NEW YORK -- When Sugar Ray Leonard arrived in Las Vegas for his fight against Marvin Hagler in 1987, his entrance to Caesars Palace was heralded by a phalanx of bogus Roman trumpeters, a couple of actors dressed as Caesar and Cleopatra and a gauntlet of imitation Roman slave girls who sprinkled His Sugarship with rose petals as he mounted the marble steps.
When Leonard arrived in New York yesterday for his first day of local training for his Feb. 9 fight against World Boxing Council junior middleweight champion Terry Norris at Madison Square Garden, his reception was less opulent but no less enthusiastic.
Making his way up to the steel-gray doorway that leads to the Kingsway Boxing Center, Leonard had to run the daily gauntlet of winos, drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes who make up the regular scenery outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal. The steps he climbed were concrete, not marble, and the training center was not a converted hotel ballroom but a real gym with club fighters, amateurs and hopefuls.
"Welcome to New York," Leonard said wryly. "This is pretty different for me. This is where I started, in places like this. I missed it."
Although Leonard's camp coordinator, Ollie Dunlap, tried to get Kingsway proprietor Michael Olajide Sr. to clear the gym of other fighters while Leonard trained, 15 or so people who spotted Leonard through the large windows that face out onto Eighth Avenue wandered in to watch.
While Dunlap protested, one of Olajide's assistants circulated through the crowd, charging $1 admission. For their buck, the people got to see Leonard spar three rounds with squat Derwin Richards, a Norris imitator, and two with Michael Ward, a rangy welterweight who had dropped Leonard in December during the first week of training.
It will cost the fans $350 to see Leonard on fight night. Garden officials were hoping for more public workouts and appearances from Leonard in an attempt to boost the live gate -- the fight is being televised live by cable television's Showtime, and New York is not blacked out -- but Leonard said that preparation, not promotion, will be the focus during the next 10 days. A Garden spokesman said 2,513 out of the 18,800 tickets have been sold.
"I don't care about ticket sales," said Leonard, whose purse is based largely on the gate. "I just want to look very impressive and continue my career. . . What good is selling out the Garden if I lose the fight? This is a serious situation."