Whatever Happened to Boxer Sugar Ray Seales?
Here’s the tragic story of a “Sugar Ray” many people have probably forgotten
The world of professional boxing has featured many boxers with the honorable moniker of “Sugar Ray,” perhaps most notably Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray Leonard. But few remember Sugar Ray Seales, the only American boxer to win a gold metal in the 1972 Summer Olympics.
Sugar Ray Seales entered the boxing world fighting as a welterweight (139 lbs), winning over 300 fights in the amateur ranks and won the Golden Gloves Welterweight Championship in 1972. Seales turned pro a year later and won his first 21 fights. Along the way, Seales fought legendary middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hager three times, losing twice but attaining a draw in the second fight.
Then during a bout in 1980, Jaime Thomas thumbed Seales in the left eye, beginning Seales’ personal bout with eye injuries, his career deteriorating thereafter and ending entirely in 1983.
Let’s check out the woeful story of Sugar Ray Seales, a lanky, 6 foot one southpaw with a great jab who electrified the boxing world in the late 1970s to early 1980s, until tragedy ended his boxing aspirations and his life drifted into obscurity.
Please keep reading!
Sugar Ray Seales’ Early Years
Ray Seales was born in September 1952 on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where his father boxed in the U.S. Army. The family moved to Tacoma, Washington in 1965, and there Seales began his amateur career, coached by Joe Clough.
In Seale’s amateur career, he won 338 fights, losing only 12 and registering over 200 knockouts, an astonishing feat for a boxer in any era. Seales made the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team in 1968 but, since he was only 16, he couldn’t compete in that year’s Olympiad.
Then Sugar Ray Seales’ time to shine finally arrived. Once again he made the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team in 1972 and won the gold medal while competing in Munich, Germany, defeating five fighters to grab the gold. (Some fans may recall seeing Seales’ mom cheering him on with cries of “Come on, Sugar Ray!” during the deciding match, as seen on national TV.)
But keep in mind, this Olympiad was marred by the murder of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists. Perhaps this is why Sugar Ray Seales never became a celebrity, much less a household name, as other Olympic boxers did during the same era.
Seale’s Professional Career
Often compared to boxing great Sugar Ray Robinson, Seales soon turned pro and won his first bout in November 1973, defeating Gonzalo Rodriguez in eight rounds. Seales went on to win his first 21 fights, before he met a foe he could never defeat: Marvelous Marvin Hagler, one of the greatest middleweight boxing champions of all time.
Seales and Hagler fought three times, the first in 1974, when Hagler won a unanimous 10-round decision. But Seales fought Hagler to a draw just three months later. Then, in their last contest in 1979, Hagler knocked out Seales in the first round.
Unfortunately, as good as Seales was, he could never defeat the elite fighters of the middleweight class, champions such as Hagler, Ayub Kalule or Alan Minter. Partly because of this, by the early 1980s Seales’ vocation went into decline, though he compiled a very impressive career record of 57 wins (34 by KO), eight losses and three draws. He also won two middleweight championships, the NABF and USBA titles; however, these regional titles are not highly regarded.
Detached Retinas in Both Eyes
Even though Seales won most of his last fights in the early 1980s, the battery he sustained in the ring took its toll. He suffered detached retinas in both eyes, yet he kept fighting, until told by boxing officials that he could no longer compete. In fact, by 1984 Seales could hardly see at all and became a very bitter man. In an article of People magazine, Seales said, “This,” referring to his gold medal, “should have propelled me into something good.”
Perhaps worst of all, after paying for seven different eye operations, Sugar Ray Seales became a penniless man and over $100,000 in debt. Moreover, the operations weren't successful. He walked with a blind man’s cane and constantly ran into things.
Seales needed the money because even though he had a victorious boxing career, he never made more than $40,000 in any one fight (his first fight paid only $4,000), in contrast to other former Olympic boxing champions, such as Sugar Ray Leonard, who made millions of dollars per fight.
At a benefit for Seales in the middle 1980s (according to the aforementioned magazine article), entertainer Sammy Davis Jr., hoping to help Seales with his financial problems, said of Seales: “He’s got the three Bs – he’s black, blind and broke. I’ve got two of them myself.” Unfortunately, the benefit lost $25,000!
Sugar Ray Leonard
Over the years, many people have compared Seales to boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard, one of many gold medal winners at the 1976 Summer Olympics. Sugar Ray Leonard is another boxer who had retinal surgery, though his was successful, saving his illustrious boxing career.
Nevertheless, because of the seriousness of his injury, Leonard retired from boxing in 1982, though later that same year he announced he would resume his boxing career, eventually defeating in 1987 Marvelous Marvin Hagler in what was called The Super Fight.
Interestingly, the careers of both Sugar Ray Leonard and Sugar Ray Seales were used as prime examples when people tried unsuccessfully to get professional boxing banned during the 1980s.
To the Present
After further operations, Sugar Ray Seales is now able to see with his right eye, though he must wear spectacles. Now able to work, for 17 years Seales worked as a teacher of autistic students at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington, until his retirement in 2004. These days Seales, now married, works as a boxing coach for amateur fighters in the Indianapolis area.
As a parting note, whenever you think of the great Sugar Ray Leonard, please also consider Sugar Ray Seales, who, in contrast, had a very good boxing career but, sadly, didn’t earn enough money to pay his doctor’s bills.
People can read more about Sugar Ray Seales by clicking on his Facebook page.
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Tale of Two Sugar Rays
© 2013 Kelley Marks