above his health and even trainer Angelo Dundee, whom he inherited from Ali, and who the author plainly believes has claimed more credit than he deserves. Though the thematic arc is that of a redemption story, most of that redemption—remarriage, sobriety, a second family that he treats much better than the first—is crammed into a final chapter or two. The bulk of the autobiography alternates between his exploits in the ring (of which he is justifiably proud) and his weakness away from it, with all the sex, drugs and vacillation between retirement and recommitment. Particularly revelatory is the book’s illumination of the psychology of this most physical sport. It also celebrates the bond between opponents that outsiders can never experience: “For months, the opponent was the enemy, the major obstacle standing in the path of greater earnings and greater fame. Yet, as most of us who fight for a living come to recognize, some sooner than others, the opponent is also a partner on the same journey.”
Perhaps a little too conveniently, the book makes a split between slick, privileged, cocky “Sugar Ray” and the more insecure and vulnerable “Ray Leonard.” Guess who’s still standing at the end?