Monday night in Las Vegas, Ray (That's Right, Just One Fight, Just Marvin Hagler And That's It) Leonard will do what he does best - come out of retirement.

Having already said so long more times than Frank Sinatra, Guy Lafleur and Earl Weaver put together, Leonard goes into the ring to fight Donny Lalonde, the Canadian light-heavyweight who became a boxer after realizing there wasn't much money in the Vitas Gerulaitis look-alike business.Before we go any further with this fight, let me ask you a question: Why do you think Sugar Ray, who had the whole boxing world to choose from, is fighting Lalonde?

Is it a) Because the public demanded it?

Is it b) Because the name Don Lalonde had become synonymous with strength, savagery and skill throughout the world?

Is it c) Because Ray wanted to make a pile of cash without risking his good looks, and he figured he could fight in a tuxedo and still beat this guy?

How many of you picked c?


Normally I'd buy the argument that a light-heavyweight only needs one punch to level a welterweight, which is what Ray was for most of his career - including three of his retirements. But Ray's a legitimate middleweight now, fully defined and comfortable at 160 pounds, and owing to a precondition to the bout, Lalonde can't top 168 at the weigh-in. Does an eight-pound differential qualify as a light-heavy against a welter? What's that, the new math?

Meaning no disrespect to Lalonde, but it's not exactly like he's bringing a resume into the ring that should scare the horses. A year and a half ago he was ready to retire himself. His left shoulder was dead, his right fist was broken and he'd scheduled his "retirement fight," against Jean-Marie somebody or other in the Ivory Coast, admittedly to collect $150,000 and try for a "lucky shot."

Since then Lalonde's had his right fist restructured, and two operations on his shoulder, one to insert a pin, the other to insert a staple. Is he a boxer or a set of instructions for putting up curtains? Even after all this bionic surgery Lalonde reportedly can't throw hard with his left arm, which is fine, if you're Tommy John.

Lalonde has spent most of the last month talking about how old and used-up Ray is, constantly referring to him in the past tense. Ray's 32, Lalonde's 28. Through his various retirements Ray's accumulated at least four full years not getting hit, which, it seems to me, makes them even. (On the subject of who's doing what talking, can you believe the gall of Tommy Hearns, running around politicking for a fight with Ray? When's the last time you can remember Hearns anywhere in the ring other than on his back looking over his shoetops? Ray put him down. Hagler crumpled him. So did Iran Barkley. Friday night, fighting for the so-called World Boxing Organization super middleweight championship, James Kinchen knocked him down. The Hit Man? More like The Sit Man.)

The most overblown aspect of this fight is precisely what they're fighting for. As far as I can determine by watching the television commercials, it's two belts and a six-pack of the designer beer that beautiful young girls drink when they're dancing inside a closet.

The belts are neat, but like The Who sang, "I look pretty tall, but my heels are high." So Ray will add the WBC light-heavyweight and WBC super middleweight titles to his collection, giving him five. So what? Hearns has five, too, if you count the WBO. But if you count the WBO with the WBA, the WBC and the IBF, shouldn't you also count the IRT, the IRA, the SLA, the DOA and the USDA?

Not long ago-when boxing had weight classes that stretched beyond two pounds, and weren't subdivided by any group of jerks who could stick a spoon into a bowl of alphabet soup and come up with a few letters - holding three championships was an astounding accomplishment. Now you automatically get at least two for stopping at ringside to chat with Ferdie Pacheco. (I myself hold the PHD extended saddleweight and BMT major monkeyweight championships. I may challenge for the MBA 1891/4-pound rambling cruiserweight title, especially if Leon Spinks vacates there and moves up to the DMV 1891/2-pound portable tableweight division.)

Where does Ray go for title six? Does he fight Mike Tyson at 170? And eventually for Title IX, would he fight Flo-Jo at 135?

It's no accident that Titan Sports, the Wrestlemania gang, is distributing this fight on pay per view. Most of the prefight hoopla has had a theatrical, wrestling kind of feel: Angelo Dundee claiming how he turned to booze after Camp Sugar chump-changed him; reports of Lalonde padding his record by decking stiffs out of the stands; stylemeister Ray trying to work up a hatred for Lalonde by pointing out that on the private jet on which they flew to promote the fight, Lalonde loaded his luggage in last and in so doing, Ray said bitterly, "crushed my luggage."

What intrigues me most about the fight though isn't what's being said, but what's being made. Mike Trainer says Ray will earn more than $13 million here, more money than he made fighting either Hearns or Hagler, who were then giants in the trade. Does he have an ATM in Abu Dabi?

Trainer says the money will come from pay per view, the cable option that allows viewers to make an impulse purchase of a particular show in the privacy of their own homes.

By hitching his wagon to pay-per-view, and not closed circuit, Trainer is appealing to those people who wouldn't be caught dead watching this show in public, but might wait until the neighbors went home and the kids were asleep, and then peek in private - a marketing technique already successful with Frosted Flakes for adults, wine coolers and Marilyn Chambers.