This weekend past, boxing lost one of its beloved figures with the final bell ringing for former World Champion Leon Spinks who passed away after battling prostate and other cancers for five years.
Spinks had led a lifetime full of achievements from his time with the Marine Corp to sensationally winning a Gold Medal at the 1976 Olympic Games, but it was the extraordinary fact that after only 13 months into his professional career, in only his ninth contest he stepped through the ropes with the great Muhammad Ali on Feb. 15, 1978, in Las Vegas.
Spinks would enter the contest as a heavy underdog but never wilted under pressure, instead he took the fight to Ali who albeit at the time was aged 36 and on the downside of his career was still favoured to overcome the challenge.
The fight was competitive without a decisive decision being rendered but the verdict went in favour of the 24-year old, who astonishingly more the fact became the first man to relieve a title from Ali.
“In that fight, everything clicked,” promoter Bob Arum told ESPN “He came in with a game plan, and he beat Ali. It wasn’t that Ali wasn’t at his best, but Leon shocked everybody with how good Leon was.”
Spinks proclaiming afterward, “I’m not The Greatest. Just the latest.”
That fight would culminate as the highlight of Spinks’ career, He would go on to lose his WBC title for refusing to face Ken Norton whilst losing the WBA title in the rematch with Ali at the Superdome in New Orleans seven months after their first encounter.
Chances thereafter were fleeting, he challenged for the heavyweight title in 1981 but was stopped abruptly by Larry Holmes.
Spinks now had the chance to hang around the sports top division picking up scraps from the champions of the time or move south to cruiserweight in the hope it would gift him a chance to become a two weight world champion, that chance was offered but unfortunately for Spinks was not taken, stopped short of achieving his goal, via Dwight Muhammad Qawi in 1986.
Spinks retired aged 42 with a record of 26-17-3 (14 KOs).
He would go on to test the waters of the Wrestling / MMA circuit in a bid to rejuvenate another career all the while battling financial difficulties, he would later tell the New York Daily News in 1997. “I was a poor young guy, I never had nothing. All of a sudden I had something. I tried to do too much. I was crazy. I didn’t care about nothing. You think it’s never going to end.”
In 2014, Spinks suffered intestinal damage and was hospitalised after swallowing a chicken bone. In 2019, he was in and out of the hospital while undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.
“Leon fought his battle with numerous illnesses resiliently, never losing his trademark smile. Showing true Spinks determination, he never threw in the towel,” the statement added.
It is with joy and happiness that we remember Leon Spinks whose radiant smile is etched in the memory of all fight fans, Thank You Champ.