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From the Dim to the Light

Updated: Jan 8, 2019

Sugar Ray Seales Overcomes

By John J. Raspanti

He’s seen a lot—a Palestinian terrorist group called Black September holding 11 Israeli athletes at gunpoint; the joy on his parents' faces as an Olympic gold medal was placed round his neck; money he earned come, and then go. He’s seen parades, awards and even a day named in his honor.

In 1980, the way he saw the world would become radically different after a fight against a journeyman opponent.

“I was thumbed in the (left) eye,” said Seales. “It was never the same. Things changed. I’ve been in the dim for a long time.”

The right eye wasn’t much better. Sugar Ray Seales was 28. He was advised to quit. He wouldn’t. It’s not in his DNA. Eye operations became as routine as going to the gym.

“I’ve had seven eye surgeries—four on my left, three on my right,” said Seales.

They cost over $100,000—more than Seales made during his boxing career. It wasn’t supposed to have turned out this way. After winning the gold medal, Seales came home to Tacoma, Washington, a hero. He was the man.

“We all looked up to him,” said fellow Tacoma native and 1976 Olympic gold medalist Leo Randolph. “He was our inspiration.”

Seales turned pro in 1973, reeling off 21 successive victories with 12 knockouts. A title shot looked inevitable until he ran into future Hall-of-Famer Marvelous Marvin Hagler in 1979.

“We fought in a TV station,” said Seales. “It was freezing, and Marvin Hagler comes out of the dressing room sweating. We were freezing. So, we got beat.”

Less than three months later, the two southpaws met again. This time the results were different. Two judges scored the fight a draw, while the third had Hagler winning.

“I thought I won eight rounds,” Seales said, without a hint of bitterness. “But that’s boxing.”

Seales soldiered on, meeting hard-punching Eugene “Cyclone” Hart in Atlantic City, New Jersey, nine months later. Seales tried to box, but Hart pressed the action.

“He hooked me in my hip,” Seales said. “He hit me hard—the hardest. Harder than Hagler.”

Seales picked up the NABF middleweight title in 1976, but what he really wanted was a world title. In 1976 he traveled to London to face seventh-ranked contender Alan Minter. The winner might get a shot at middleweight champion Carlos Monzon. Seales was favored to win. The oddsmakers looked like soothsayers in the early going. Seales dominated the opening rounds of the bout, causing Minter to bleed.

He banged Minter with hooks and jabs. Minter had an ugly lump on his forehead. Seales was cruising until a vicious left hand crashed off his chin, knocking him to the canvas. He got up quickly, but his legs were wobbly. Minter attacked until the referee stopped the fight.

Seales was back in the ring four months later. He needed the money. He fought 11 times in 1977, winning 10 of them. He fought all over the United States. The goal was the same—a world title. But it wasn't to be. That dream ended in 1979 when Hagler starched him in the opening round. Four years later, Seales retired. He was 31 and nearly blind in both eyes.

With boxing no longer part of his life, Seales bounced around, eventually finding another calling: teaching children.

Ice Cream Bliss

“It was the Lord's choice,” said Seales. “Muhammad Ali once told me, ‘Service to others is the rent we pay for our room in heaven.'

"The Lord wanted me to teach autistic kids. That’s what made me the person I am today. Everybody was winning. They were learning. I did it for 17 years. They didn’t want me to retire.”

With his second retirement came restlessness. Even with all the disappointment, pain and loss, boxing beckoned. Seales heard the call. He hadn’t lost his passion. He’d give back again by coaching.

In 2008, Seales and his wife moved to Indianapolis. He found a gym that needed a coach. The job wouldn’t pay him a nickel, but that didn’t matter. Money was never his God. Legally blind for years now, he bumped into the heavy bags as he maneuvered around the dingy gym but could see enough to coach. He took on two teams that, the year before, came in third place in the state tournament. The next year they won it all.

“We’ve won nine Golden Glove team championships in 10 years,” Seales said.

Seales was happy and content, but then a miracle happened. A doctor named John Abrams performed more surgery on his left eye.

“I’ve been living in Indianapolis for 11 years,” said Seales. “All those years I’ve been in the dark. The bifocals I had on wasn’t telling me what needed to be told.”

The surgery was performed. Seales was stunned.

“This Dr. Abrams, he took care of me,” said Seales. “I was lying on the couch for three hours. I was out, but a nurse held my hand. The next day I didn’t need my bifocals anymore. I was blind for 11 years with glasses on. Now, I didn’t need 'em.”

“A miracle” is how Seales describes it. He can see his kids now. Long ago he accepted the pitfalls of his life. No need to blame. Move on and teach.

“With boxing, you have to love it,” said Seales. “Focus on what you’re doing, and listen on how to get it down.”

Seales has focused all his life. And now, for the first time in many years, he can really see.

John J. Raspanti is co-author (with Dennis Taylor) of "Intimate Warfare: The True Story of the Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward Boxing Trilogy," an Amazon bestseller, and an expert analyst on The Ringside Boxing Show, a podcast on The Grueling Truth Sports Network.

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