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Leon Spinks

Leon Spinks Profile Image
  • Nickname: Neon Leon
  • Date of Birth: 11th July 1953
  • Died: 5th February 2021 (67 years old)
  • Career length: 18 years 10 months
  • Status: Deceased
  • Nationality: USA Flag USA
  • Birthplace: Saint Louis, Missouri, USA  Flag Saint Louis, Missouri, USA
  • Residence: Saint Louis, Missouri, USA  Flag Saint Louis, Missouri, USA
  • Division: Heavyweight
  • Height: 186cm
  • Reach: 193cm
  • Stance: Orthodox
  • BoxRec: Leon Spinks
  • Debut: 15th January 1977


Leon Spinks, the gap-toothed boxer with an infectious grin, etched his name into boxing history when he defeated the legendary Muhammad Ali in a split decision on February 15, 1978, in Las Vegas, Nevada. This stunning upset marked the pinnacle of Spinks's career, as he became the undisputed heavyweight champion in only his eighth professional fight, a record that still stands today.

Born on July 11, 1953, in St. Louis, Missouri, Spinks's journey to the top was unconventional. He served in the United States Marine Corps from 1973 to 1976, rising to the rank of corporal and honing his skills on the Marine Corps Boxing Team. As an amateur, Spinks's talent shone through as he won gold at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal alongside his brother Michael Spinks, who claimed middleweight gold.

Spinks's professional debut came on January 15, 1977, in Las Vegas, where he knocked out Bob Smith in five rounds. He quickly gained attention with his powerful performances, including a first-round knockout of Italian champion Alfio Righetti. However, his fight against Ali would forever change the course of his career.

The victory over Ali was as shocking as it was impressive. The ageing champion had expected an easy fight, but Spinks outboxed him, never tiring and leaving Ali battered and bruised. Spinks's triumph made him the only man to take a title from Ali in the ring, cementing his place in boxing lore.

Unfortunately, Spinks's reign as champion was short-lived. Stripped of his WBC title for refusing to defend it against Ken Norton, he faced Ali in a rematch seven months later at the Louisiana Superdome. This time, a well-prepared Ali regained his title by unanimous decision, becoming the first three-time lineal heavyweight champion.

Spinks's career took a downward turn after the loss to Ali. He suffered a first-round knockout against future WBA world heavyweight champion Gerrie Coetzee in Monte Carlo and never received another shot at the heavyweight title. His final attempt at championship glory came in 1986 when he fought Dwight Muhammad Qawi for the WBA cruiserweight title, losing by TKO in the sixth round.

Despite the setbacks, Spinks remained a fan favourite, known for his engaging personality and memorable gap-toothed grin. He even ventured into professional wrestling, competing in Japan's Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW) and winning the FMW Brass Knuckles Heavyweight Championship in 1992.

Leon Spinks's legacy extends beyond the ring. His son, Cory Spinks, held the undisputed welterweight title and was a two-time IBF junior middleweight champion. Tragically, Leon's other son, Leon Calvin, was shot to death in 1990 at the age of 19, just as he was beginning his own professional boxing career.

In his later years, Spinks faced health challenges, including a diagnosis of advanced prostate cancer in 2019. He passed away on February 5, 2021, at the age of 67, in a hospital in Henderson, Nevada. While his life may have been marked by ups and downs, Leon Spinks's impact on the boxing world and his enduring spirit will never be forgotten. He remains an inspiration to aspiring boxers and a testament to the power of determination and perseverance in adversity.