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January 4, 1997

The recent announcement that Sugar Ray Leonard plans to resume his career as a professional prize fighter was of more than passing interest to Perry auto body shop operator Loyd Hughes. Some 16 years ago, Loyd and his wife made the acquaintance of Leonard and his family during a vacation in the Bahama Islands. They actually became fast friends and Sugar Ray subsequently came to Perry to visit the Leonards during the 1981 Cherokee Strip celebration. Among the Leonard entourage at that time were his wife, Juanita (the two are now divorced); his sister, Linda Leonard; and their friend, Schley Owens.

Leonard's name was very big in the world of sports (it still is) and his trip to visit non-celebrity friends in an obscure Oklahoma town received a lot of attention. Our annual September 16th parade that year, with Sugar Ray Leonard as a star attraction, was covered by Oklahoma City and Tulsa newspapers, wire services and television sports reporters. It was a sunny day and Sugar Ray smiled from the back seat of an open top convertible all the way around the square. He was a hero of epic proportions, and nothing has happened since then to diminish his stature.

Leonard was the first fighter to win world titles in five weight classes. His last fight was on February 9, 1991, when he was battered by Terry Norris while attempting to win the WBC super welterweight (154 pounds) title in New York's Madison Square Garden. After the loss, he retired for the third time. He blamed the weight, a rib injury and divorce proceedings for his poor performance.

His comeback attempt on February 28 at the Atlantic City, N.J., Convention Center will pit him against Hector "Macho" Camacho. It will be a 12-round middleweight (160 pounds) match, and it will be his first pro ring appearance in six years, 19 days. Sugar Ray will be 40 years old.

"I want to do this and I'm going to do it," Leonard told reporters in announcing the date of the fight. "If I can tarnish my legacy with one fight, than there never was a legacy. To say it's a one-shot deal -- I don't even want to talk about that. To say I'm going to lose, I don't want to discuss it."

Leonard's opponent, Camacho, regards the ex-champ as a technical fighter, full of strategy. The 34-year-old Camacho was at his peak as junior lightweight and lightweight champion in the mid-1980s. "It's the first time I'll be fighting a scientific fighter," he said, "but he's fighting the Macho Man. I'm not Ray-struck."

After the Leonard family visited Perry, Sugar Ray's sister, Linda, wrote to the Hughes family, telling how much they enjoyed their stay here. "We are residents of a city (Lanham, Maryland, in the Washington, D.C., area) where people are so busy fighting for survival daily that they are unable to practice their spiritual teachings, such as 'love thy neighbor as thyself,' and 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'

"Our cities are so full of economical, financial, political and unemployment chaos that the simple life is merely something in the past. So, for each of us to be among individuals that were so earthly, full of love and compassion that it was very rejuvenating, relaxing and satisfying, we look forward to re-living these unforgettable days. Plus, we have found a new family away from home and this includes all of the wonderful people of Perry, Oklahoma. We pray that God will bless and keep each of you in His love and care."

Obviously the people of this community made an impression on Sugar Ray and his family, and it was mutual. As a memento of their visit here, Leonard sent autographed pictures to the late John Divine, who at that time was manager of the Chamber of Commerce; and to C. C. Vernon, Nancy Koch and Abbie Coldiron.

Most Perry area folks are only mildly interested in professional boxing, but it's safe to say many of us developed an interest in Sugar Ray Leonard back in 1981 when he brought his family to Perry to visit Loyd Hughes. You can bet we'll be pulling for the former champ when he steps into the ring to fight Camacho in February. We'll have more on Sugar Ray's connection to Perry in the next Northwest Corner. Stay tuned.