By Steve Kim Updated on August 16, 2021

Ray Leonard Envisions Spence's Return to the Ring

Picture for Ray Leonard Envisions Spence's Return to the Ring

The news hit like a punch in the gut last Tuesday morning. Due to a partially torn retina in the left eye of unified welterweight champion, Errol Spence, he would be scratched from his highly anticipated showdown versus Manny Pacquiao.

In his place. WBA welterweight champion, Yordenis Ugas, will now face the Filpino icon at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas this weekend. 

The future of Spence is unknown given the nature of his injury. 

But a return to the ring is certainly possible. And if there is anyone that knows what he's going through its Sugar Ray Leonard, who's career was sidelined with a similar ailment in 1982 ( prior to his bout against Roger Stafford.

 Picture for Ray Leonard Envisions Spence's Return to the Ring

"I naturally felt bad for him," Leonard told, as he heard the news. "It hit home because again, I had that too. But now because of medical technology, where we are today with medicine, treatment of injuries and things of that nature, I'm optimistic he's going to be OK."

At the time of his ailment, the 25 year old Leonard was at the top of his game. Having beaten Thomas Hearns in a classic battle in September of 1981, and then taking care of Bruce Finch in three rounds the following February.

Leonard recalled, "The only thing I felt, I'd get hit in the eye and it swells, then all of a sudden it felt like a shade. It felt like a little shade opens in your eye -- you don't completely see the full picture. It looked like my eye was swollen, well... it felt like my eye was swollen because my vision at that time was getting worse because that curtain was coming down. 

According to him, the vitreous gel that fills the eye began to leak out in his left eye.

But even then, Leonard didn't truly grasp the severity of his injury.

"I didn't even know what (the doctor) was talking about. He said, 'You have a detached retina.' I said, 'OK'. We thought we could come after the fight. Seriously," said Leonard, who was told by the world renown surgeon Ronald G. Michels that holding off this surgery for another week could lead to blindness.

"I'll do it tomorrow," was Leonard's quick reply.

Contrary to popular belief, the damage to his eye didn't necessarily come from his arduous battle with Hearns. There has been plenty of speculation about just how and when Spence incurred his injury, whether it was from a fight, or from his horrific car accident in the fall of 2019.

"I asked the doctor, he said, 'You can't pin-point when it happened.' He said, 'You could've been poked in the eye playing basketball, it's an accumulation of trauma." explained Leonard, who didn't return to the ring until May of 1984, where he had to get off the canvas to stop Kevin Howard in nine rounds.  

The decision to box again, was met with much criticism from pundits who believed it was a reckless decision. He would quickly 'retire' (which began a bit of habit for Leonard) after that lackluster showing. But he makes it clear, it had nothing to do with his vision. "I felt slow, I felt sluggish -- I felt everything but the eye,'' Leonard clarified. 

Eventually he would return to the ring and shock the boxing world by upsetting Marvelous Marvin Hagler in April of 1987, and engaged in five more professional fights. At age 65, Leonard notes that his eye sight is crystal clear.

 Picture for Ray Leonard Envisions Spence's Return to the Ring

"Because of the advancement in medical technology, they can do wonders," said Leonard. "But yeah, you have to be patient."

Spence, who missed out on a career-high payday, and the opportunity at a career-defining victory seems upbeat.

"I’m very disappointed that I won’t be able to fight Manny Pacquiao on August 21,’’ said Spence, in a press release. “I was excited about the fight and the event. Unfortunately, the doctors found a tear in my left eye and said I needed to get surgery on it ASAP and that there was no way I could fight with my eye in that condition. I’d like to apologize to everyone. You know I’ll be back as soon as possible. We’ve come back from worse.’’

Leonard has very simple advice for Spence moving forward: "Believe in the advancement of medical technology." 



Some quick thoughts on this past weekend in boxing...

- Well, Tyler Gilbert of the Arizona Diamondbacks wasn't the only one who threw a no-hitter on Saturday. Both John Riel Casiemero and Guillermo Rigondeaux participated in a double no-no at the (non) Punch Bowl in Carson, California, in what was an utterly forgettable main event on Showtime.

There's a fine line between defensive, tactical boxing, and a full-blown retreat. Rigondeaux had no issues crossing that line with his tactics on this fight. Early on, the displeasure could be heard from the rather small crowd at the Dignity Health Sports Park.

One guy couldn't (Casimero), the other guy wouldn't (Rigondeaux). And this is what we ended up with. 

You can argue who won this fight (regardless, the real losers are the ones who made the decision to watch this), but it was Casimero who retained his WBO bantamweight title. 

This much is clear, though, if boxers were paid in boo's heard, Rigondeuax would be boxing's Bill Gates.

 Picture for Ray Leonard Envisions Spence's Return to the Ring

Photo Credit: Stephanie Trapp/Showtime Sports

-There was no debate this time around as Joshua Franco clearly defeated Andrew Moloney over 12 rounds to retain his WBA 'regular' 115-pound title. He was the very definition of consistent and steady in Tulsa. He may not have the pure natural talent of guys like Juan Francisco Estrada, Roman Gonzalez and Kazuto Ioka, but he'd certainly make them entertaining fights with his work rate and doggedness. 

 Picture for Ray Leonard Envisions Spence's Return to the Ring

Photo Credit:  Mikey Williams/Top Rank

- Who knows if Vergil Ortiz is truly ready for the likes of WBO welterweight titlist, Terence Crawford, but once again he showed that he's a fight that always delivers crowd-pleasing performances. He overcame a tough moment in the second frame, to drop 'Mean Machine' Kavaliauskas five times en route to an eighth round stoppage at the Star in Frisco, Texas.

This is the guy that Golden Boy Promotions should be building their future around. Certain guys are a a lot of sizzle, Ortiz could be filet mignon.

 Picture for Ray Leonard Envisions Spence's Return to the Ring

Photo Credit: Stacy M Snyder



Arnold Barboza Jr. consistently makes for good TV... Karlos Balderas, in what was his first fight under the direction of trainer Buddy McGirt, and the Top Rank banner, had a promising debut, as he scored a 2nd round stoppage of Fidel Cervantes....Emmanuel Rodriguez might be the most snake bit boxer in the sport, poor guy....Ruben 'Ace' Torres is a prospect that is gaining buzz on the West Coast. He scored another KO on the recent Thompson Boxing card.... I can be reached at

About Author
Ray Leonard Envisions Spence's Return to the Ring
  • Hosted 'the Main Event' on KIEV 870, and then later XTRA AM1150 ( a three hour show devoted to boxing) from 1996 to 1999.
  • Joined one of the first boxing websites, 'House of Boxing' in 1999, and then later became one of the founders of Maxboxing, that started in 2001, till his departure in 2014.
  • From 2014 to 2018, he was the lead columnist for
  • Was a boxing reporter for from 2018 to 2020.
  • He has written for Ring Magazine, International Boxing Digest and Boxing News.
  • Is the co-host of 'the 3 Knockdown Rule' with Mario Lopez, which has become of the most popular boxing podcasts the past several years.
  • Steve has also served as an announcer and analyst for RingTV, Thompson Boxing, 360 Promotions and CBS Sports Network.