The man who pulled one of the greatest upsets in heavyweight title history, when he defeated Muhammad Ali in 1978, is fighting for his life in a Las Vegas hospital.
66 year old Leon Spinks, former US Olympic champion and the man who stunned the boxing world with a 15-round decision win over Ali in February of 1978, is in the ICU suffering from cancer.
TMZ broke the story earlier this week that Spinks’ wife Brenda told them that his situation is dire. The gossip site further reported on Friday night that Spinks is suffering not only from prostate cancer, but that it’s now spread to his bladder:
Leon Spinks Diagnosed with Prostate Cancer, Showing Signs of Improvement https://t.co/XyNR3z7WjQ
— TMZ Sports (@TMZ_Sports) December 14, 2019
Spinks has been in failing health for several years, but the latest episode has only recently come to light.
Spinks was a decorated amateur fighter having represented the United States winning a silver medal at the 1975 Pan Am Games. He later won Gold in the Light Heavyweight category in 1976. And, along with his younger brother Michael winning gold in the Middleweight category of those same Montreal games, they became the first brothers in Olympic boxing history to accomplish that feat at the same Olympics.
When Spinks stunned Ali over 15 rounds less than 24 months after that gold medal win, he also made pro boxing history. That night, he won the Heavyweight Title in just his eighth professional fight, which had never been done that soon. And, Spinks’ upset probably is only topped by Buster Douglas kayoing Mike Tyson in 1990.
Spinks title reign only lasted seven months, as Ali won the rematch in New Orleans by unanimous decision to regain the belt.
Then, Spinks lost his only fight in 1979, when he was knocked out by South African Gerrie Coetzee.
However, he won several fights in the two years after, including defeating the WBC’s number one contender, Bernardo Mercado with a 9th round KO.
That set him up for a title fight in 1981 against champion Larry Holmes. But, Holmes kayoed Spinks in the third round denying him a chance to regain the title. Spinks later competed as a cruiserweight and fought for that division’s world championship again in 1986. But, champ Dwight Muhammad Qawi defeated him by 6th round TKO.
Michael Spinks later upset Holmes in 1985 winning a portion of the heavyweight championship and later defeated him in a controversial rematch. The Spinks brothers became the first to ever hold the heavyweight title. Later, they both were inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame in August of 2017.
Spinks has been a resident of Las Vegas since 2011. He has been in declining health since 2014, when he was hospitalized for over a month due two abdominal and intestinal problems and surgery.
His family asked in a statement released Friday night, “The last few months have been an agonizing roller coaster for Leon and his wife, Brenda, with continuous hospital stays.”