Former Heavyweight Champ Leon Spinks Dead
The man responsible for one of the great Heavyweight upsets of all time, when he stunned Muhammad Ali in 1978, has died. Leon Spinks succumbed to complications from prostate and bladder cancer on Friday night at the age of 67 in the Las Vegas area.
Spinks’ family confirmed his death Saturday afternoon Pacific time after an over two year long battle with the illnesses and other complications.
As we wrote previously, Spinks was near death in early 2020, but showed the heart of a champion in fighting the illnesses and recovering. Spinks had been in failing health for several years, but that latest episode had Spinks’ wife Brenda telling media members it was looking dire for the former champ to even last another few days.
Obviously, his treatment and condition improved and he was able to go back to his Las Vegas home.
Leon 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 at the Montreal Olympics. 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 at the same Olympics.
When Spinks stunned Ali over 15 rounds less than 24 months after that gold medal win in February of 1978, he also made pro boxing history. That night in Vegas, 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.
Re-live the upset here:
Spinks title reign only lasted seven months, as Ali won the rematch in New Orleans that September by unanimous 15 round decision to regain the belts. The fight is still the most watched live televised program other than a Super Bowl broadcast, as over 90 million people saw Ali avenge the loss live on ABC network TV.
Spinks eventually earned another title shot, when he beat the WBC’s number one contender, Bernardo Mercado with a 9th round KO in 1980.
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 in his last World Title bid.
The Spinks brothers became the first to ever hold the Heavyweight title. And, later, they both were inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame in August of 2017.
Spinks had been a resident of Las Vegas since 2011.