Leon Spinks, the former heavyweight boxing champion, passed away of cancer at age 67 on Saturday according to Jacob Lev of CNN. Spinks, a native of Henderson, NV, was the WBA and WBC Heavyweight champion in 1978. He was the brother of former IBF Heavyweight champion Michael Spinks.
Despite being a heavyweight champion, Leon Spinks only had a professional boxing record of 26 wins and 17 losses. Spinks’ most famous fight came on February 15, 1978, at the Las Vegas Hilton. There, Spinks beat the great Muhammad Ali by a split decision.
The fight was famous because it was the only time a fighter had ever taken a heavyweight world championship away from Ali. Spinks, who was a 10-1 underdog heading into the fight, is one of only five boxers to have beaten Ali. The other four were Joe Frazier of Beaufort, SC, Ken Norton of Jacksonville, IL, Larry Holmes of Cuthbert, GA, and Trevor Berbick of Norwich, Jamaica. Interestingly, Frazier also died at the age of 67 of cancer in 2011.
Ali was by far the most famous boxer Spinks beat in his career. His reign of the WBA and WBC heavyweight titles was short-lived as he lost to Ali in a rematch exactly seven months later on September 15, 1978, at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.
Leon Spinks, and his brother Michael, were also part of a dominant American boxing team at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. The United States won five gold medals in boxing, with Leon winning the light heavyweight division, and Michael winning the middleweight division. In Leon’s gold medal bout against Sixto Soria of Cuba, the referee stopped the fight in the third round. The other three American men to win a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal were Sugar Ray Leonard of Wilmington, NC in the light welterweight division, Howard Davis of Glen Cove, NY in the lightweight division, and Leo Randolph of Columbus, MS in the flyweight division.