Sugar Ray Leonard keynote speaker

Champion Olympic and professional welterweight boxer
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Sugar Ray Leonard is a former American professional boxer. He won the gold medal in light-welterweight boxing at the 1976 Olympic Games and went pro the following year. His 1987 defeat of "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler for the World Boxing Council's middleweight title is considered one of the greatest professional boxing matches of all time. Leonard retired in 1997 with a record of 36-3-1 and was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame.

One of boxing's most beloved and successful fighters, Sugar Ray Leonard was born Ray Charles Leonard on May 17, 1956, in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. The fifth of Gertha and Cicero Leonard's seven children, he was named after his mother's favorite singer, Ray Charles.

For Leonard, life was often tough—as a child, he witnessed lives around him wasted by crime and violence. Several of his high school peers died due to violent crimes; many others were sent to prison. Leonard, however, was determined not to succumb to his surroundings.

Leonard was quick and deft. More importantly, he was eager to learn. In 1973, the fruits of his labor started to pay off. He won the National Golden Gloves that year, and a year later, he was crowned the national Amateur Athletic Union champion.

"When I first started, I used to fight like Joe Frazier," Leonard once said. "I would come in low, bob and weave, and I knocked out many guys like that. I straightened out when I saw Muhammad Ali, when I started studying Sugar Ray Robinson." Leonard's reverence for Robinson ran so deep that he eventually took the nickname "Sugar Ray," which stuck.

Over the course of his successful amateur career, Leonard won three National Golden Gloves titles, two AAU championships and the 1975 Pan American title. At the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada, he vaulted to celebrity status by overcoming severe hand injuries to win the gold medal in the light-welterweight (139-pound) division.

As a pro, Leonard matched the same success he'd had as an amateur fighter. In November 1979, he won the World Boxing Council's welterweight title, and over the next decade, he fought in some of boxing's most memorable bouts, winning nearly all of them. His victories included wins over Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns.

Leonard retired in 1984, but a few years later, in 1987, stepped back into the ring to upset "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler for the middleweight crown. To this day, the 1987 Leonard-Hagler bout is widely considered one of the greatest fights in boxing history.

Leonard retired from boxing for good in 1997, finishing his pro boxing career with a 36-3-1 record and 25 knockouts. Later that year, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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