ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- This time there could be no more excuses, no rationalizing, no more talks of another comeback for Sugar Ray Leonard.
Hector Camacho, often regarded as a clown, proved he is also a consummate pro between the ropes in stopping Leonard at 1: 08 the fifth round of their scheduled 12-round International Boxing Council middleweight championship bout at the Convention Center last night.
Leonard looked every bit the part of a 40-year-old grandfather as he was consistently beaten to the punch by Camacho, six years younger and active the last six years while Leonard lived a life of leisure.
The end came suddenly. Camacho, a 7-5 underdog, dropped Leonard with a barrage that began with a right hand and ended with three bristling left hooks.
Leonard beat referee Joe Cortez's count on rubbery legs, but Camacho would not let him escape from the ropes. He caught the six-time former champion with 10 unanswered punches before Cortez mercifully stopped it.
Leonard, who had not fought since taking a painful beating from a youthful Terry Norris at Madison Square Garden, Feb. 9, 1991, paid tribute to Camacho, who lived up to his ring ensemble of a Roman gladiator.
"I'm through," he said succinctly. "If this was an indication for me to stop, it was a good one.
"Camacho fought a superb fight. He was always one step ahead of me. I tried to establish my jab, but I didn't have the balance.
"He was much more focused than when he fought Roberto Duran [winning a 12-round decision] last June."
J. D. Brown, who helped arrange the match and got a reported $3.5 million guarantee for Leonard compared to $1.5 million for Camacho, tried to prop up the loser's reputation.
"I should have canceled the fight," Brown said. "Ray first tore the calf muscle a month ago, and it popped again two weeks ago. The rumors of his being hospitalized were true."
But Leonard offered no resistance when Cortez threw a protective arm around him.
"He didn't say anything," said Cortez. "Later, he thanked me."
Even a healthy Leonard would have had trouble against a determined Camacho (64-3-1) last night.
To his credit, Camacho did not gloat in making a ring legend look all too human.
"I felt very strong from the beginning," he said. "It was a matter of time before I felt he would give in to my punches.
"I'm the 'Macho Man,' and I proved it. Give me Oscar De La Hoya, Pernell Whitaker or Felix Trinidad. I'm ready for any of them."
Camacho, who won his first title as a super featherweight in 1983, likely will challenge the winner of the De La Hoya-Whitaker fight in Las Vegas on April 12.
Leonard (36-3-1), whose only other losses came against Duran and Terry Norris, said he was briefly hospitalized with an injury to his right calf two weeks ago. He had held all his sparring sessions in private while Camacho was only too happy to entertain his fans with boxing and endless chatter.
When it came time to fight, Camacho was all business.
It was Camacho who took the fight to Leonard in the opening minute, firing rapid combinations. Leonard looked to counter and landed a straight right a minute into the round.
There was a brief scare for Leonard's corner when Leonard suddenly fell in a neutral corner. But Cortez ruled it a slip. Still, the left-handed Camacho won the round handily with his effective jab.
As the second round came near an end, Leonard landed a solid combination. Camacho clinched and was warned by Cortez for holding Leonard behind the head.
The action intensified in the third round. Leonard began loading up, looking to score a big punch, but Camacho easily avoided several wild overhand rights.
Leonard, a Maryland native now living in California, tried to slow Camacho's attack with several hooks to the rib section. But Camacho scored with two stiff jabs, opening a cut over Leonard's left eye, the same eye that needed retinal surgery in 1982, prompting his first retirement.
In earlier bouts, Miami native Robert Daniels staged a strong rally in the last three rounds to gain a split decision over Kenny Keane, of Emmett, Idaho, to win the International Boxing Council cruiserweight championship.
Keene (38-2) dominated the early rounds by outboxing his rival. But Daniels (36-3-1) began landing telling hooks and strong right hands in the closing rounds to win on the cards of Larry Dickey (115-113) and Dana DePaola (116-113). The third official, John Stewart, favored Keene, 115-113.
Also, former bantamweight and featherweight champion Orlando Canizales of Laredo, Texas, toyed with Roland Gomez of Corpus Christi, Texas, for two rounds before finishing him with a hook to the body at 2: 57 of the third round.
Canizales defended his bantam title 16 times, before moving up in weight. He boosted his record to 44-3-1. The overmatched Gomez dropped to 24-14.
And in a rematch pitting former world champions, Charles Murray proved he has much more of a ring future than shopworn Livingston Bramble. Murray, the former junior welterweight champion from Rochester, N.Y., used Bramble as a punching bag in sweeping all 10 rounds.
The only real question was why referee Tony Perez allowed the lopsided fight to last more than a few rounds as Bramble, 36, spent almost the entire bout in a defensive posture.
nTC One judge, Dan Shannon, voted for Murray, 100-84, awarding the winner six 10-8 rounds.
Murray, who owns the NABF 140-pound title, raised his record to 39-3. Bramble (38-19-4), who held the lightweight crown in 1991 after whipping Ray Mancini, has lost 17 of his past 25 matches.
Pub Date: 3/02/97