Former Heavyweight Champion Leon Dead at 67 Years Old

by Joe Rutland

Leon Spinks, who rocked the boxing world by beating Muhammad Ali for the world heavyweight championship in 1978, has died at age 67.

Spinks, who had been battling prostate cancer for five years, died on Friday. His wife Brenda, along with a few family members and friends, were by his bedside.

In 1978, Spinks went up against Ali in just his eighth professional fight. The match went back and forth between Spinks and Ali, yet the judges ultimately gave Spinks the title on a split decision.

He was a pro boxer from 1977-95 with his biggest victory coming against Ali.

Leon Spinks Wins Olympic Gold At 1976 Summer Games

Before turning pro, Spinks fought as a boxing amateur for three years. He gained national and international attention by winning the gold medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

For Spinks, beating Ali was the high point of his career. He faced Ali in an unlicensed rematch seven months after beating him. This time, Ali won by unanimous decision. The World Boxing Council stripped Spinks of his title because he fought Ali in a non-WBC-sanctioned bout.

Spinks did seek to regain his WBC heavyweight crown but lost to champion Larry Holmes on a third-round knockout. He also lost to Dwight Muhammad Qawi by a sixth-round knockout in shooting for the World Boxing Association’s cruiserweight title.

Leon Spinks Inducted Into Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame

In 1995, Spinks retired from boxing with a 26-17-3 record. He was inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017. One of Spinks’ sons, Cory, got into boxing as well and won the undisputed world welterweight championship. Sadly, Spinks’ other son Leon Calvin was shot dead in 1990 while going to his girlfriend’s house in East St. Louis.

Spinks’ brother Michael also was a gold-medal boxing winner in the middleweight division, also at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. Michael Spinks went on to have a stellar boxing career himself, piling up a 31-1 record with 21 knockouts.

Michael Spinks was the undisputed light heavyweight champ between 1983-85 and the lineal heavyweight champ between 1985-88.

His lone defeat? A first-round knockout in 91 seconds to Mike Tyson, who eventually would become the undisputed world heavyweight boxing champion.