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Michael Spinks: If he’d retired at 31-0

“It’s not how you come in, it’s how you go out,” Don Dunphy

The late, great boxing announcer, loved and cherished by both radio listeners and TV viewers, was so right. How many great fighters have stuck around too long and tarnished their legacy by losing a fight or fights they should never have even taken in the first place? How many fighters are remembered mostly due to their last fight, a crushing and humiliating loss?


Case in point the great Michael Spinks. Spinks, who bamboozled many a fine fighter with his “Jinx,” met and defeated a genuine Murderer’s Row as a light-heavyweight; both as a contender on the way up and as a world champion fighting to stay at the top. Excellent fighters such as Yaqui Lopez, Marvin Johnson, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and Dwight Muhammad Qawi were beaten by a 175 pound Spinks and the smart, clever, cerebral boxing strategist from St. Louis saw his place amongst the finest-ever at light-heavyweight ensured.

But all of that, along with a great, odds-defying win over a 48-0 Larry Holmes to capture the world heavyweight crown, was practically wiped out by one fight, one result, one lasting image. It was 30 years ago this June when a 31-0, 31 year old Spinks met Mike Tyson for the undisputed “Once And For All” heavyweight championship. 91-seconds later it was all over, yet the damage to Spinks’ record, image and legacy proved long-lasting.

Spinks was terrified, many people said – a lamb to the slaughter. How could this have been the case, what with all the bad-ass, lethal-hitting, relentless warriors Michael had previously met and subdued? Was Tyson really that great? Whatever the case, Spinks, now 31-1 was done, retired, never to return. And all these years later you can ask any fight fan – casual variety especially – what they think of Michael Spinks, and they will talk about the Tyson fight.

Spinks collected a jackpot payday for the fight that ended up lasting less than two-minutes, and of course he was never going to walk away from such a monstrous payday. But just imagine for a minute if he had; if Spinks had decided he’d achieved enough after all his fantastic light-heavyweight triumphs and after his upset big wins at heavyweight, when the barely 200 pound version of Spinks scored victories over Holmes (twice) and Gerry Cooney.

Would fans be looking at Spinks as perhaps one of the finest pound-for-pound fighters of all-time had he called it quits before his heart and nerve let him down in catastrophic fashion that night inside the Convention Hall in A.C? Maybe, in fact very possibly. Spinks was that good, that great – that special.

But Spinks, and Butch Lewis, rolled the dice one last time and took the Tyson fight for record financial gain. Despite the great money, it was a gamble that backfired, in more ways than one.