Leon Spinks

Last updated
Leon Spinks
Leon Spinks 1.jpg
Spinks vs. Ray Kipping, 1995
Height6 ft 1 in (185 cm)
Reach76 in (193 cm)
Born (1953-07-11) July 11, 1953 (age 66)
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
Stance Orthodox
Boxing record
Total fights46
Wins by KO14

Leon Spinks (born July 11, 1953) is an American former professional boxer who competed from 1977 to 1995. In only his eighth professional fight, he won the undisputed heavyweight championship in 1978 after defeating Muhammad Ali in a split decision, in what was considered one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. Spinks was later stripped of the WBC title for facing Ali in an unapproved rematch seven months later, which he lost by unanimous decision.


Besides being heavyweight champion and his characteristic gap-toothed grin (due to losing two and later all four of his front teeth), Spinks gained notoriety for the disaster which befell his career following the loss to Ali. [1] However, he did challenge once more for the WBC heavyweight title in 1981 (losing to Larry Holmes by TKO in the third round), and the WBA cruiserweight title in 1986 (losing to Dwight Muhammad Qawi by TKO in the sixth round).

As an amateur, Spinks won numerous medals in the light heavyweight division. The first was bronze at the inaugural 1974 World Championships, followed by silver at the 1975 Pan American Games, and gold at the 1976 Summer Olympics; the latter alongside his brother Michael Spinks, who won middleweight gold. Leon served in the United States Marine Corps from 1973 to 1976.

Spinks also had a brief career as a professional wrestler in the 1990s, working for Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW) and holding the FMW Brass Knuckles Heavyweight Championship in 1992. [2]

Amateur career

Olympic results

Gold medal icon.svg Gold XXI Summer Olympics (light heavyweight), Montreal, Canada, July 1976:

Professional career

Spinks debuted professionally on January 15, 1977 in Las Vegas, Nevada, beating Bob Smith by knockout in five rounds. His next fight was in Liverpool, England, where he beat Peter Freeman by a first-round knockout. Later, he saw an improvement in opposition quality, when he fought Pedro Agosto of Puerto Rico and knocked him out in round one. He then fought Scott LeDoux to a draw and defeated Italian champion Alfio Righetti by a decision.

Spinks vs. Ali

Now a lower-ranked contender, he made history on February 15, 1978, by beating Muhammad Ali on a 15-round split decision in Las Vegas, Nevada. Spinks won the world heavyweight title in his eighth professional fight, the shortest time in history. The aging Ali had expected an easy fight, but he was out-boxed by Spinks, who did not tire throughout the bout. It was one of the few occasions when Ali left the ring with a bruised and puffy face.

The victory over Ali was the peak of Spinks' career. He was the only man to take a title from Muhammad Ali in the ring, as Ali's other losses were non-title contests or bouts where Ali was the challenger. Spinks' gap-toothed grin was featured on the cover of the February 19, 1978 issue of Sports Illustrated .

However, Spinks was stripped of his world title by the WBC for refusing to defend it against Ken Norton, instead agreeing to a return bout against Ali to defend his WBA crown. The title, stripped from Spinks, was then awarded to Norton.


His second match with Ali, at the Louisiana Superdome on September 15, 1978, went badly for Spinks. A now-in-shape Ali—with better, sharper tactics—rarely lost control, winning back his title by a unanimous fifteen-round decision. Ali regained the title, becoming the first three-time lineal heavyweight champion. [3] Spinks was never given a rematch; Ali retired after the fight (although he came out of retirement a few years later to fight Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick).

Career development

Spinks defeats Ray Kipping June 19, 1995, St. Louis Leon Spinks 2.jpg
Spinks defeats Ray Kipping June 19, 1995, St. Louis
Spinks during his final victory held at the "Little bit of Texas" in St.Louis Leon Spinks 3.jpg
Spinks during his final victory held at the "Little bit of Texas" in St.Louis

Spinks's next fight, his only one in 1979, was at Monte Carlo, where he was knocked out in the first round by future WBA world heavyweight champion Gerrie Coetzee. In the following fight, Spinks defeated former world title challenger and European title holder Alfredo Evangelista by a knockout in round 5. He fought to a draw in with Eddie López, in May 1980 he scored a knockout over Kevin Isaac, and in October beat the WBC's top-ranked challenger, Bernardo Mercado, by a knockout in round nine, this fight was on the undercard of Muhammad Ali vs. Larry Holmes.

Spinks vs. Holmes

His strong performance against Mercado earned Spinks a title match against Larry Holmes. In Spinks' only fight in 1981, and what would be his last opportunity to win the heavyweight title, he had a clear loss by a TKO in the third round at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan on June 12.

Move to cruiserweight

It was Spinks' last heavyweight bout for years, as he began boxing in the cruiserweight division. He beat contender Ivy Brown by a decision in ten rounds, and gained a decision against former and future title challenger Jesse Burnett in twelve rounds.

When his brother Michael Spinks defeated Larry Holmes in a controversial upset for the IBF heavyweight championship in 1985, they became the only brothers to have held world heavyweight championships. They kept the distinction until the Klitschko brothers became champions two decades later.

In the 1980s Leon Spinks competed in several boxer vs. wrestler matches in New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW), including losing by submission to Antonio Inoki. In 1986 Spinks earned his last championship opportunity, fighting Dwight Muhammad Qawi for the WBA cruiserweight championship. Qawi had been defeated by Michael Spinks three years earlier for his WBC light heavyweight championship. However, Leon Spinks lost by TKO in the sixth round. During the fight, Qawi taunted Spinks as he beat him mercilessly in a corner.

Spinks boxed for another eight years with mixed results. In 1994 he lost a bout by KO to John Carlo, the first time a former heavyweight champion had lost to a boxer making his pro debut (promoter Charles Farrell later admitted to falsifying Carlo's record in order to get the fight sanctioned by the District of Columbia). [4] Spinks retired at age 42, after losing an 8-round decision to Fred Houpe in 1995, who was coming off a seventeen-year hiatus.

Life after boxing

During the 1990s, Spinks worked for Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling, winning its world title in 1992, making him only the second man (after Primo Carnera) to hold titles in both boxing and wrestling. [2] In the late 1990s, Spinks was a headliner on year-round, touring autograph shows.

In 2009 Spinks was featured as part of the 2009 documentary Facing Ali , in which notable former opponents of Ali speak about how fighting Ali changed their lives.

As of 2017, Spinks lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. He told a reporter his life is "comfortable", and that he keeps a low profile. [5]

In August 2017, Leon was inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame along with his brother, Michael.

Personal life and health

Spinks was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. [6]

Leon's son, Cory Spinks, held the undisputed welterweight title, and was the IBF junior middleweight champion twice.

In 1990, Leon's other son, Leon Calvin, was shot to death in East St. Louis as he was driving home from his girlfriend's house. [7] Calvin was an aspiring light heavyweight pro boxer with a record of 2–0, with the two pro bouts occurring only a month before he died. [8] Leon's grandson and Calvin's son, Leon Spinks III, is an aspiring light heavyweight southpaw boxer with a pro record of 11–3–1 with seven knockouts, his last outing being a six round draw with Robbie Cannon in October 2017. [9]

Leon has slurred his words since his active boxing days, and was diagnosed in 2012 with shrinkage in his brain, which doctors said was likely caused by punches he took during his career. Spinks and his wife Brenda moved to Las Vegas in 2011. Spinks was hospitalized twice in 2014 in a Las Vegas hospital for surgery due to abdominal problems, from which he recovered. [10] In 2019 it was revealed that Leon Spinks is fighting advanced prostate cancer. [11]

Professional boxing record

Professional record summary
46 fights26 wins17 losses
By knockout149
By decision118
By disqualification10
No.ResultRecordOpponentTypeRound, timeDateLocationNotes
46Loss26–17–3Fred HoupeUD8Dec 4, 1995A Little Bit of Texas, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
45Win26–16–3Ray KippingUD8Jun 19, 1995A Little Bit of Texas, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
44Loss25–16–3John CarloKO1, 1:09Oct 22, 1994 Convention Center, Washington, D.C., U.S.
43Loss25–15–3 Shane Sutcliffe UD8Oct 1, 1994 Civic Arena, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada
42Win25–14–3Eddie CurryDQ9 (10)Jun 22, 1994 Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S.Curry disqualified after refusing to answer the bell for round 9, believing the fight was scheduled for 8 rounds
41Loss24–14–3James WilderPTS10Feb 27, 1993 Davenport, Iowa, U.S.
40Win24–13–3Kevin PoindexterKO1 (10), 2:37Dec 11, 1992Union Hall, Countryside, Illinois, U.S.
39Loss23–13–3Kevin PorterPTS10Sep 26, 1992 Lansing, Michigan, U.S.
38Win23–12–3Jack JacksonKO3 (10), 2:52Jul 24, 1992Union Hall, Countryside, Illinois, U.S.
37Win22–12–3Rocky BentleyPTS10Jun 17, 1992 World Congress Center, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
36Win21–12–3Rick MyersUD10Mar 20, 1992Clarion Hotel Ballroom, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
35Win20–12–3Andre CrowderSD10Feb 28, 1992Union Hall, Countryside, Illinois, U.S.
34Win19–12–3Lupe GuerraKO3 (10), 2:13Nov 15, 1991 Genesis Convention Center, Gary, Indiana, U.S.
33Loss18–12–3Tony MorrisonTKO1 (10), 0:33May 30, 1988Marriott Hotel, Trumbull, Connecticut, U.S.
32Loss18–11–3 Randall Cobb MD10Mar 18, 1988 Municipal Auditorium, Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
31Loss18–10–3Ladislao MijangosSD10Dec 20, 1987 San Antonio, Texas, U.S.
30Loss18–9–3Terry MimsSD10Oct 20, 1987Swingos, Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
29Draw18–8–3Jim AshardSD10Aug 29, 1987 Lane County Fair grounds, Eugene, Oregon, U.S.
28Loss18–8–2 Angelo Musone KO7 (10)May 22, 1987 Iesi, Italy
27Win18–7–2Jeff JordanSD12Apr 28, 1987 Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium, Nagoya, JapanWon vacant WBC Continental Americas heavyweight title
26Loss17–7–2 José Ribalta TKO1 (10), 2:10Jan 17, 1987 Coconut Grove Convention Center, Miami, Florida, U.S.
25Loss17–6–2 Rocky Sekorski TKO6 (10), 1:43Aug 2, 1986 Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, U.S.
24Loss17–5–2 Dwight Muhammad Qawi TKO6 (15), 2:56Mar 22, 1986 Lawlor Events Center, Reno, Nevada, U.S.For WBA cruiserweight title
23Win17–4–2Kip KaneTKO8 (12), 1:37Dec 13, 1985 Felt Forum, New York City, New York, U.S.Won vacant WBC Continental Americas heavyweight title
22Win16–4–2Tom Franco ThomasUD10Jun 29, 1985 Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Santa Rosa, California, U.S.
21Win15–4–2Tom FischerUD10May 9, 1985Cobo Arena, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
20Win14–4–2Rick KellarTKO2 (10), 2:47Apr 9, 1985 Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.
19Win13–4–2Lupe GuerraTKO4 (10), 0:43Feb 21, 1985 Cobo Arena, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
18Loss12–4–2 Carlos de León RTD6 (10), 3:00Mar 6, 1983 Broadway by the Bay Theater, Atlantic City, New Jersey, U.S.
17Win12–3–2 Jesse Burnett UD12Oct 31, 1982Great Gorge Resort, McAfee, New Jersey, U.S.Won vacant NABF cruiserweight title
16Win11–3–2Ivy BrownUD10Feb 24, 1982 Playboy Hotel and Casino, Atlantic City, New Jersey, U.S.
15Loss10–3–2 Larry Holmes TKO3 (15), 2:34Jun 12, 1981 Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.For WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
14Win10–2–2 Bernardo Mercado TKO9 (12), 2:52 Oct 2, 1980 Caesars Palace, Paradise, Nevada, U.S.
13Win9–2–2Kevin IsaacTKO8 (10), 2:11May 3, 1980 Circle Star Theater, San Carlos, California, U.S.
12Draw8–2–2 Eddie López SD10Mar 8, 1980The Aladdin, Paradise, Nevada, U.S.
11Win8–2–1 Alfredo Evangelista KO5 (10), 2:43Jan 12, 1980 Steel Pier, Atlantic City, New Jersey, U.S.
10Loss7–2–1 Gerrie Coetzee TKO1 (12), 2:03Jun 24, 1979Le Chapiteau de l'Espace, Fontvieille, Monaco
9Loss7–1–1 Muhammad Ali UD15 Sep 15, 1978 Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.Lost WBA, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
8Win7–0–1 Muhammad Ali SD15 Feb 15, 1978 Las Vegas Hilton, Winchester, Nevada, U.S.Won WBA, WBC, The Ring , and lineal heavyweight titles
7Win6–0–1Alfio RighettiUD10Nov 18, 1977 Caesars Palace, Paradise, Nevada, U.S.
6Draw5–0–1 Scott LeDoux SD10Oct 22, 1977The Aladdin, Paradise, Nevada, U.S.
5Win5–0Bruce ScottKO3 (8), 3:02Jun 1, 1977 Forum, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
4Win4–0Pedro AgostoKO1 (8), 1:55May 7, 1977 Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
3Win3–0Jerry McIntyreKO1 (6), 0:35Mar 20, 1977 Exposition Center, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
2Win2–0Peter FreemanKO1 (6), 1:26Mar 5, 1977 Liverpool Stadium, Liverpool, England
1Win1–0Bob SmithTKO5 (6), 0:20Jan 15, 1977 The Aladdin, Paradise, Nevada, U.S.

See also

Related Research Articles

Larry Holmes American boxer

Larry Holmes is an American former professional boxer who competed from 1973 to 2002. He grew up in Easton, Pennsylvania, which led to his boxing nickname of the Easton Assassin.

Ossie Ocasio Puerto Rican boxer

Osvaldo "Ossie" Ocasio is a Puerto Rican former boxer who held the world cruiserweight championship. Nicknamed "Jaws", his peculiar nickname was the result of him accidentally biting another boxer during a sparring session.

Carlos De León, also known as "Sugar" De Leon, was a Puerto Rican boxer who made history by becoming the first cruiserweight to win the world title twice. Subsequently, he kept breaking his own record for the most times as cruiserweight champion by regaining the title on two further occasions.

Michael Spinks American boxer

Michael Spinks is an American former professional boxer who competed from 1977 to 1988. He held world championships in two weight classes, including the undisputed light heavyweight title from 1983 to 1985, and the lineal heavyweight title from 1985 to 1988. As an amateur he won a gold medal in the middleweight division at the 1976 Summer Olympics.

Evander Holyfield American boxer

Evander Holyfield is an American former professional boxer who competed from 1984 to 2011. He reigned as the undisputed champion at cruiserweight in the late 1980s and at heavyweight in the early 1990s, and remains the only boxer in history to win the undisputed championship in two weight classes. Nicknamed "The Real Deal", Holyfield is the only four-time world heavyweight champion, having held the unified WBA, WBC, and IBF titles from 1990 to 1992, the WBA and IBF titles again from 1993 to 1994, the WBA title a third time from 1996 to 1999; the IBF title a third time from 1997 to 1999 and the WBA title for a fourth time from 2000 to 2001.

Gerhardus Christian "Gerrie" Coetzee is a South African former professional boxer who competed from 1974 to 1986, and in 1993 and 1997. He was the first African ever to fight for, and win, a world heavyweight championship, having held the WBA title from 1983 to 1984. He holds notable knockout wins against WBA world heavyweight champion Michael Dokes and former unified world heavyweight champion Leon Spinks, as well as a draw with future WBC and IBO world heavyweight champion Pinklon Thomas.

Boxing in the 1980s

Boxing in the 1980s was filled with important fights, events and personalities that shaped the sport. Boxing in the 1980s was shaped by many different situations, such as the continuous corporate battles between the different world sanctioning organizations, the void left by Muhammad Ali as the sport's ambassador and consequent search for a new boxing hero, the continuous presence of Don King as the sport's most famous promoter, the surge of rival promoters as Bob Arum, Butch Lewis and Murad Muhammad, and major rule changes. In 1986, Mike Tyson emerged as a fresh new face in the heavyweight division, which had seen a decline in champion quality level after Ali's retirement and, later on, after longtime WBC ruler Larry Holmes' prime. In addition, the IBF and WBO began operating.

During the 1970s, boxing was characterized by dominating champions and history-making rivalries. The decade had many superstars, who also had fierce rivals. Alexis Argüello, for example, who won the world Featherweight and Jr. Lightweight titles in the '70s, had to overcome Alfredo Escalera twice before the decade was over.

During the 1960s, boxing, like mostly everything else around the world, went through changing times. Notable was the emergence of a young boxer named Cassius Clay, who would, in his own words shock the world, declare himself against war, and change his name to Muhammad Ali.

Dwight Muhammad Qawi is an American former professional boxer who competed from 1978 to 1998. He was a world champion in two weight classes, having held the WBC and Ring magazine light heavyweight titles from 1981 to 1983, and the WBA cruiserweight title from 1985 to 1986. Qawi was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004.

Marvin Johnson is an American former boxer who was a 3-time light-heavyweight champion of the world. As an amateur, Johnson fought in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, winning a bronze medal, and made his way up the professional ranks in the light heavyweight division soon thereafter. Johnson was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 2008 alongside Lennox Lewis and Pernell Whitaker. His nickname is "Pops".

Michael Spinks vs. Dwight Muhammad Qawi Boxing competition

Michael Spinks vs. Dwight Muhammad Qawi, billed as "The Brawl for it All", was a professional boxing match contested on March 18, 1983 for the Undisputed Light Heavyweight Championship.

José María Flores Burlón is a former boxer from Uruguay. Flores Burlón had a total of 115 professional bouts. He challenged once for the WBC Cruiserweight title in 1988.

As in the 1980s, the 1990s in boxing's popularity focused on all divisions. When 1980s legends Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, as well as others retired, newer superstars filled the void: Pernell Whitaker, Julio César Chávez, in the early 1990s, Oscar De La Hoya, Félix Trinidad, Roy Jones Jr. and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. in the mid to late 1990s.

Mike Tyson vs. Larry Holmes Boxing competition

Mike Tyson vs. Larry Holmes, billed as "Heavyweight History", was a professional boxing match contested on January 22, 1988, for the WBA, WBC and IBF Heavyweight Championships.

Leon Spinks vs. Muhammad Ali II, was a professional boxing match contested on September 15, 1978, in New Orleans for the WBA and Lineal Heavyweight Championships. The fight was estimated to have been watched by a record 2 billion viewers worldwide, in some 80 nations.

Dwight Muhammad Qawi vs. Evander Holyfield Boxing competition

Dwight Muhammad Qawi vs. Evander Holyfield, billed as "Pandemonium" was a professional boxing match contested on 12 July 1986 for the WBA cruiserweight championship.

The heavyweight unification series, also known as the Heavyweight World Series, was a sequence of professional boxing matches held in 1986 and 1987 to crown an undisputed champion of the heavyweight class. The series was produced by HBO Sports and promoted by Don King. It ended with Mike Tyson as undisputed champion, holding the championship belts of the International Boxing Federation, World Boxing Association, and World Boxing Council.


  1. "Riches to rags" The Boston Globe, December 21, 2005
  2. 1 2 Pro Wrestling Illustrated, March 1993 issue, p.27.
  3. "Leon Spinks". Cyber Boxing Zone. Retrieved 20 November 2016.
  4. "The Fix Is In". Snap Judgment . NPR. June 13, 2014. Retrieved July 3, 2015.
  5. Steve Sipple, "Ex-champ Leon Spinks cleans up in Columbus". Lincoln Journal Star, April 4, 2005.
  6. "Leon Spinks | American boxer". Encyclopedia Britannica.
  7. "Leon Spinks's Son Is Fatally Shot". New York Times . Associated Press. July 23, 1990. Retrieved August 21, 2017.
  8. "BoxRec: Leon Calvin". boxrec.com. Retrieved 2018-02-08.
  9. "BoxRec: Leon Spinks III". boxrec.com. Retrieved 2018-02-08.
  10. "Former champion Leon Spinks hospitalized". USA Today. Retrieved 2018-02-08.
  11. "Boxing Champ Leon Spinks' Prostate Cancer Has Spread -- What Are the Treatment Options?". SurvivorNet.

Further reading

Commons-logo.svg Media related to Leon Spinks at Wikimedia Commons

Sporting positions
Amateur boxing titles
D.C. Barker
U.S. light heavyweight champion
Larry Strogen
Regional boxing titles
Title last held by
S. T. Gordon
NABF cruiserweight champion
October 31, 1982 – May 1984
Title next held by
Anthony Davis
Title last held by
Michael Dokes
WBC Continental Americas
heavyweight champion

December 13, 1985 – March 1986
Title next held by
Adílson Rodrigues
Title last held by
Adílson Rodrigues
WBC Continental Americas
heavyweight champion

April 28, 1987 – April 1988
Title next held by
Michael Dokes
World boxing titles
Preceded by
Muhammad Ali
WBA heavyweight champion
February 15, 1978September 15, 1978
Succeeded by
Muhammad Ali
WBC heavyweight champion
February 15, 1978 – March 18, 1978
Succeeded by
Ken Norton
awarded title
The Ring heavyweight champion
February 15, 1978 – September 15, 1978
Succeeded by
Muhammad Ali
Undisputed heavyweight champion
February 15, 1978 – March 18, 1978
Titles fragmented
Title next held by
Mike Tyson
Lineal heavyweight champion
February 15, 1978 – September 15, 1978
Succeeded by
Muhammad Ali
Professional wrestling titles
Preceded by
Tarzan Goto
WWA World Martial Arts
heavyweight champion

March 25, 1992 – May 24, 1992
Succeeded by
Atsushi Onita
Muhammad Ali
Joe Frazier
BWAA Fighter of the Year
With: Howard Davis Jr., Sugar Ray Leonard,
Leo Randolph, and Michael Spinks
Ken Norton
George Foreman vs.
Jimmy Young
The Ring Fight of the Year
vs. Muhammad Ali

Danny Lopez vs.
Mike Ayala
Jorge Luján
KO10 Alfonso Zamora
The Ring Upset of the Year
SD15 Muhammad Ali

Vito Antuofermo
SD15 Marvin Hagler