The ostensible purpose of the news conference was to accelerate interest in Sugar Ray Leonard's challenge of Terry Norris for the World Boxing Council superwelterweight champion on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
But Leonard used Wednesday's final prefight session to fiddle with the psyche of the champion. Or, at least, try to. While delivering impromptu remarks, he suddenly asked Norris to step over to the dais with him.``Terry, come here a second,' Leonard said.
Norris, who was seated at the time, took a moment to think about whether he wanted to be part of whatever scheme it was that Leonard, 34, was contemplating. But when Leonard asked him a second time, Norris rose and stood alongside the challenger.
``You see,' said Leonard, extending his arm so that his fist was cocked by Norris' chin. ``We're compatible in height and reach.' Then, wriggling his hand and, with his eyes twinkling, said, ``This is my department.'
The presumed message was that come Saturday night, the similarity in size and reach would be irrelevant once Leonard began throwing punches.
A bit of midday gamesmanship it was. When he sat down so that Norris could address the assembled reporters, Leonard smiled as though he had secured a psychological advantage.
But Norris, 23, a low-keyed sort, wasn't upset about the incident.
``Ray's just a lot of talk,' Norris said. ``It doesn't faze me at all. He's trying build his heart up. He's really playing more mind games with himself.'
Whether the mind games generate excitement for the fight that can be converted into box office sales remains to be seen. Bobby Goodman of Madison Square Garden Boxing said that as of Wednesday, the Garden had ``almost $700,000' in ticket sales - between 5,000 to 6,000 tickets sold.
``We'd like to be the second highest grossing fight in Garden history,' said Mike Trainer, Leonard's attorney and a co-promoter with the Garden of Saturday's bout.
Trainer said that the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier bout March, 8 1971, had done a gate of $1.3 million, more than any fight had grossed at the Garden.
``If we can approach that,' Trainer said, ``we'd be very happy.'
According to Goodman, the Garden's 18,000-plus seats - priced from $50 to $350 - are scaled for a gate of $2 million. Trainer said he was shooting for a crowd of 10,000.
``The fighters,' said Trainer, ``are both on percentages. When we take in all our receipts - the gate, the live telecast money from Showtime, foreign sales and so forth - we'll subtract expenses and split up what's left according to the respective percentages of the fighters.