40 years ago today, two modern day greats met in a light heavyweight unification showdown that had been demanded by the fans. Michael Spinks, the reigning WBC champ, met Dwight Muhammad Qawi, who was the WBA ruler. The showdown took place in Atlantic City, NJ, and the fight went all 15 rounds.
Going into the fight, Spinks had to cope with the recent, shocking death of his girlfriend, who had died in a car crash. Spinks managed to keep it together in the locker room when his two-year old daughter asked him where her mother was. As for Qawi, he had been diagnosed with pneumonia a week before the fight and he was strongly advised not to fight. Qawi was also nursing a damaged septum during the biggest fight of his career.
The fight played out as part chess-match, part exciting battle, part track-meet. Spinks’ primary weapon was his superb left jab and, with Qawi appearing somewhat listless early on, Spinks was able to pile up points. In the middle sessions, the shorter Qawi managed to find some rhythm and he also picked up some points with his own jab. Round eight saw Spinks go down no less than three times, twice due to slipping, the other time from a contentious knockdown where Qawi stepped on his foot (“I kept accidentally stepping on his feet,” Qawi said later. “His feet were so damn big.”)
On the few occasions when Qawi was able to get on the inside, Spinks was able to tie him up and nullify his attacks. Spinks boxed quite brilliantly, yet he was also criticised by some for being too negative. Spinks was reportedly unsure if he had done enough as he awaited the decision – “I did it, I did it. I think I did it,” he said mid-ring.
Qawi, who landed his best punches late, in the 11th and the 13th rounds, his head shots seeming to rattle Spinks, later accused his rival of running – “It was more like a track-meet out there. He had a lot of dog in him. Even though he ran, he did enough to impress the judges I guess,” an embittered Qawi said.
Spinks disagreed – “I wanted to the the ‘Untouchable.’ I beat him with a jab. I beat him with one hand,” Spinks boasted.
Indeed, the Sports Illustrated front page had a headline covering the fight that read: “His left was all riiight!”
Spinks, on this night, had shown a combination of superb boxing skill, of savvy, of survival instincts, and of being able to frustrate a very good and dangerous ring rival.
In the end, the scores were somewhat close, with one judge having it 144-140, the other two officials having it 144-141 – all for Spinks and his ‘Jinx.’
Spinks left the ring with a 24-0 record, Qawi with a 19-2-1 ledger. There was supposed to be a rematch, the date set for September 27 of 1984, but Qawi suffered an injury, and the fight was scrapped. In time, both greats made the move to heavyweight, with differing results.
Both Spinks and Qawi are enshrined, quite deservedly, in The Hall of Fame.