It is with great sadness that we report and join the heartfelt condolences for the passing of former lineal Heavyweight Champion of the World Leon Spinks at age 67.
The St. Louis, Missouri man famously outpointed legendary Muhammad Ali in Las Vegas in February 1978, stunning the world at the time, only to subsequently lose his title seven months later in the New Orleans Superdome in a multi-million dollar rematch.
That he was able to defeat the iconic two time world champion in only his eighth paid fight, having also captured Olympic gold in Montreal in 1976, was testament to his fighting ability and bravery.
As a teenager I vividly recall the shock of the victory at the time and the emotional manner in which it was achieved, by split decision. The photograph above (courtesy of Getty Images) is one of the most iconic of its time, and indeed in heavyweight history. I recall Ali being interviewed post-fight, emphasizing those famous words “I shall return !” and biting into his bottom lip with clenched fist. Ali’s victory in the rematch should never take away the achievement of Leon on that famous February night.
‘Neon’ Leon as he was widely known, for his colourful lifestyle and magnetic gap toothed smile, was a box office heavyweight of the late seventies/early eighties.
He would later try to regain his world title in a failed attempt in 1981 against future legend Larry Holmes, and then drop down to cruiserweight where he was unsuccessful in wresting the WBA world title from Dwight Muhammad Qawi in 1986.
Leon was at his best campaigning as a heavyweight and had stellar wins against Alfredo Evangalista and big punching Bernado Mercado in 1980. His final record reads 26-17-3 (14 KO’s). Many of his losses would come late in his career as his skills and mobility reduced.
Leon was the type of guy who brought that neon light to everyone he met, even in the most difficult of circumstances of his post boxing life – suffering financial hardship and lengthy ill health. He would always light up a room or dais with that famous smile.
With his younger brother Michael, former undisputed world light-heavyweight champion and lineal heavyweight champion, the Spinks Brothers would be major players in boxing through much of the eighties, always at each others side in press conferences and ring corners. They came together as package.
I had the pleasure of meeting both in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota in 2014, and they were in fine form. They were regular attendees to the annual induction weekend and Leon will be sadly missed when normal service is resumed.
Leon finally succumbed to prostate cancer and associated complications. His boxing legacy will remain through former world champion and son Cory Spinks, and most notably by his own fistic accomplishments.
The Undisputed’s thoughts and best wishes go out the Spinks family at this sad time. Leon’s contribution to heavyweight history and for brightening our lives with his presence will never be forgotten.
Rest in Peace Champ.