The end of the journey came with only six seconds to go in the 15th round. Earlier in the round a left uppercut to the chin had dropped Wilfred Benitez, and two more punches persuaded the referee to stop the bout. At age 23, Sugar Ray Leonard became the WBC welterweight champion, three years and 26 fights after becoming a gold-medal winner and national hero at the Montreal Olympics. As Trainer Janks Morton hoisted Leonard in triumph, Sugar Ray's countenance glowed with pride and joy. Not that Leonard didn't know he'd been in a fight—"I kind of felt like Rocky," he said later. His next destination? Possibly a match with former lightweight-champion-turned-welterweight Roberto Duran.
Vito Antuofermo (left) retained his title in a bloody draw with Marvin Hagler.
How sweet it is: Sugar Ray on top of the world.
How sour it turns: Gerrie Coetzee KOs former heavyweight champ Leon Spinks in the first round.
March 13, 1980
Marvin Johnson (left) stashes away a title.
Larry Holmes gets a heavy hug as WBC champ.
Big John Tate fought unflaggingly for the Stars and Stripes overseas.
ALI PUNCHED HIMSELF OUT
For the first time in 15 years, boxing didn't have Muhammad Ali in its corner. But while the retired champ was off peddling roach condos, the manly art managed to go the distance quite nicely. There was even significant action in the heavyweight ranks. In Las Vegas, Larry Holmes, defending his WBC title for the fourth time, climbed off the floor in the seventh round after being clobbered by one of Earnie Shavers' famed rights and went on to win on a TKO in the 11th round. The WBA held eliminations to determine Ali's successor, and Big John Tate bulled through two South Africans, Kallie Knoetze and Gerrie Coetzee, on their home turf to earn the crown. The Leon Spinks saga-emphasis on sag-continued as Coetzee knocked out the former champ in the first round of their elimination fight. Only those who cherish the memory of Primo Camera could fully savor the heavyweight debut of Ed (Too Bad He Gave Up Pro Football) Jones.
Boxing's biggest night of the year came on Nov. 30 when ABC presented three championships for the price of one. In a preliminary to the Sugar Ray Leonard-Wilfred Benitez fight in Las Vegas, Vito Antuofermo, the former sausage grinder from Brooklyn (via Italy) with a map of the borough on his visage, retained his middleweight title in a draw that was unpopular with many, especially favored challenger Marvin Hagler. In the other championship bout, staged in New Orleans, Victor Galindez of Argentina proved that in the course of a year he could 1) lose his WBA light-heavyweight title to Mike Rossman, 2) pull out of a rematch at the last minute, 3) regain his crown from Rossman, and 4) lose it again—this time to Marvin Johnson on an 11th-round KO. Johnson once held the WBC title, but lost it to Matthew Saad Muhammad, who was formerly Matt Franklin. If all that sounds confusing, that's because it is. Everything seemed clear in the lower weights, where Wilfredo Gomez, the WBC super bantamweight champ, and Danny Lopez, the WBC featherweight titleholder, continued to knock out challengers—until Salvador Sanchez of Mexico stopped Lopez and threw the flea circus into confusion, too.