Boxing: Sugar Ray Leonard survives lockdown with remote AA meetings

(Reuters) - Boxer Sugar Ray Leonard was used to spending months in isolation preparing for fights but the retired world champion has said one of the ways he stays sane through the coronavirus lockdown is by attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings online.

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Leonard, who regularly spent months away from the crowds as he trained to win six world titles at five weights between 1979 and 1989, has been attending AA meetings for close to 15 years.

“I can’t go to meetings now but I am on Zoom, I get it on Zoom and I join AA meetings that (have) people from the UK, Puerto Rico, all over the world and we’re watching this, like I am doing with you, because technology is so amazing,” the 63-year-old told Reuters from his home in California.

“I can relate to that and I love this. You can go anywhere. It takes you to where everyone else is. It puts us together.”

Leonard, who has fought alcohol and drug addiction and struggled with what he called “the demons” inside him, said he was wary of the online version of AA but understood the assistance they offer.

“It was scary because, like you asked me, I was afraid, not afraid, well, yes I was afraid,” he said. “I was afraid to go on camera and say, ‘Hi guys, I am Sugar Ray’ - I say Ray - ‘and I’m an alcoholic. That was tough but I am getting better now talking about these things that are so stigmatised.

“It’s new people, but it’s the demons messing with me,” said the man remembered for his epic fights with Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler -- known as the Fabulous Four.

“They’re saying, ‘Don’t reveal yourself, Don’t reveal yourself’. And this guy is saying ‘Ray, it’s OK, it’s OK, you’re one and the same, you guys are alcoholics’.”

Leonard, whose Sugar Ray Leonard Foundation was set up to fight Type 1 and 2 Diabetes, is a regular online with almost 2 million followers on Facebook and Instagram plus regular videos showing workouts and promoting charity auctions.

He remains in shape and told fans a great way to beat the isolation blues is to keep active, whether it’s punching a heavy bag or simply shadow boxing for a few seconds in your kitchen.

Leonard, who was famous for his grace and speed in the ring, was good humoured about being recognised in the online gatherings, even if some of the younger participants know him more for his smooth moves outside the ring than inside.

“(People say) ‘You’re that guy right’ and I say, ‘Yeah, but what guy?’ And he says, ‘The guy on Dancing with the Stars’.”

Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Ken Ferris