Former professional boxer and one-time heavyweight champion Leon Spinks, who famously defeated Muhammad Ali in 1978 for the title, passed away Friday at the age of 67, according to TMZ Sports.
Spinks reportedly died in his Las Vegas-area home in Nevada while surrounded by his wife Brenda and other family and friends. His death followed a five-year battle with multiple forms of cancer, including prostate cancer.
From poverty to undisputed champion
NPR reported that Spinks was born in 1953 in St. Louis, Missouri, and pursued boxing, as well as a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, as a path out of a life of poverty.
He initially achieved glory in his amateur boxing career with a gold medal earned in the light heavyweight division at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada.
It was his stunning upset and split decision victory over the heavily-favored champ Ali in Las Vegas in 1978 that earned him lasting fame and the title of undisputed heavyweight champion, however.
15 rounds with Muhammad Ali
According to ESPN, the younger and lighter Spinks — in only the eighth fight of his professional career, in which he had previously never fought past 10 rounds — managed to outlast the older and heavier Ali in a hard-fought brawl that ended with a split decision for Spinks following all 15 rounds.
His time as the champion would be short-lived, though. Ali reclaimed the title in a rematch seven months later in New Orleans, Lousiana, and Spinks was never able to ascend to the top of the boxing world again following that loss.
Spinks officially retired from professional boxing in 1995 with an overall record of 26-17-3, with 14 of those victories coming by way of knockouts (KOs).
In 2017, he was inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame. His passing was marked with condolences from friends and fans, including the current president of the World Boxing Council (WBC), Mauricio Sulaiman.
Rest in peace, Leon Spinks.
Olympic medalist, Pan American medalist, and of course, WBC heavyweight champion. pic.twitter.com/dsByBrLp2L
— Mauricio Sulaiman (@wbcmoro) February 6, 2021
Legacy will live on
Fox News reported that in addition to the cancer that he dealt with in his final years, Spinks had also struggled with other health issues, including a diagnosis of brain shrinkage in 2012 that was directly attributed to the damage he had sustained from repeated blows to the head during his career as a pugilist.
Spinks will certainly be missed. But his name and legacy in the boxing world will live on, both through his phenomenal victory over Ali and also through the success enjoyed by his family, including his Hall of Fame younger brother Michael Spinks, as well as his sons Cory and Daryll and grandson Leon Spinks III, all of whom became professional boxers.