Thirty Years Ago Today - Ali Wins Heavyweight Title For Third Time Vs. Spinks!

by James Slater - Exactly 30 years ago today, the great Muhammad Ali boxed a rematch with the much younger Leon Spinks. Spinks had shocked the ageing Ali seven months earlier, by out-pointing the defending heavyweight king over fifteen unforeseen rounds . A huge underdog going into the bout held in Las Vegas in February of 1978, the gap-toothed, fun-loving 1976 Olympic gold medallist upset "The Greatest" via a split decision. In truth, the fight should have been scored as anything but a close win for Leon - he clearly won so thoroughly..

Ali, who had been lazy in his training for the fight, was almost as lazy in it. Only coming on late (too late as it turned out) when he knew his title was in danger, the 36-year-old lost fair and square - as Ali was man enough to admit afterwards. Leon Spinks, at age 24 and after having had a mere seven previous fights (6 wins, 1 draw) was, amazingly, the new heavyweight champion of the world!

A lot of things had changed by the time of the rematch that took place in New Orleans on September 15th. For one thing, Spinks now held only the WBA version of the title, having been stripped by the WBC for refusing to defend against #1 contender Ken Norton. Therefore Ali-Spinks II would only contest half of the world title. Another big change were the two men's training habits. For fight one Ali had trained poorly, for fight two Spinks barely trained at all. Interested instead in enjoying himself, boozing and nightclubbing, the new champ broke camp frequently. In the rematch it showed.

Ali, having pushed his body harder than he had in years, was in great shape. His pride had been stung by losing to such a novice and the loss to Spinks also marked the one and only time Ali had lost his title in the ring. He was determined to get it back and retire as a three-time heavyweight ruler. "The Greatest" got what he so badly wanted.

The return fight was no contest. Unfortunately, neither was the fight in any way exciting. Ali would jab and throw a right hand, then grab Spinks' neck and hold. Or at other times he would jab, throw a combination of a few punches, and then grab and hold. These tactics, while not resulting in a thrilling fight to watch, worked perfectly. Ali, who also bounced on his toes impressively for a man who'd been in so may wars, out-boxed Spinks pretty much all night with his ideal game-plan and won a very wide unanimous decision after fifteen largely dull rounds. The huge crowd in attendance at The New Orleans SuperDome didn't mind the fight being somewhat boring, they were simply happy watching their hero win back his belt.

The scoring revealed that "Neon Leon" had only won four rounds on each of the three cards. Ali, at approximately four months shy of his 37th birthday, was once again the heavyweight champion - of the WBA, anyway.

If only Ali had retired for good right then and there! Unfortunately, as we know, he made the mistake of coming back for two more fights, losing both and looking bad in doing so. Winning the world title three times, as he had against Spinks, wasn't enough to satisfy the Ali ego. Wanting to win it for a fourth time, the 56-3 Ali failed miserably against new champ Larry Holmes two years after the Spinks return ( a points loss to Trevor Berbick, in a non-title bout finally ended Ali's career for good in December of 1981).

It could have been the perfect ending to a truly special boxing career, but unfortunately Muhammad Ali boxed on after avenging his loss to Leon Spinks - in a fight that took place exactly 30 years ago this very day.

Article posted on 16.09.2008

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