Leon Spinks (born July 11, 1953) is an American former professional boxer who competed from 1977 to 1995. In only his eighth professional fight, he won the undisputed heavyweight championship in 1978 after defeating Muhammad Ali via split decision, in what was considered one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. Spinks was later stripped of the WBC title for facing Ali in an unapproved rematch seven months later, which he lost by unanimous decision.

Besides being heavyweight champion and his characteristic gap-toothed grin (due to losing two and later all four of his front teeth), Spinks gained notoriety for the disaster which befell his career following the loss to Ali.[1] However, he did challenge once more for the WBC heavyweight title in 1981 (losing to Larry Holmes by TKO in the third round), and the WBA cruiserweight title in 1986 (losing to Dwight Muhammad Qawi by TKO in the sixth round).

As an amateur, Spinks won numerous medals in the light heavyweight division. The first was bronze at the inaugural 1974 World Championships, followed by silver at the 1975 Pan American Games, and gold at the 1976 Summer Olympics; the latter alongside his brother Michael Spinks, who won middleweight gold. Leon would also serve on active duty in the United States Marine Corps from 1973 to 1976.

Spinks also had a brief career as a professional wrestler in the 1990s, working for Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW) and holding the FMW Brass Knuckles Heavyweight Championship in 1992.[2]

Amateur career

  • 1974, 1975, and 1976 National AAU light heavyweight champion
  • Defeated future champion Michael Dokes for first AAU title in 1974

Olympic results

  • Defeated Abellatif Fatihi (Morocco) KO 1
  • Defeated Anatoly Klimanov (Soviet Union) 5-0
  • Defeated Ottomar Sachse (East Germany) 5-0
  • Defeated Janusz Gortat (Poland) 5-0
  • Defeated Sixto Soria (Cuba) RSC 3

Professional career

Spinks debuted professionally on January 15, 1977 in Las Vegas, Nevada, beating Bob Smith by knockout in five rounds. His next fight was in Liverpool, England, where he beat Peter Freeman by a first-round knockout. Later, he saw an improvement in opposition quality, when he fought Pedro Agosto of Puerto Rico and knocked him out in round one. He then fought Scott LeDoux to a draw and defeated Italian champion Alfio Righetti by a decision.

Spinks vs. Ali

Now a lower-ranked contender, he made history on February 15, 1978, by beating Muhammad Ali on a 15-round split decision in Las Vegas, Nevada. Spinks won the world heavyweight title in his eighth professional fight, the shortest time in history. The aging Ali had expected an easy fight, but he was out-boxed by Spinks, who did not tire throughout the bout. It was one of the few occasions when Ali left the ring with a bruised and puffy face.

Spinks' victory over Ali was the peak of his career. He was the only man to take a title from Muhammad Ali in the ring, as Ali's other losses were non-title contests or bouts where Ali was the challenger. Spinks' gap-toothed grin was featured on the cover of the February 19, 1978 issue of Sports Illustrated.

However, Spinks was stripped of his world title by the WBC for refusing to defend it against Ken Norton, instead agreeing to a return bout against Ali to defend his WBA crown. The title, stripped from Spinks, was then awarded to Norton.


His second match with Ali, at the Louisiana Superdome on September 15, 1978, went badly for Spinks. A now-in-shape Ali—with better, sharper tactics—rarely lost control, winning back his title by a unanimous fifteen-round decision. Ali regained the title, becoming the first three-time lineal heavyweight champion.[3] Spinks was never given a rematch; Ali retired after the fight (although he came out of retirement a few years later to fight Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick).

Career development

Spinks defeats Ray Kipping June 19, 1995, St. Louis
Spinks during his final victory held at the "Little bit of Texas" in St.Louis

Spinks's next fight, his only one in 1979, was at Monte Carlo, where he was knocked out in the first round by future WBA world heavyweight champion Gerrie Coetzee. In the following fight, Spinks defeated former world title challenger and European title holder Alfredo Evangelista by a knockout in round 5. He fought to a draw in with Eddie López, in May 1980 he scored a knockout over Kevin Isaac, and in October beat the WBC's top-ranked challenger, Bernardo Mercado, by a knockout in round nine, this fight was on the undercard of Muhammad Ali vs. Larry Holmes.

Spinks vs. Holmes

His strong performance against Mercado earned Spinks a title match against Larry Holmes. In Spinks' only fight in 1981, and what would be his last chance opportunity at the heavyweight title, he had a clear loss by a TKO in the third round at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan on June 12.

Move to cruiserweight

It was Spinks' last heavyweight bout for years, as he began boxing in the cruiserweight division. He beat contender Ivy Brown by a decision in ten rounds, and a gained a decision against former and future title challenger Jesse Burnett in twelve rounds.

When his brother Michael Spinks defeated Larry Holmes in a controversial upset for the IBF heavyweight championship in 1985, they became the only brothers to have held world heavyweight championships. They kept the distinction until the Klitschko brothers became champions two decades later.

In the 1980s Leon Spinks competed in several boxer vs. wrestler matches in New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW), including losing by submission to Antonio Inoki. In 1986 Spinks earned his last championship opportunity, fighting Dwight Muhammad Qawi for the WBA cruiserweight championship. Qawi had been defeated by Michael Spinks three years earlier for his WBC light heavyweight championship. However, Leon Spinks lost by TKO in the sixth round. During the fight, Qawi taunted Spinks as he beat him mercilessly in a corner.

Spinks boxed for another eight years with mixed results. In 1994 he lost a bout by KO to John Carlo, the first time a former heavyweight champion had lost to a boxer making his pro debut (promoter Charles Farrell later admitted to falsifying Carlo's record in order to get the fight sanctioned by the District of Columbia).[4] Spinks retired at age 42, after losing an 8-round decision to Fred Houpe in 1995, who was coming off a seventeen-year hiatus.

Life after boxing

During the 1990s, Spinks worked for Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling, winning its world title in 1992, making him the only man to hold titles in both boxing and wrestling.[5] In the late 1990s, Spinks was a headliner on year-round, touring autograph shows.

In 2009 Spinks was featured as part of the 2009 documentary Facing Ali, in which notable former opponents of Ali speak about how fighting Ali changed their lives.

As of 2017, Spinks lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. He told a reporter his life is "comfortable", and that he keeps a low profile.[6]

In August 2017, Leon was inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame along with his brother, Michael.

Personal life and health

Leon's son, Cory Spinks, held the undisputed welterweight title, and was the IBF junior middleweight champion from 2006 to 2008.

In 1990, Leon's other son, Leon Calvin, was shot to death in East St. Louis as he was driving home from his girlfriend's house.[7] Calvin was an aspiring light heavyweight pro boxer with a record of 2-0, with the two pro bouts occurring only a month before he died.[8] Leon's grandson and Calvin's son, Leon Spinks III, is an aspiring light heavyweight southpaw boxer with a pro record of 11-3-1 with seven knockouts, his last outing being a six round draw with Robbie Cannon in October 2017.[9]

Leon has slurred his words since his active boxing days, and was diagnosed in 2012 with shrinkage in his brain, which doctors said was likely caused by punches he took during his career. Spinks and his wife Brenda moved to Las Vegas in 2011. Spinks was hospitalized twice in 2014 in a Las Vegas hospital for surgery due to abdominal problems, from which he recovered.[10]

Professional boxing record

Professional record summary
46 fights 26 wins 17 losses
By knockout 14 9
By decision 11 8
By disqualification 1 0
Draws 3
No. Result Record Opponent Type Round, time Date Location Notes
46 Loss 26–17–3 Fred Houpe UD 8 Dec 4, 1995 A Little Bit of Texas, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
45 Win 26–16–3 Ray Kipping UD 8 Jun 19, 1995 A Little Bit of Texas, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
44 Loss 25–16–3 John Carlo KO 1, 1:09 Oct 22, 1994 Convention Center, Washington, D.C., U.S.
43 Loss 25–15–3 Shane Sutcliffe UD 8 Oct 1, 1994 Civic Arena, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada
42 Win 25–14–3 Eddie Curry DQ 9 (10) Jun 22, 1994 Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S. Curry disqualified after refusing to answer the bell for round 9, believing the fight was scheduled for 8 rounds
41 Loss 24–14–3 James Wilder PTS 10 Feb 27, 1993 Davenport, Iowa, U.S.
40 Win 24–13–3 Kevin Poindexter KO 1 (10), 2:37 Dec 11, 1992 Union Hall, Countryside, Illinois, U.S.
39 Loss 23–13–3 Kevin Porter PTS 10 Sep 26, 1992 Lansing, Michigan, U.S.
38 Win 23–12–3 Jack Jackson KO 3 (10), 2:52 Jul 24, 1992 Union Hall, Countryside, Illinois, U.S.
37 Win 22–12–3 Rocky Bentley PTS 10 Jun 17, 1992 World Congress Center, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
36 Win 21–12–3 Rick Myers UD 10 Mar 20, 1992 Clarion Hotel Ballroom, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
35 Win 20–12–3 Andre Crowder SD 10 Feb 28, 1992 Union Hall, Countryside, Illinois, U.S.
34 Win 19–12–3 Lupe Guerra KO 3 (10), 2:13 Nov 15, 1991 Genesis Convention Center, Gary, Indiana, U.S.
33 Loss 18–12–3 Tony Morrison TKO 1 (10), 0:33 May 30, 1988 Marriott Hotel, Trumbull, Connecticut, U.S.
32 Loss 18–11–3 Randall Cobb MD 10 Mar 18, 1988 Municipal Auditorium, Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
31 Loss 18–10–3 Ladislao Mijangos SD 10 Dec 20, 1987 San Antonio, Texas, U.S.
30 Loss 18–9–3 Terry Mims SD 10 Oct 20, 1987 Swingos, Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
29 Draw 18–8–3 Jim Ashard SD 10 Aug 29, 1987 Lane County Fair grounds, Eugene, Oregon, U.S.
28 Loss 18–8–2 Angelo Musone KO 7 (10) May 22, 1987 Iesi, Italy
27 Win 18–7–2 Jeff Jordan SD 12 Apr 28, 1987 Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium, Nagoya, Japan Won vacant WBC Continental Americas heavyweight title
26 Loss 17–7–2 Jose Ribalta TKO 1 (10), 2:10 Jan 17, 1987 Coconut Grove Convention Center, Miami, Florida, U.S.
25 Loss 17–6–2 Rocky Sekorski TKO 6 (10), 1:43 Aug 2, 1986 Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, U.S.
24 Loss 17–5–2 Dwight Muhammad Qawi TKO 6 (15), 2:56 Mar 22, 1986 Lawlor Events Center, Reno, Nevada, U.S. For WBA cruiserweight title
23 Win 17–4–2 Kip Kane TKO 8 (12), 1:37 Dec 13, 1985 Felt Forum, New York City, New York, U.S. Won vacant WBC Continental Americas heavyweight title
22 Win 16–4–2 Tom Franco Thomas UD 10 Jun 29, 1985 Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Santa Rosa, California, U.S.
21 Win 15–4–2 Tom Fischer UD 10 May 9, 1985 Cobo Arena, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
20 Win 14–4–2 Rick Kellar TKO 2 (10), 2:47 Apr 9, 1985 Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.
19 Win 13–4–2 Lupe Guerra TKO 4 (10), 0:43 Feb 21, 1985 Cobo Arena, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
18 Loss 12–4–2 Carlos de León RTD 6 (10), 3:00 Mar 6, 1983 Broadway by the Bay Theater, Atlantic City, New Jersey, U.S.
17 Win 12–3–2 Jesse Burnett UD 12 Oct 31, 1982 Great Gorge Resort, McAfee, New Jersey, U.S. Won vacant NABF cruiserweight title
16 Win 11–3–2 Ivy Brown UD 10 Feb 24, 1982 Playboy Hotel and Casino, Atlantic City, New Jersey, U.S.
15 Loss 10–3–2 Larry Holmes TKO 3 (15), 2:34 Jun 12, 1981 Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, Michigan, U.S. For WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
14 Win 10–2–2 Bernardo Mercado TKO 9 (12), 2:52 Oct 2, 1980 Caesars Palace, Paradise, Nevada, U.S.
13 Win 9–2–2 Kevin Isaac TKO 8 (10), 2:11 May 3, 1980 Circle Star Theater, San Carlos, California, U.S.
12 Draw 8–2–2 Eddie López SD 10 Mar 8, 1980 The Aladdin, Paradise, Nevada, U.S.
11 Win 8–2–1 Alfredo Evangelista KO 5 (10), 2:43 Jan 12, 1980 Steel Pier, Atlantic City, New Jersey, U.S.
10 Loss 7–2–1 Gerrie Coetzee TKO 1 (12), 2:03 Jun 24, 1979 Le Chapiteau de l'Espace, Fontvieille, Monaco
9 Loss 7–1–1 Muhammad Ali UD 15 Sep 15, 1978 Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S. Lost WBA, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
8 Win 7–0–1 Muhammad Ali SD 15 Feb 15, 1978 Las Vegas Hilton, Winchester, Nevada, U.S. Won WBA, WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles
7 Win 6–0–1 Alfio Righetti UD 10 Nov 18, 1977 Caesars Palace, Paradise, Nevada, U.S.
6 Draw 5–0–1 Scott LeDoux SD 10 Oct 22, 1977 The Aladdin, Paradise, Nevada, U.S.
5 Win 5–0 Bruce Scott KO 3 (8), 3:02 Jun 1, 1977 Forum, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
4 Win 4–0 Pedro Agosto KO 1 (8), 1:55 May 7, 1977 Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
3 Win 3–0 Jerry McIntyre KO 1 (6), 0:35 Mar 20, 1977 Exposition Center, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
2 Win 2–0 Peter Freeman KO 1 (6), 1:26 Mar 5, 1977 Liverpool Stadium, Liverpool, England
1 Win 1–0 Bob Smith TKO 5 (6), 0:20 Jan 15, 1977 The Aladdin, Paradise, Nevada, U.S. Professional debut

See also


  1. ^ "Riches to rags" The Boston Globe, December 21, 2005
  2. ^ Pro Wrestling Illustrated, March 1993 issue, p.27.
  3. ^ "Leon Spinks". Cyber Boxing Zone. Retrieved 20 November 2016. 
  4. ^ "The Fix Is In". Snap Judgment. NPR. June 13, 2014. Retrieved July 3, 2015. 
  5. ^ Pro Wrestling Illustrated, March 1993 issue, p.27.
  6. ^ Steve Sipple, "Ex-champ Leon Spinks cleans up in Columbus". Lincoln Journal Star, April 4, 2005.
  7. ^ "Leon Spinks's Son Is Fatally Shot". New York Times. Associated Press. July 23, 1990. Retrieved August 21, 2017. 
  8. ^ "BoxRec: Leon Calvin". boxrec.com. Retrieved 2018-02-08. 
  9. ^ "BoxRec: Leon Spinks III". boxrec.com. Retrieved 2018-02-08. 
  10. ^ "Former champion Leon Spinks hospitalized". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2018-02-08. 

Further reading

  • Florio, John; Shapiro, Ouisie (2013). One Punch from the Promised Land: Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, and the Myth of the Heavyweight Title. Lyons Press. p. 279. ISBN 978-0-7627-8300-7. 

External links

Sporting positions
Amateur boxing titles
D.C. Barker
U.S. light heavyweight champion
Larry Strogen
Regional boxing titles
Title last held by
S. T. Gordon
NABF cruiserweight champion
October 31, 1982 – May 1984
Title next held by
Anthony Davis
Title last held by
Michael Dokes
WBC Continental Americas
heavyweight champion

December 13, 1985 – March 1986
Title next held by
Adílson Rodrigues
Title last held by
Adílson Rodrigues
WBC Continental Americas
heavyweight champion

April 28, 1987 – April 1988
Title next held by
Michael Dokes
World boxing titles
Preceded by
Muhammad Ali
WBA heavyweight champion
February 15, 1978September 15, 1978
Succeeded by
Muhammad Ali
WBC heavyweight champion
February 15, 1978 – March 18, 1978
Succeeded by
Ken Norton
awarded title
The Ring heavyweight champion
February 15, 1978 – September 15, 1978
Succeeded by
Muhammad Ali
Undisputed heavyweight champion
February 15, 1978 – March 18, 1978
Titles fragmented
Title next held by
Mike Tyson
Lineal heavyweight champion
February 15, 1978 – September 15, 1978
Succeeded by
Muhammad Ali
Professional wrestling titles
Preceded by
Tarzan Goto
WWA World Martial Arts
heavyweight champion

March 25, 1992 – May 24, 1992
Succeeded by
Atsushi Onita
Muhammad Ali
Joe Frazier
BWAA Fighter of the Year
With: Howard Davis Jr., Sugar Ray Leonard,
Leo Randolph, and Michael Spinks
Ken Norton
George Foreman vs.
Jimmy Young
The Ring Fight of the Year
vs. Muhammad Ali

Danny Lopez vs.
Mike Ayala
Jorge Luján
KO10 Alfonso Zamora
The Ring Upset of the Year
SD15 Muhammad Ali

Vito Antuofermo
SD15 Marvin Hagler