Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard is in talks about a movie deal for his well-received autobiography with Michael Arkush, “The Big Fight: My Life in and out of the Ring.” Asked who he wants to play him, the former champ doesn’t miss a beat: “Brad Pitt.”
But seriously, he tells us, “It’s not a boxing movie, per se. It’s really life; boxing is the backdrop. It’s a fight outside the ring.”
Telling his story — complete with revelations of sexual abuse by a prominent Olympic boxing coach and another older man involved in the sport — has already had an amazingly strong impact, considering the book just came out in June.
“I didn’t think it would be as cathartic as it has been, as really therapeutic as it’s been to get this out, to get rid of this toxic poison in my system,” he says. And not just for Leonard himself. He says he has been approached many times while on book tour by fans who tell him they, too, have felt the shame of sexual abuse. “Being a guy, a dude, a fighter, a black man, it’s totally against all of our rules, our codes. I’ve had all kinds of guys come up — in business suits, in jeans, in incredible shape, with beer bellies, with tattoos — they hug me and share tears. They say, ‘Man, you know, I was one of those guys. Thank-you.'”
In fact, Leonard says in recent days he’s been asked to do two speaking engagements on the subject of child sexual abuse. “At first I held back,” he admits. “I said, ‘No, no. I’m not going to become the poster child for this.’ Then I thought again. Whether poster child or not, so be it.” And he’s accepted the dates.
Writing about his infidelity in his first marriage, his drinking and drugs, has also been healing. Leonard reveals that his first wife, Juanita, showed up at his recent book signing in Atlanta “and we went out for dinner afterward…When I saw her, I couldn’t believe she actually did show up…We did a lot of smiling. At some point we both felt at peace, at rest. I didn’t appreciate it until I went back to the hotel and thought about what just transpired. We went through divorce proceedings that were quite adversarial,” recalls Leonard, who has been married to second wife Bernadette since 1993.
MEANWHILE: Leonard’s next career move couldn’t be much further from the personal drama and high emotion of his book release. He’s the fight choreographer on Hugh Jackman’s October-debuting feature “Real Steel” — a near-future tale in which boxing matches are fought by robots.
“That was big, that was huge!” he exclaims in delight. “Meeting Hugh, working with the cast and producer Sean Levy — I loved it. If I know anything, I know how to choreograph a fight.” As for whether the film could precipitate robot boxing matches in the real world, “With the technology moving the way it is, you’re damn right it could happen,” says Leonard. He laughs, “and I’d get a great return.”