As fight fans have no doubt read by now, former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks passed away on Friday evening, this at the age of 67. Spinks had been battling prostrate cancer along with other cancers. Since the sad news broke tributes have been coming in from all over; with plenty of big names wishing to pay their condolences to the fallen champ.
Heavyweight great George Foreman spoke with USA Today, and Foreman said Spinks’ famous smile, or grin, was his “greatest gift.”
“The smile,” Foreman said. “No-one took that away from him. I can’t even say he had a life of tragedy when in reality he had the greatest gift, the smile. He could have let (tragedy) be his story. But that was not his story at all. I was at the Boxing Hall of Fame and I said, ‘Wow.’ He was there and made everyone feel good about being there. Always willing to stop and give you a smile and not hold onto your ear. And especially no complaints. Never any complaints.”
Among the other people paying tribute to Spinks are, Mauricio Sulaiman, Freddie Roach, Devin Haney and Lou DiBella.
“Rest in peace, Leon Spinks. Olympic medalist, Pan American medalist, and of course, WBC heavyweight champion,” Sulaiman wrote.
“RIP Leon Spinks,” Haney tweeted.
“Rest in peace, Neon Leon, a heavyweight champion and a nice man,” wrote DiBella.
“Rest in peace, Leon Spinks. Condolences to the Spinks family,” Roach tweeted.
Spinks touched a whole lot of people, it’s clear.
A genuine sensation in the 1970s, for a while at least, Spinks won Olympic gold in 1976 and then, in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history, he defeated Muhammad Ali to take the world title – this after just seven pro fights. Spinks famously quipped after the win how he was, “not the greatest, just the latest.” Sadly, his reign did not last long. “Neon” Leon partied hard after scoring the sensation in Las Vegas, and who could really blame him? Spinks was just 24, and suddenly he was under an enoromous spotlight, with fame, money and temptation proving to get the better of him.
Spinks was in no shape to defeat Ali a second time, with stories coming out stating how Spinks had bolted training camp, to be found in a shack drinking moonshine whisky. Spinks pleaded with his trainers, telling them how he’d simply had to “cut loose” from the grind of training. Ali, meanwhile, had pushed his aging body hard, determined as he was to win back the title from the only man to have ever taken it from him in the ring. Spinks lost a wide 15 round decision in fight-two. From then on, it was all pretty much downhill. Spinks was crushed in a round by Gerrie Coetzee, he was then hammered by Larry Holmes, this his last shot at heavyweight glory. Spinks then dropped down to cruiserweight but he was soundly beaten by an unstoppable Dwight Muhammad Qawi, this in 1986 in his final world title fight. Spinks’ last great effort came in March of 1988, when he and Randy “Tex” Cobb took turns knocking lumps out of each other in a crude yet entertaining (and damaging) heavyweight brawl; Spinks losing a close decision.
Spinks fought on for far too long, eventually retiring in 1995. By then Spinks had lost 17 fights, his final record reading, 27-17-3(14). In his later years Spinks suffered from ill health, slurred speech and, for a time, financial problems. Yet as Foreman said, through it all Spinks never once complained.
Leon Spinks: July 11, 1953 to February 5, 2021. Heavyweight champion February 1978 to September 1978.