January 7, 1997
Loyd Hughes was vacationing in the Bahamas one day in 1980 when he shared a car with another young man on holiday from the U.S. They introduced themselves and Loyd found himself shaking hands with Olympic boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard, although the name meant nothing to him at first. "What do you do for a living?", Loyd asked. Sugar Ray replied that he was a prize fighter and said Loyd might remember him as the boxer who kept a photo of his wife taped to his ankle when he won the light heavyweight championship in the 1976 Olympic games at Montreal. That brought it all into focus. Loyd was not a serious prize fight fan, but he did remember the Olympic coverage.
The two men took an instant liking to each other and subsequently dined together several times with their wives while in the Bahamas. When Leonard, who lived in the Washington, D.C., area, asked "Where is Oklahoma?", Loyd told him he must come see the place for himself. Leonard responded with a similar invitation to Loyd and his wife, and the following year Mr. and Mrs. Hughes did spend part of their vacation with the Leonards at their home in Maryland. Loyd had no way of knowing if the Leonards would ever come to Perry, but as it happened they did make the trip here the following year and rode in the September 16th Cherokee Strip parade. They were the star attraction of the entire celebration."
After the 1976 Olympic games, Sugar Ray set sports history by winning professional world titles in five different weights. In the meantime, a friendship blossomed between the champ and his buddy from Perry, Oklahoma. Sugar Ray endeared himself to the public with his broad grin and the image he projected of a clean-cut All-American boy. He was one of America's most popular sports figures.
Leonard lost a classic battle for the World Boxing Council welterweight championship to Roberto Duran at Toronto in 1980, but a rematch was scheduled for the following year in New Orleans. It became one of the most hyped prize fights of the decade and Loyd attended it as Sugar Ray's guest. Several others from Perry, including Danny Hodge, Bob Kasper and Harvey Yost, also were there. Kasper still has his ticket stubs.
Loyd remembers he was in Row 1, Seat 2, and that it was priced at $1,000. As Sugar Ray's guest, it cost him nothing. Next to him, in Row 1, Seat 1, was the British actor Richard Burton, frequent husband of Elizabeth Taylor and a major celebrity in his own right. Another nearby ringside seat was occupied by TV personality David Brenner. Loyd also remembers, with some embarrassment, that he introduced Hodge, Perry's illustrious NCAA champion wrestling, Olympic medalist and Golden Gloves heavyweight boxing champion, to the famed fight trainer Angelo Dundee in New Orleans, only to learn that Dundee and Hodge already were longtime acquaintances and on a first-name basis. Loyd was overwhelmed by the number of prominent people he met the week of the fight. The ABC television broadcaster Howard Cossell was one of them. That was before Mr. Cossell denounced prize fighting as a sham sport and divorced himself from it altogether. Mr. Cossell never had a bad word to say about Sugar Ray, however.
Leonard took Loyd along with his entourage for an appearance on the popular "Good Morning America" TV show on ABC. Standing around waiting for the lights to be adjusted before the show began, Loyd was asked by one of the young women, a production assistant, "Who are you?" Loyd gave the lady his name, but she asked, "No, who ARE you?" Loyd again politely explained that he was just a guy from Oklahoma who happened to be a friend of Sugar Ray. The young woman found it hard to believe that someone from middle America, with no claim to Sugar Ray except friendship, would be allowed to move in that inner circle.
Sugar Ray won that rematch, and the badly battered Duran uttered an historic quote at the end by telling the world, "No mas, no mas," meaning he wanted no more beatings like that. Loyd said it was little wonder to him that Duran took such a punishing loss. "We saw him roaming the bars at 1:30 the morning of the fight," Loyd remembers. He didn't think that was the way a boxer prepared for such an important match.
Loyd hasn't heard from Sugar Ray recently, but he's planning to call his old friend before the February fight, and perhaps invite him back to Perry. He certainly would be welcome here at any time, and this community will be pulling for him the night of February 28 in Atlantic City.