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Leonard returns to announcing for Thurman-Garcia bout

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NEW YORK (AP) — Ray Leonard is so excited by the Keith Thurman-Danny Garcia welterweight unification bout that he'll not only be in the Barclays Center, he'll be sitting ringside announcing the fight.

Leonard, of course, knows all about big-time championship bouts, particularly this weight class. In 1981, Leonard and Thomas Hearns faced off for the same WBA and WBC belts on the line Saturday. It was a classic.

Thurman-Garcia could be something special, too, Leonard believes.

"I've always admired Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia as they were climbing the ladder and improving each fight," says Leonard, who will work the CBS telecast with Showtime's play-by-play voice Mauro Ranallo and analyst Al Bernstein, like Leonard a Hall of Famer. "I am extremely impressed because there is so much on the line because this is for the unification. And when two champions of this caliber decide to see who is indeed the best, by fighting one of the best, that says a lot about their character — a la Tommy Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard.

"This fight reminds me of my incredible bout against Tommy Hearns. There's nothing better in boxing than when champions meet to unify a division, and I truly believe this fight could go either way."

Asking Thurman and Garcia to live up to the action of a legendary fight won by Leonard with a 14th-round knockout is unfair, of course. But there are parallels that can't be ignored.

Garcia and Thurman both are undefeated, Garcia holding the WBC's 147-pound belt, Thurman owning the WBA's title. Garcia is 33-0, Thurman 27-0; Leonard was 30-1 and Hearns was 32-0.

Both are in the primes of their careers, and approach this bout knowing what a win can mean for the future — and for establishing a legacy perhaps approaching that of Leonard and Hearns.

Leonard last broadcast a fight in 2015. Reuniting with Bernstein and executive producer David Dinkins Jr. was especially enticing for Leonard.

"I've known Al for many years and always enjoy being with him. David Dinkins and I have a precious relationship, dating way back to when I was a knucklehead — and I won't disclose more than that," Leonard says jokingly.

Dinkins was a bit more forthcoming.

"Ray and I formed a bond many years ago that has endured the test of time," says the son of the former mayor of New York. "We have a friendship based on mutual respect and admiration. I think because we started our broadcasting careers at the same time, we found many things in common. Our strong personal relationship was the foundation for an excellent working relationship."

As for the value Leonard brings to the broadcast, well, Dinkins pulls no punches.

"There is only one Sugar Ray Leonard," he says. "His showdown with Thomas Hearns in 1981 has many similarities to Thurman vs. Garcia. Ray knows better than anyone how bright the spotlight can be and how high the stakes are in career-defining moments like this one."

Thurman-Garcia will be the first world title unification bout in any weight division on live network television in more than 20 years. It follows last year's entertaining bout between Thurman and Shawn Porter, also at Barclays.

"Garcia vs. Thurman is a battle of undefeated champions," Dinkins says. "The winner of this fight will be the No. 1 welterweight in the world. Ray has been there. His classic battles with Wilfred Benitez, Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns at welterweight made him a legend. It is only fitting that he will be ringside when a new star is born."

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