Former world heavyweight champion Leon Spinks has surely received his share of negative press over the years. Many consider him just a footnote in heavyweight history. The man Muhammad Ali “loaned” his title to. Leon was much more then that. Much more.
One should first look at his decorated amateur career. Before entering the professional ranks Leon racked up a stellar 178-7 record. He won the National A.A.U. light heavyweight championship three years in a row (1974-76). He then captured the 1976 Olympic Gold Medal in 1976. He was more then ready for the pro ranks. He turned professional in 1977 and in his fourth fight he took out seasoned veteran Pedro Agosto in one round. Two fights later he drew with rugged contender Scott LeDoux. In his next bout he upset undefeated Alfio Righetti.
One year and one month after turning pro Leon took his 6-0-1 record into a Las Vegas ring to meet the self proclaimed “Greatest”, Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight championship of the world. Few if any gave Leon a chance. The Spinks camp claimed Ali was the greatest but Leon was the latest. It turned out that the Spinks camp was right. An ill prepared Ali was lethargic throughout the fifteen round contest. Spinks piled up points on sheer energy and aggression. At the final bell the hand of Leon Spinks was raised.
By beating Ali, Spinks was to next face the World Boxing Council’s #1 contender Ken Norton. Spinks would instead take a much more lucrative rematch against Ali in a bout blessed by the World Boxing Association. The W.B.C. stripped Spinks of the title and recognized Norton as their champion. Regardless of the politics the Ali – Spinks rematch took place seven months later in New Orleans. This time a better conditioned Ali schooled Spinks over fifteen rounds. It marked the third time Ali had won the title making him the first to ever do it. Before the rematch Leon broke training camp on several occasions. His new found fame and love of the night life earned him the nickname “Neon Leon”.
Spinks was now an ex-champion and Ali promptly retired. The W.B.A. set up a four man elimination tournament to determine Ali’s successor. John Tate would knock out Kallie Knoetzee to advance and Leon would meet Gerrie Coetzee. Leon’s hopes of regaining the crown were dashed in less then a round by the hard punching Coetzee. For Spinks it was back to the drawing board. Leon put together a knockout over Alfredo Evangelista. A draw with Eddie “The Animal” Lopez and knockouts over Kevin Isaac and Bernardo Mercado. Leon was then awarded a crack at the W.B.C. titleholder Larry Holmes. The talented Holmes had won the title from Norton and on June 12,1981 in Detroit he defended against Spinks. Leon was game and he tried hard but he was just outclassed by Holmes who stopped him in the third round.
Spinks decided to move down in weight and try the cruiserweight division in 1982. He beat Ivy Brown and then defeated the classy Jesse Burnett for the North American Boxing Federation cruiserweight title. In his next bout he met former world cruiserweight champion Carlos DeLeon. Leon was battered and stopped in the sixth round. In 1985 Spinks returned to the heavyweight division and reeled of five straight wins including a knockout over Kip Kane for the W.B.C. Continental Heavyweight tile.
In 1986 Spinks was offered a shot at Dwight Muhammad Qawi’s W.B.A. cruiserweight title. On March 22nd in Reno, Nevada Leon was savaged in six rounds by Qawi. Returning to the heavyweight division Spinks was stopped by tough Rocky Sekorski. In 1987 Leon was blitzed in one round by the capable Jose Ribalta. Then there were more losses to Angelo Musone, Ladislao Mijangos and Cleveland’s Terry Mims. On March 18,1988 Spinks received his last shot at the big time. He took on ranked contender Randy “Tex” Cobb. It turned out to be a spirited effort by Leon but after ten rounds Cobb won a well deserved decision in an entertaining fight. In his next fight Leon would lose in 33 seconds to journeyman Tony Morrison.
Spinks would take three years off and on returning he put together a modest five bout win streak. He then lost to Kevin Porter. Leon would only win three of his last seven fights before hanging up the gloves in 1995. In a 46 bout career Spinks would end up with a 26-17-3 record. He scored 14 knockouts and he was stopped on 9 occasions. Leon had the tools and if he would have stayed a light heavyweight in the professional ranks he may have carved out a great career. The heavyweights were where the money was at though. Throughout his career Spinks was his own worst enemy but no one can take away the fact the he was once heavyweight champion of the whole wide world. It’s in the books forever.