Leon Spinks, who won Olympic gold and then shocked the world by beating Muhammad Ali to win the heavyweight title in their first meeting, has died.
Spinks, who lived his later years in Las Vegas, died Friday night after battling prostate and other cancers.
“Leon fought his battle with numerous illnesses resiliently, never losing his trademark smile,” said a statement. “Showing true Spinks determination, he never threw in the towel.”
Spinks fought The Greatest on two occasions:
15 February 1978 – Ali-Spinks I:
Ali lost a split decision in Las Vegas to Spinks (The Ring magazine’s upset of the year), a 1976 Olympic gold medallist. Upon that fight Ali had beaten all Olympic gold winners he had previously faced; Floyd Patterson, Joe Frazier, George Foreman.
Spinks became the only fighter to take a title from Ali in the ring – after just eight fights – as Ali’s other losses were either non-title bouts or world title fights where Ali was the challenger. Spinks was unranked at the time and picked as an opponent because Ali was looking for an easy fight. Spinks who idolised Ali famously said after the fight: “I’m the latest, but he’s the greatest.”
Ali trained less than ever for the fight against Spinks. For once Ali’s opponent had shown more will and stamina: “Of all the fights I lost in boxing, losing to Spinks hurt the most. That’s because it was my own fault,” Ali told years later.
15 September 1978 – Ali-Spinks II:
Ali outclassed Spinks in the re-match in front of a record indoor crowd of 63,350 in New Orleans scoring a unanimous decision to become the first man to win the heavyweight title three times.
“I killed myself to get ready for Spinks. I suffered and sacrificed more than I ever did. There’s nothing left for me to gain by fighting,” said Ali after the fight.
Celebrities like Sylvester Stallone, Liza Minnelli, John Travolta, and Jerry Lewis were ringside to watch history unfold.
“I congratulated Ali. He is still my idol,” said Spinks two weeks later.
The Muhammad Ali Trophy:
The Muhammad Ali Trophy is also known as the Greatest Prize in Boxing and it is being awarded to the winner of each weight class of the World Boxing Super Series. Ali gave his blessings to the WBSS and agreed to give his name to its prize created by the late world-renowned artist Silvio Gazzaniga who also designed the iconic FIFA World Cup Trophy.
Ali Trophy winners:
Season II: Josh Taylor (Super-Lightweight), Naoya Inoue (Bantamweight), Mairis Briedis (Cruiserweight)
Season I: Aleksandr Usyk (Cruiserweight), Callum Smith (Super-Middleweight)