Leon Spinks

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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
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
DiedFebruary 5, 2021(2021-02-05) (aged 67)
Henderson, Nevada, U.S.
Stance Orthodox
Boxing record [1]
Total fights46
Wins by KO14

Leon Spinks (July 11, 1953 – February 5, 2021) was an American 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 is 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 a 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. [2] 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, rising to the rank of corporal. He was stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and was on the Marine Corps Boxing Team. [3]

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. [4]

Amateur career

Spinks won three consecutive national AAU light heavyweight championships from 1974 to 1976, the first of which came against future champion Michael Dokes. [5] He was serving in the Marine Corps at the time. [3]

Olympic results

Spinks won the light heavyweight gold medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. [6] [7] He defeated Abdel Latif Fatihi, Anatoliy Klimanov, Ottomar Sachse, and Janusz Gortat en route to the final, where he defeated Sixto Soria to win the gold. [8]

Spinks finished his amateur career with a record of 178–7 with 133 knockouts. [9]

Professional career

Spinks debuted professionally on January 15, 1977 in Las Vegas, Nevada, beating Bob Smith by knockout in five rounds. [10] His next fight was in Liverpool, England, where he beat Peter Freeman by a first-round knockout. [11] Later, he saw an improvement in opposition quality, when he fought Pedro Agosto of Puerto Rico and knocked him out in round one. [12] He then fought Scott LeDoux to a draw and defeated Italian champion Alfio Righetti in a decision. [13] [14]

Spinks vs. Ali

At the time 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. [15] Spinks won the world heavyweight title in his eighth professional fight, the shortest span in history. [16] The aging Ali had expected an easy fight, but he was out-boxed by Spinks, who did not tire throughout the bout. [15] 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. [15] 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 . [17]

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. [15] The title, stripped from Spinks, was then awarded to Norton. [18]


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. [15] Ali regained the title, becoming the first three-time lineal heavyweight champion. [19] 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 defeated Ray Kipping on June 19, 1995, in St. Louis Leon Spinks 2.jpg
Spinks defeated Ray Kipping on June 19, 1995, in 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. [20] In the following fight, Spinks defeated former world title challenger and European title holder Alfredo Evangelista by a knockout in round 5. [21] He then fought to a draw in with Eddie López, [22] scored a knockout over Kevin Isaac in May, [23] and, in October, beat the WBC's top-ranked challenger, Bernardo Mercado, by a knockout in round nine on the undercard of Muhammad Ali vs. Larry Holmes. [24]

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 suffered a loss via TKO in the third round at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan on June 12. [25]

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, [26] and gained a decision against former and future title challenger Jesse Burnett in twelve rounds. [27]

Spinks was due to face the World Cruiserweight number one David Pearce, but the fight was called off on 24 hours notice after the fighters had both weighed in, due to the BBBoC stance on Pearce fighting abroad in the newly formed Cruiserweight division. [28]

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. [29]

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. [30] In 1986 Spinks earned his last championship opportunity, fighting Dwight Muhammad Qawi for the WBA cruiserweight championship. [31] Qawi had been defeated by Michael Spinks three years earlier for his WBC light heavyweight championship. However, Leon lost by TKO in the sixth round. [31]

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). [32] Spinks retired at age 42, after losing an 8-round decision to Fred Houpe in 1995, who was coming off a seventeen-year hiatus. [33]

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. [4] 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. [34]

Spinks lived later in his life in Las Vegas, Nevada. He told a reporter his life was "comfortable", and that he kept a low profile. [35]

In August 2017, Leon was inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame along with his brother, Michael. [36]

Personal life and health

Spinks was born and raised in St. Louis. [37]

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. [38] 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. [39] 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. [40]

Spinks perceptibly slurred his words after his active boxing days, and was diagnosed in 2012 with shrinkage in his brain, which doctors said was likely caused by the accumulated punches that he took during his career. In 2011, Spinks and his wife Brenda moved to Las Vegas. Spinks was hospitalized twice in 2014 in a Las Vegas hospital for surgery due to abdominal problems, from which he recovered. [41]

In 2019, it was revealed that Spinks was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. [42] He died at a hospital in Henderson, Nevada on February 5, 2021, at age 67. [43]

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 Convention Center Arena, 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, 1986Port Authority, 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, 1985Blaisdell Center Arena, 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 and The Ring 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 and The Ring heavyweight titles
8Win7–0–1 Muhammad Ali SD15 Feb 15, 1978 Las Vegas Hilton, Winchester, Nevada, U.S.Won WBA, WBC, and The Ring 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

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  1. "Boxing record for Leon Spinks". BoxRec.
  2. "Riches to rags" The Boston Globe, December 21, 2005
  3. 1 2 Barber, James. "How the Marine Corps Gave Leon Spinks His Shot at Greatness", Military.com website, February 8, 2021. Accessed February 14, 2021.
  4. 1 2 Pro Wrestling Illustrated, March 1993 issue, p. 27.
  5. Moriello, John (April 11, 2020). "Leon Spinks Is Facing a Sad Ending After a Wasted Boxing Career". Sportscasting. Retrieved February 6, 2021.
  6. "Spinks welcomed home". The Gaffney Ledger . August 11, 1976. p. 10. Retrieved February 6, 2021.
  7. "Leon Spinks, 67-Years-Old, Passes Away After Long Battle With Cancer". BoxingScene. Retrieved February 6, 2021.
  8. "U.S. boxers haul gold". archive.nytimes.com. July 31, 1976. Retrieved February 6, 2021.
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  11. "Ex-Bolton boxer Peter Freeman has no regrets about the day 'Neon' Leon Spinks put his lights out". The Bolton News. Retrieved February 6, 2021.
  12. "Leon Spinks KOs Pedro Agosto This Day May 7, 1977 – Boxing Hall of Fame". Boxing Hall of Fame. Retrieved February 6, 2021.
  13. Goodpaster, Mike (April 12, 2020). "Scott LeDoux: The Fighting Frenchman and his shot at the title". The Grueling Truth. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  14. Amato, Jim. "Alfio Righetti". www.myboxingfans.com. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 "Leon Spinks, ex-champ who upset Ali, dies at 67". ESPN.com. February 6, 2021. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  16. Ruiz, Michael (February 6, 2021). "Boxing legend Leon Spinks dies at 67". Fox News. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  17. Putnam, Pat. "SI Vault: Ali takes sloppy win, title from Spinks". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
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  22. "Whicker: Remembering Eddie Lopez, the animal who laughed". Orange County Register. July 23, 2017. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  23. Katz, Michael (June 8, 1981). "Leon Spinks in search of himself and title". The New York Times. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  24. "'U.S. Title' Captured By Spinks". Washington Post. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  25. "Larry Holmes knocks out Leon Spinks in third round for title". Dispatch Argus. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
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  27. Katz, Michael (November 1, 1982). "Leon Spinks returns with a victory". The New York Times. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  28. "David Pearce: Statue of 'Newport's Rocky' to inspire boxers". BBC News. June 9, 2018. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
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  32. "The Fix Is In". Snap Judgment . NPR. June 13, 2014. Retrieved July 3, 2015.
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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
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