In the same three years, I was neither a boyfriend to Juanita nor a father to Ray Jr. I made what I would describe as cameo appearances, showing up in their lives for brief stretches before disappearing again for weeks at a time. Either I hung out in the gym in pursuit of my next victory or I hung out with my friends, my "boys," as I called them, in pursuit of my next piece of ass. No matter what financial responsibilities I assumed for Juanita and little Ray, I saw myself as a free man in every sense of the word and was bound to prove it ... over and over and over. After the three of us started to live together in the summer of 1977, I rented a separate apartment that I kept secret from Juanita. Although she had heard rumors, she didn't know for sure until she tricked a friend of mine into coming clean, and I still tried to deny it. Even after I told her the truth, I didn’t stop using the apartment.
The story was the same on the road, my boys taking care of the arrangements. In Baton Rouge, for example, while I trained for Marcos Geraldo, they kept a sharp lookout for any pretty women who came to the sparring sessions, or to the fight itself, jotting down their numbers and addresses. Weeks later, about ten of us, including my brothers, flew back into town to divvy up the pool of talent, and, believe me, there was plenty to go around after I got first dibs.
Looking back, I can offer no defense for my conduct. I was wrong and I have to live with these sins, and the ones to follow, every single day. They eventually cost me my first marriage and deeply harmed the relationships with my two older sons. At the same time, I wasn’t the first, and I wouldn’t be the last, celebrity to surrender to the irresistible temptations fame provides. Until one has experienced the full range of pleasures that most people are denied their whole lives, and that includes sex with breathtakingly beautiful women, one has no concept of how alluring they can be. If I had not been rich and famous, these women would not have given me the time of day.
The boys, now old men, tell me they miss the glory days. At the age of fifty-four, blessed with a second chance at marriage and fatherhood I didn’t deserve, I do not. Still, I understand how they feel. We thought we owned the world. No possession was beyond our grasp, and there was no reason to wait for it. If I went to a car dealership and spotted a Maserati that I desired, the car would belong to me within minutes. I wouldn’t sit in an office for an hour to work out the financing. "Call Mike Trainer (his lawyer and manager)," I'd tell the lot owner, "and make the deal." He’d hand over the tags and I’d drive away with my new toy. Cars, women, they were all toys.
Why did Juanita stick around? Why not leave me and find a man who would treat her with the proper respect? In her early twenties, she was more beautiful than ever and, just as in high school, could have attracted anyone she wished for.
Maybe it was because of our son or because she’d invested so much time in us already. Whatever her reasoning, it was a miracle that she didn’t blow my brains out. If it had been the other way around, I would not have been as forgiving. When we were teenagers, I routinely beat up guys if they even looked at her the wrong way. I sent one kid under a jukebox, another almost through a windshield. In the mid-1970s, during a period when we weren’t seeing each other, I went crazy when I heard she was dating somebody else. I stopped by her house at about three in the morning, practically pushed her into the car, and after driving about three or four miles, told her to get out and walk home by herself. Within a minute or two, I regained my senses and turned around to pick her up. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that she stopped trying to save our marriage. I could not blame her. She gave me more chances than I deserved.
With the belt in my possession, the time had come to claim another title: husband.
For years, it was the one title I did not actively pursue and, if anything, I did my best -- and behaved my worst -- to avoid. After becoming a father in late 1973 at the age of seventeen, the last thing I craved was more responsibility, especially with all the freedoms I earned with my fists.
So what made me tie the knot? The simple answer is, I thought marriage was the right thing to do, which doesn’t make me sound like the most romantic guy in the world, does it? Looking back, that was one of the many warning signs I missed. Another sign I missed was how I chose to spend my last evening as a single man: with another woman, naturally, at a bachelor party the boys put together. I didn’t know the girl and I never saw her again, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that marriage, no matter how sacred a commitment, was not about to change my life. I promised myself I would still go to the coolest clubs and sleep with the hottest girls. I was Sugar Ray Leonard.
To buy The Big Fight, click here. Email co-author Michael Arkush at firstname.lastname@example.org.