BOXING legend Sugar Ray Leonard dropped into a Southend gym as part of a world tour to meet his fans.
Leonard was in the area to make a personal appearance at the Boatyard restaurant, Old Leigh, on Friday evening, but took time out of his day to visit the Locker Room boxing gym at Southend Central Station.
He spoke warmly to the family of gym owner James Chisholm before treating everyone to a demonstration of his skipping skills in the ring.
Leonard, 57, won a gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and went on to win world titles in five weight divisions during the late Seventies and early Eighties. He iswidely regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all time.
He said of the gym: “It looks very authentic, it’s the kind of gym you really work out in, really get all that aggression out, and it feels like there’s lots of history here. I like the name as well.
“I’ve been all over the place – I don’t know where I was last night. I’ve been surviving on 3 to 4 hours a night, but it’s great to meet people.”
Mr Chisholm, a former Irish international boxer, opened the gym six years ago and has met Leonard several times, so invited him down to the gym while he was in the area.
The gym owner, from Rayleigh, said: “For someone of his calibre to come to our gym, and be such a gent, is bigtime impressive.
“I’ve met him and his son, Jarrel, before, through boxing events, I get on well with Jarrel. He doesn’t like boxing at all, but he’s a great guy.”
Leonard also met Mr Chisholm’s’ mother-in-law, Mary Walpole, 62, from Great Wakering, who brought along the gym owner’s three children.
She said: “It was so kind of him to come here.
“I was just here to bring the kids, it shows what a lovelyman he is. I was just at the back and he came to talk to me.
“You could feel his warmth.
He was so friendly and not what you’d expect from someone of his notoriety.”
The boxer posed for photos in the gym’s boxing ring with Mr Chisholm’s children, and watched as they donned gloves for an impromptu sparring session.
Four-year-old Fionn was too young to understand who the champ was, but Lewis, five, knewhim from a signed picture that adorns his bedroom wall.
Mr Chisholm’s eldest, sevenyear- old Ciara, challenged Leonard to a skip-off and while her efforts impressed the American, she was dazzled by his performance. She said: “He was so fast, it was amazing, I wish I could do that.”
The boxer was to auction 25 signed items at the Boatyard to raise money for the Children with Cancer UK charity.