The Weinstein Co. is betting that more people want to see Hands of Stone this Labor Day weekend. So, it is expanding from 800 to 2000 theaters. The biopic about Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran, starring Latino actor Edgar Ramirez (Zero Dark Thirty, The Bourne Ultimatum) as Duran, and Robert De Niro as the legendary boxer trainer Ray Arcel, prominently features Sugar Ray Leonard, played by music superstar Usher Raymond.
Raymond took the role super serious, learning to box and dimming his star a lot to play this important supporting role. But The Shadow League caught up with the man himself, Sugar Ray Leonard, as he supported his friend Chris Tucker’s Third Annual Chris Tucker Foundation Celebrity Golf Tournament in Stone Mountain, just outside Atlanta, to chat about it all.
The Shadow League: When you first heard about Hands of Stone, did you think about how you and Roberto Duran are forever linked?
Sugar Ray Leonard: Well I knew the history because I was in the history. It was a very special and rare, bizarre period in my boxing career and my legacy. It’s a moment that kind of stopped the world for a second to really find out what exactly took place, what happened, in the No Mas [incident].
For them to now create a movie about that moment in my life, my career, it’s very humbling, especially with Usher portraying me. I think they did a fantastic job re-creating the story and the period that millions of boxing fans will forever try to find out what happened.
TSL: Were there some things you didn’t know that you learned watching the movie?
SRL: Well I’ve heard things about Roberto Duran’s upbringing. Because I’m from the ghetto, I had a pretty humbling life but, compared to his life, I was a blessed man. [Hands of Stone is] about a man who persevered, who had good and bad days, and it’s not just boxing; it’s about life itself.
TSL: What memories did watching Usher play you spark?
SRL: I remember every moment vividly, from being in a clench with Roberto Duran to my wife, Juanita, at the time, afraid of what could or would happen. There was so much confidence in my entourage, in my group, but no one could have dreamed or thought of what happened [with no mas].
In this film, it’s clear that Roberto Duran had Panama on his back and it’s kind of hard to fight someone who is fighting for a whole country.
It almost became a thing where it was USA versus Panama. Because they considered me kind of the American hero, when he beat me, the whole country of Panama celebrated in Roberto Duran’s favor and they actually asked me to come and join them.
TSL: What did you tell them?
SRL: I told them I was busy (laughs). But it’s a part of history that I will forever cherish because it was a special moment.
TSL: Speaking of history, can you reflect a little on the passing of Muhammad Ali and what that means to you as a man and as a boxer?
SRL: Muhammad Ali was such a special person in my life, not only as an idol, but as a friend, someone that I looked up to, someone that I tried to emulate. The advice he gave me, the support he gave me when his career was coming to an end. I’ve learned so many things from Muhammad and, although we had brief moments together, they were so priceless and precious to me.
[He spoke to me] about taking care of myself, being upfront, making sure that my finances were okay, taking care of people and taking care of your family. He told me things that my father would tell me and has told me.
I knew I had made it when I was training for the Tommy Hearns fight back in 1981 and Muhammad Ali came to my training camp at Caesar’s Palace. Of all the people in the world, for Muhammad Ali to walk into my training camp, I knew I had made it.
TSL: When it comes to health, we’ve seen so many tragedies, especially with boxers from your era, how have you been able to maintain yours?
SRL: Well there’s genetics. It’s a combination of things. My attitude. I do work out. I’ve turned 60 but, to me, it’s just a number but it’s an important number. Even before you’re 60, you have to take care of yourself. The same way we take care of our cars, whether it’s classic or new, we have to take care of our bodies because our bodies are like cars; keep it tuned up, it runs a long time.
TSL: Has seeing Hands of Stone got you thinking about your own biopic?
SRL: That’s always been on the table . . . . I look forward one day to having my bio, my legacy, on screen.