Sugar Ray's Loss Leaves a Sour Taste

ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey -- It was Joe Louis, lying on the canvas, a bald spot on his head gleaming in the lights. It was Muhammad Ali hunched over on a stool, his legendary reflexes unable to respond one more time. It was Julio Cesar Chavez with blood streaming down his face and Bobby Chacon with his mind gone blank.

It is perhaps the saddest sight in boxing, a great champion who takes on one too many opponents, fights one too many rounds, absorbs one too many punches.

It happened again Saturday night at the Atlantic City Convention Center. It happened to Sugar Ray Leonard, who should have known better after taking a beating at the hands of Terry Norris back in 1991 in his last appearance in the boxing ring.

At 40, six years after his last fight, eight years after his last victory, nine years after last winning a title, Leonard tried to come out of retirement for the fifth time, only to be hammered back into a life of leisure by Hector Camacho, who scored a TKO victory at 1:08 of the fifth round over Leonard before an announced 10,324 crowd.

At the end, Leonard looked like all the previous great champions who fought and lost to Father Time. Having already been down once in that fifth round from a pair of left uppercuts, Leonard was helpless on the ropes, blood coming down from a cut over his left eye, the hands that had dazzled so many opponents unable to handle the ferocious blows of Camacho.

Eight, nine, 10 times Camacho peppered Leonard with lefts and rights before referee Joe Cortez stepped in to let Leonard know what the rest of the boxing world had already figured out.

It was over.

"I tried my heart out," Leonard said, "but it just didn't happen."

Afterward, Leonard tried to put much of the blame for his performance on a sprained right calf muscle, an injury he said first occurred a month ago and flared up again two weeks ago.

Leonard said that the injury had caused him to be secretly hospitalized and that he had required painkilling medication to function as well as he did.

"I had no control of my leg," he said.

While some may see the victory by Camacho, 34, who successfully defended his International Boxing Council middleweight title, as somewhat tainted because of the age of his opposition and the revelation about the calf injury, Camacho was not letting it dim his enthusiasm. "As far as I am concerned," Camacho said, "I gave him respect. I was honored to fight Ray Leonard.

"He didn't hurt me. After three or four rounds, he was shot. He reacted the way I expected him to react."

Camacho came out aggressively in the first round, while Leonard looked tentative and awkward. Leonard appeared to win the second round, discovering for one brief instant the devastating combinations that had put away some of the best fighters of the 1980s.

But by the third round, Camacho was back in control, by the fourth, Leonard had the cut over his left eye, and by the fifth, he was gone.

Camacho, 64-3-1 with 32 knockouts, is looking ahead, saying he'd like to fight the winner of the April 12 Oscar De La Hoya-Pernell Whitaker fight.

Leonard finishes at 36-3-1 with 25 knockouts.