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Boxing legend Leon Spinks dies at 67

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·3-min read

Leon Spinks, an undersized heavyweight who became undisputed champion when he outworked Muhammad Ali over 15 rounds in 1978, died Friday at 67 after a lengthy battle with prostate cancer.

Along with his brother, Michael, Spinks was a gold medal winner on the 1976 U.S. Olympic boxing team that is regarded as one of the great teams in boxing history.

His son, Cory, a slick defender who became the undisputed welterweight champion in 2003, was born on Feb. 20, 1978, five days after his father scored one of boxing’s biggest upsets by defeating Ali. Leon and Cory Spinks are believed to be the only father-son combination to each have held the lineal championship in their weight class.

Spinks lost the title to Ali in a rematch in New Orleans, a bout televised live in prime time on ABC which attracted 93 million viewers.

NEW ORLEAN, LA - SEPTEMBER 15: Muhammad Ali (R) and Leon Spinks (L) exchange punches during the WBA Heavyweight Title fight September 15, 1978, at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Muhammad Ali (R) and Leon Spinks (L) exchange punches during the WBA heavyweight title fight Sept. 15, 1978, at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Spinks never again reached such heights after conquering Ali. After his loss to Ali, he had two other world title opportunities. He was stopped by Larry Holmes in the third round on June 12, 1981, in a bid for the WBC heavyweight title. He made a run for the cruiserweight belt, but was stopped on March 22, 1986, by Dwight Muhammad Qawi.

Spinks, who wound up 26-17-3 as a professional following a brilliant amateur career that culminated at the Montreal Olympics in 1976 with a gold medal victory over Cuban Sixto Soria to win the light heavyweight division. He was 178-7 with 133 knockouts as an amateur.

He was known for his reckless spending habits in the immediate aftermath of his victory over Ali, and wound up struggling financially for much of his life.

Spinks, who also briefly worked as a professional wrestler, was an affable, colorful guy who for years was a ringside fixture at major fights. He always drew a roar and would often good-naturedly shadow box with Ali when they were introduced to the crowd at fights and brought into the ring to wave to the fans.

For much of his life after winning the title, he struggled financially.

His brother, Michael, who is regarded as one of the greatest light heavyweights in boxing history, followed him as heavyweight champion when he upset Holmes in Las Vegas on Sept. 21, 1985.

Leon Spinks was inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017 along with his younger brother. By that point, he struggled to walk and his wife, Brenda, pushed him in a wheelchair.

But despite his physical ailments, Spinks remained good-natured and smiled broadly whenever recognized by fans and media.

Leon Spinks is survived by his wife, Brenda; his son, Cory; and his brother, Michael. Another son who also boxed, Leon Calvin, was murdered in East St. Louis, Missouri, in 2017.

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