Leon Spinks, former heavyweight champion & gold medalist, dies at 67
Leon Spinks, who shocked the world in 1978 by upsetting Muhammad Ali, passed away on Friday evening at the age of 67. ESPN reported the news after he receiving a statement from Firm PR, the public relations firm that represented the former heavyweight champion.
According to the firm, Spinks had been suffering from prostate and other cancers over the past years. He died with his wife, Brenda, by his side.
Spinks, who is a native of St. Louis and a former Marine won an Olympic gold medal at lightweight during the 1976 Olympics.
13 months after winning the gold medal, Spinks challenged Ali in February of 1978. Spinks came into the fight has a huge underdog as he only had eight professional fights under his belt and never gone longer than 10 rounds. When the fight started, Spinks went right after the 36 year old Ali. Spinks never took the foot off the gas and survived the a flurry from Ali in the 15th round.
When the judges handed in their scorecard, Spinks got the split decision victory to become the only fighter to ever take a title from Ali. After the winning, Spinks had a wide gap-tooth smile on his face and the picture of him winning is one of the most famous pictures in boxing history.
That win may have been his claim to fame as the rest of his career was filled with long losing streaks as he fought late into his career before finally retiring in 1995. Following the win over Ali, he was stripped of the WBC title for refusing to defend against top contender Ken Norton. Instead, Spinks chose a rematch with Ali, who took back the WBA title in a unanimous decision.
Spinks would fight for the heavyweight title one more time in his career in 1981, losing that fight by TKO to Larry Holmes. He also moved down to cruiserweight and lost a title fight there in 1986 to Dwight Muhammad Qawi.
While there was plenty of downs during his career, Spinks was still a major star in the sport of boxing and at one point had Hollywood star Mr. T as his body guard.
Spinks was apart of a highly successful boxing family. His younger brother Michael Spinks claimed the heavyweight and light heavyweight champions and is in the Boxing Hall of Fame. His son Cory Spinks was the former undisputed welterweight champion.