Leon Spinks, Olympic Gold medal boxer and former Heavyweight Boxing Champ of the World, died yesterday at age 67 from prostrate cancer.
Leon Spinks won three consecutive national AAU light heavyweight boxing championships. He was a light heavyweight bronze medalist in the 1974 World Championships, a light heavyweight silver medalist in the 1975 Pan Am games, and a light heavyweight gold medalist in the 1976 Olympics.
Spinks was best known for his upset victory of Mohammad Ali which catapulted him in the national spotlight. Spinks got the opportunity to face Ali after just 8 professional fights. Ali was looking at Spinks as a tune-up for a tougher rematch against Ken Norton. Spinks was a relatively inexperienced pro who had fought most of his career as a light-heavyweight. Surprisingly, Spinks out-boxed Ali over the course of 15 rounds and won a split-decision victory!
The boxing commission wanted Spinks to next face Ken Norton who was the number 1 contender for the title. Spinks refused, instead opting to give Ali a rematch. Spinks was striped of the title. Ali came to the rematch in shape (no longer under-estimating Spinks) and easily won. Spinks continued fighting in both the heavyweight and cruiserweight divisions, In 1981, Spinks fought Larry Holmes for the Heavyweight Championship, losing by TKO in the 3rd.
I remember watching the first Spinks/Ali fight and being surprised at Leon’s performance. As the fight wore on it became clear that history was being made. I also was impressed that Spinks was willing to give up the title to give Ali a chance to avenge the loss. He said he wanted to return the opportunity that Ali had given him.
Leon Spinks won three consecutive national AAU light heavyweight championships. He was a light heavyweight bronze medalist in the 1974 World Championships, a light heavyweight silver medalist in the 1975 Pan Am games, and a light heavyweight gold medalist in the 1976 Olympics.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Leon Spinks’ family, friends and fans.