SANTA MONICA-Sugar Ray Leonard used to counterpunch boxing opponents with dazzling ease. His ring showmanship was a spectacle to behold as he confounded the likes of legendary fighters Roberto Duran, Thomas “Hitman” Hearns and “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler.
These days, Leonard is hitting back at juvenile diabetes in much the same manner he did against Wilfred Benitez, Floyd Mayweather Sr. and Donny Lalonde. He’s taking the fight to the crippling disease. And he’s has plenty of help in this fight.
Dozens of boxers, music stars and entertainers made their way to the Santa Monica Pier to endorse their support for the Hall of Fame boxer at the 4th Annual Big Fighters, Big Cause Charity Fight Night gala, put on by the Sugar Ray Leonard Foundation and B. Riley & Co. in conjunction with GBK Productions recently to raise money towards the effort of combating juvenile diabetes.
“This is our fourth year of fight night with B. Riley & Company,” Leonard said. “It’s been so overwhelming because the proceeds that are made here will towards research that will eradicate juvenile diabetes for our kids. It is something that I’ve always supported for many, many years. My father is diabetic…I am responding as a parent-first and foremost.”
Leonard realized a long time ago that fighting against juvenile diabetes isn’t going to be a first-round knockout. This battle is about going the distance. By speaking out publicly on the subject for as long as he has and trying to raise the necessary funds for research that will hopefully engage others to do something about it, Leonard has done his part in attracting attention to juvenile diabetes.
“I’ve been an advocate for juvenile diabetes for many, many years,” said Leonard. “It wasn’t until three or four years ago, that my wife and I put together my foundation that benefits and raises awareness about juvenile diabetes, because it is of such epidemic proportions.”
Home run king Barry Bonds, R&B crooners Johnny Gill and Usher, DeVon Franklin, actress Tamela Jones (Castle), attorney Robert Shapiro, actors Tommy Davidson and Adam Rodriguez (Magic Mike) made their way down the red carpet down to the impromptu boxing ring that featured several sanctioned boxing matches during the event.
Of course, you couldn’t have sponsored fights without a bevy of boxers making their way to the venue to catch some fistic action as well.
Two-time welterweight champion Andre Berto, Olympian Henry Till and world champion Sergio “The Latin Snake” Mora were in the house to lend their support for a most noteworthy cause that tends to be overlooked.
Like the boxers he used to pummel in the ring with his lighting speed, this opponent hasn’t gotten by Leonard. Juvenile diabetes, now referred to as type 1 diabetes, effectively shuts down the insulin from a child’s pancreas in order for them to survive, causing those individuals to get the proper insulin by other methods.
But this disease does not discriminate. Adults can be affected by type 1 diabetes as well as children. However, from 2001 to 2009, there was a significant rise in type 1 diabetes among young people 20 and under, according to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are over 25 million Americans living with diabetes. Of that number, women account for 12.6 million of those afflicted with diabetes.
Furthermore, the Office of Minority Health states that African Americans double the number of whites to be diagnosed with diabetes, and are twice as likely to die from the silent killer.
As many as up to three million people come down with type 1 diabetes. Leonard and his pals believe the number of people and children struck down with type 1 diabetes are too many.
BET host Porscha Coleman said Leonard is a perfect example to learn from when you examine his ability to transcend from athletic megastar to someone who is able to wear his compassion and humanity for others on his sleeves.
“Sugar Ray Leonard is such an amazing, amazing example for young people all over the world,” Coleman said. “My uncle and grandfather were both boxers, so I grew watching him. His talent and his skills were unbelievable. [But] It’s really about what he did after he stopped boxing; the charity, the events and just bringing awareness. He’s really been an example of what an athlete turned entrepreneur should be.”
Coleman added that it is difficult to see so many young people today with juvenile diabetes.
“It is really sad and unfortunate base on the fact that so many young people seven or eight years ago are struggling with juvenile diabetes,” Coleman said. “When you think of diabetes usually you think of somebody in their late 60s or 70s.”
It’s all about the children for Leonard. His glory as an international boxing icon has long gone but he is still fighting. This time around Leonard is looking to TKO something far more dangerous than any opponent he has ever fought in the ring.
Instead of taking out an opposing fighter’s with his known lethal flurry of punches, these days Leonard is fighting to save the lives of young people.
Instead of unleashing mayhem and destruction in the ring, Leonard is releasing hope and protection from harm that juvenile diabetes can cause.
For the past four years, Leonard, through his Sugar Ray Leonard Foundation, has taken the fight to juvenile diabetes, raising money to try to create a buzz and awareness about the health disability.
As he masterfully did in the boxing ring, Leonard has been methodically sizing up this opponent with the same guile and ring mastery that made him a folk hero.
Leonard is a hero to most, a 1980s cult icon to others. His breathtaking charismatic smile and super ordinary ring skills made him a legend in the boxing world.
His highly touted boxing matches with Duran, Benitez, Hearns and Hagler were all must-see television.
Leonard had a way in the ring to make the casual observer a real fanatic fight fan with his electric boxing presence. The darling of the 1976 Olympics, Leonard made boxing cool to watch.
Pound-for-pound, he is one of the all-greats. His pedigree as a stalwart in the ring is firmly backed by his boxing Hall of Fame credentials.
Leonard, however, is much more than that. Growing up on the rough and tumble streets of Maryland, Leonard is a man of conviction and perspective.
Davidson, who once starred in the hit television sitcom “In Living Color,” knows all about the heartbeat that Leonard carries. Davidson said he grew up not too far from Leonard’s hometown and pretty much looked up to the most celebrated boxer of his era.
“I grew up in Maryland, out of where Ray boxed, so everybody who grew up around us wanted to be like Ray Leonard,” Davidson said. “We all wanted to box. He actually was one of my inspirations of getting out of Maryland.
“We’ve been friends over the years. Of course, any support he needs from me, he got it. He’s always down for the right causes.”
The right cause is juvenile diabetes in which Davidson is keenly aware of whom it affects the most.
“The way it strikes African Americans in proportion to other types of Americans, it is important that at least the awareness is there,” said Davidson.