Puerto Rico’s first-ever cruiserweight champion has become boxing’s first dearly departed of 2020.
Carlos ‘Sugar’ De Leon barely saw the first few hours of the new year before passing away Wednesday morning at his home in Buffalo, New York. A former four-time cruiserweight titlist and three-time lineal champion, De Leon (53-8-1, 33KOs) was 60 years old.
The official cause of death was attributed to a cardiac arrest, although the former champ-turned-boxing trainer battled health issues in recent years.
De Leon was born on May 3, 1959 in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico, becoming the island’s first ever boxer to capture the cruiserweight crown, dethroning inaugural lineal and World Boxing Council (WBC) champion Marvin Camel in their first fight in November 1980. De Leon earned the title shot in style, coming seven months after knocking out Brazil’s Waldermar Paulino to become the mandatory challenger.
The win over Camel was the chief support to the iconic ‘No Mas’ rematch between ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran, though De Leon was able to carve out his own reputation as one of the best cruiserweights of all time.
“The WBC boxing family is sad to report the sudden passing away of one of the greatest cruiser weight champions, Carlos DeLeon,” noted Mauricio Sulaiman, president of the WBC whose late father Jose presided over the sanctioning body for each of De Leon’s four title reigns. We join his family in grief.
“May he Rest In Peace. Adiós Campeón.”
De Leon would go on to etch his name in history, several times over in fact, beginning with his becoming the first two-time cruiserweight champ, regaining the lineal crown from ST Gordon in 1983, a year after suffering an upset loss to the Las Vegas based boxer.
It’s a record he would extend twice over, winning the crown for a third time in a March 1986 12-round decision win over Bernard Benton less than a year after dropping a split decision loss to Alanzo Ratliff to end his second title reign after two years.
His third reign would also last two years and also lead to the division’s first-ever undisputed cruiserweight champion, suffering a knockout loss to Evander Holyfield, who is for three decades would become known as the division’s greatest fighter of all time. It was also Holyfield’s last ever fight at the weight, with De Leon going on to win a belt for the fourth time, though lone non-lineal reign and lasting a year before suffering a disqualification loss to Massimiliano Duran in their July 1990 title fight on the road in Italy.
The loss marked De Leon’s last ever title fight, going 11-5 on the cruiserweight championship stage. From there came a move up to heavyweight but only producing mixed results before calling it a career in 1995.
From there, De Leon became known for his efforts in developing the sport’s next generation, serving as an integral part of what was simply known as Team De Leon in the greater Buffalo area. The former champ trained boxers alongside brothers Juan and Angel, the trio best known on that front for helping mold Joe Mesi into an unbeaten heavyweight contender and wildly popular local attraction.
Team De Leon also played an integral role in the careers of—among others—2000 Olympian and former title challenger Orlando Cruz and former junior flyweight titlist Angel ‘Tito’ Acosta, both of whom hail from Puerto Rico, as well as Carlos De Leon Jr., a former super middleweight contender and among the loved ones by which Carlos Sr. is survived.
His special touch was felt beyond the traditional boxing world.
“Saddened to hear of the passing of Carlos Sugar Deleon Sr this morning,” noted Amer Abdallah, a noted kickboxing champion who trained with Team De Leon in Las Vegas and who has played a role in the career of resurgent super middleweight contender Lionell ‘Lonnie B’ Thompson. “He was a legendary giant in the ring having been 4x Cruiserweight World Champion, yet one of the kindest souls I’ve ever met outside of it.
“Rest in peace big brother. Prayers and love to the De Leon family.”
His loss was also felt by the local community.
“Rest in peace to my friend, the great boxer Carlos De Leon,” stated Ross Thompson (27-16-3, 18KOs), a former 20-year ring veteran and title challenger from Buffalo.
De Leon would receive greater glory as he and his brothers were inducted into the Ring 44 Hall of Fame in 2014. His tireless efforts in working with the local community were typical of his everyday behavior.
“Carlos was a guy who, even though he was a world champion, never forgot where he came from,” noted younger brother Juan De Leon. “The (boxing) decisions he made were always in the (best interest) of his family.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox