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Leon Spinks Passes Away at Age 67

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  • Leon Spinks Passes Away at Age 67

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    By Arne K. Lang

    Leon Spinks, who forged one of the most memorable upsets in the history of boxing when he outpointed Muhammad Ali on Feb. 15, 1978, has passed away at age 67. According to various sources, “Neon Leon” succumbed to cancer on Friday evening, Feb. 5, at his home in Las Vegas.

    A gold medal winner at the 1976 Montreal Olympics along with his younger brother Michael, a fellow Marine who would also become a world heavyweight champion, Leon Spinks had only seven pro fights under his belt when he met Ali at the Las Vegas Hilton. Although Ali at age 36 was clearly past his peak, he was yet expected to have an easy go with Spinks, a “blown-up cruiserweight” who Ali, at 224 ¼, out-weighed by 27 pounds.

    With his mother rooting him on, Spinks, with his awkward, herky-jerky style, won a 15-round split decision that should have been unanimous. But he proved to be one-trick pony.

    Ali-Spinks I played to an announced crowd of 5,298. The rematch seven months later at the New Orleans Superdome was witnessed by 63,417, the record turnout for an indoor prizefight. ABC, which televised the fight in primetime, estimated that 90 million watched the fight at home which translated into 46.7 percent of all the homes in the country.

    Ali was thought to be under-trained for the first meeting. Leon was under-trained for the second. Ali won a unanimous decision and made history as the first three-time heavyweight champion.

    Spinks career went south after his one glorious moment in the sun. He finished with a record of 26-17-3 with 14 KOs and was stopped nine times. The low point came On Oct. 22, 1994, when he was knocked out in the opening round by late sub John Carlo, a fighter making his pro debut. In his final fight he lost an 8-round decision to Fred Houpe, aka Young Sanford, at a country western bar in St. Louis.

    St. Louis was his hometown. The Spinks brothers were raised by a single mother in the Pruitt-Igoe housing project, a 33-unit, high rise complex that became infamous for its crime and squalor before it was torn down by the city. Escaping this environment was Leon Spinks first big win.

    Prior to moving to Las Vegas in 2011, Spinks was discovered working as a custodian in a Nebraska YMCA. In Las Vegas, he was beset with health problems. In October of 2014, he had two difficult surgeries for abdominal pain after swallowing a chicken wing bone that lodged in his intestine. Singer Tony Orlando, a close friend, tweeted that Leon “was fighting the greatest fight of his life.”

    In June of 2019, Spinks was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It was subsequently reported that the cancer had spread to his bladder and that he was battling dementia.

    Spinks married his longtime companion Brenda Glur Spinks in 2011. When he died, Brenda and his son Cory Spinks, a former world welterweight champion, were reportedly at his side. A PR firm employed by the family released this statement: “Leon fought his battle with numerous illnesses resiliently, never losing his trademark smile. Showing true determination, he never threw in the towel. Leon will be remembered as a beloved husband, father, and brother.”

    Leon Spinks was a real-life Rocky. We here at The Sweet Science send our condolences to his loved ones. (Note: This is a developing story.)

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