Leon Spinks

Leon Spinks was a former professional boxer who competed from 1977 to 1995. He was born on July 11, 1953, in St. Louis, Missouri, United States. Spinks is best known for his surprising victory over Muhammad Ali to win the undisputed heavyweight championship. Spinks had a relatively short but eventful professional career. He had a successful amateur career, which included winning a bronze medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1974 World Amateur Championships.

Fist of challenger Leon Spinks flattens the nose of heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali in the title fight at Las Vegas, Nev., Feb. 15, 1978. Officials awarded the fight and the title to Spinks in a split decision.

In 1977, Spinks turned professional and quickly gained attention for his impressive performances. On February 15, 1978, in what was only his eighth professional fight, he faced the legendary Muhammad Ali in a highly anticipated bout. Spinks shocked the boxing world by defeating Ali in a 15-round split decision to win the WBC (World Boxing Council) and WBA (World Boxing Association) heavyweight titles.

However, Spinks’s reign as heavyweight champion was short-lived. In a rematch with Ali later that year, he lost the title in a unanimous decision. Spinks continued to fight in the heavyweight division and had notable bouts against fighters such as Larry Holmes and Gerrie Coetzee. However, he never regained the heavyweight title.

Leon Spinks, left, helps out his brother Michael Spinks, as they train in Gleason’s Gym on April 11, 1977, in New York.

Spinks later had a brief stint as a professional cruiserweight boxer before retiring from the sport in 1995. While his professional record may not be as remarkable as some other boxing greats, his victory over Muhammad Ali remains one of the most significant upsets in boxing history. Outside of boxing, Spinks faced personal challenges and struggled with substance abuse issues. However, he remained a beloved figure in the boxing community and was known for his friendly personality and infectious smile.

Leon Spinks celebrates his 15-round split decision victory over world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali on Feb. 15, 1978, in Las Vegas.

Leon Spinks passed away on February 5, 2021, at the age of 67. Despite his relatively short time in the spotlight, his victory over Muhammad Ali and his impact on the sport of boxing will always be remembered.

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