Sugar Ray Leonard Became World Champ For First Time
One of the most spectacular fighters of the last 50 years took to the ring in Las Vegas just over four decades ago and after a 15-round battle, Sugar Ray Leonard became a World Champion for the first Time.
The night was November 30th 1979, at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas inside their Sports Pavilion.
The champion was unbeaten Wilfred Benitez, who was making the second defense of his WBC Welterweight Championship.
Leonard had been fast-tracked for superstardom after his 1976 Olympic Gold Medal in Montreal. He was viewed not only as a rising star in the ring but with his movie-star looks and smile, a fighter in hot demand for commercial endorsements and even as a boxing commentator later in the 80s.
ABC Sports in the United States televised the Leonard-Benitez showdown live. And, also both fighters made a million dollars each in guaranteed purse, which at the time was the most lucrative non-Heavyweight title fight ever. See it for yourself here,
And from the outset, Leonard was ready to go psychologically and that included in near 30 second stare down, as legendary referee Carlos Padilla can you the instructions.
Once the first bell rang, Leonard was the more aggressive fighter scoring with jabs and quick combinations. And, he eventually dropped Benitez coming in with a quick left depositing him on the seat of his trunks.
Even though Benitez began to fare better, scoring in particular with the lead right hand, Leonard proved much faster and more elusive, as the fight wore on.
As the fight progressed to the championship rounds, Leonard got the best of Benitez in particular in the 14th round. That’s where he scored with a couple of more lightning combinations getting a rise out of the 4,500 in attendance.
Unbeknownst to Sugar Ray at the time, he was leading on all three scorecards entering round 15, including two of them convincingly. Yet, Sugar Ray remained aggressive and threw a wicked left uppercut but dropped Benitez again.
Even though he rose to beat the count at 6, it was obvious that Benitez was tired, wobbly and also bleeding from a cut top of his forehead. Leonard finished him off seconds later with a quick five punch combination the caused Padilla to jump between the fighters and end things on a TKO.
The victory launched Leonard into superstardom. And, even though Lightweight legend, Roberto Duran derailed his unbeaten career by upsetting him 7 months later in Montreal, Leonard would avenge that defeat with the famous “No Mas” TKO of the formerly menacing champ in November of 1980.
Next, he’d go on to beat fellow unbeaten Welterweight Champion Thomas “Hitman” Hearns in their mega-fight in September of 1981 by scoring a dramatic 14th round TKO. Leonard’s signature upset was his 12-round decision over Marvelous Marvin Hagler in April of 1987 to dethrown in the Undisputed Middleweight champion.
Leonard would fight on into the 1990s, where his last bout came after a six-year layoff losing by TKO to another legend, Hector “Macho” Camacho. Sugar Ray finished 36 – 3 – 1 all time and was put into the international Boxing Hall of Fame.
And his Five Division World Championship career began on a November night in the Nevada desert when he outgunned the talented Puerto Rican champion, Benitez