NEW YORK -- Sugar Ray Leonard struck a blow for truth, justice and ticket sales yesterday when, in his penultimate sparring session for Saturday night's fight against Terry Norris at Madison Square Garden, he decked sparring partner Derwin Richards with a left hook in front of a packed house at the Kingsway Boxing Center on Eighth Avenue.
Leonard's haymaker was a sharp counter left hook that caught Richards flush on the headguard late in the fourth round of sparring. Richards, a 23-year-old junior middleweight from Houston, went down on his back and appeared to be out cold.
"He tripped," deadpanned Leonard.
"A little payback, I guess," said Richards, who had dropped Leonard with a body shot a few weeks ago in Tampa. "But his knockdown is much more important than mine."
It demonstrated that Leonard is ready, physically, for his challenge to Norris, 23, who holds the WBC junior middleweight title. It also indicated Leonard may be preparing to slug it out with the speedy Norris, a departure from the safety-first posture he assumed in his most recent fight, a 12-round decision over Roberto Duran in December 1989.
"This was a simulation of what it will be like," Leonard said. "Terry doesn't have the artillery to beat me inside. That's a fact."
Another fact is 4,712 of the 18,000 tickets have been sold for this, Leonard's first -- and probably only -- Madison Square Garden appearance. But Leonard has consciously avoided making many promotional appearances for the bout. Yesterday, he even tried to downplay the knockdown, although it occurred in full view of about 20 newspaper reporters and a half-dozen TV cameras.
"I could knock down 25 guys in here and it's no big deal," Leonard said. "It happens all the time. The only thing that matters is winning on fight night."