Leon Spinks: “I just want to be Leon”!
By Ken Hissner (June 21, 2010) Doghouse Boxing  
There have been many stories written about Leon Spinks the former 1976 Olympic Gold Medalists in Montreal and former WBC/WBA heavyweight champion in 1978. This former Marine who had such boxers serving with him like his brother Michael also a 1976 Olympic Gold Medalists and world WBC/WBA/IBF light heavyweight and IBF heavyweight world champion. Roger Stafford was also from St. Louis with the Spinks brothers. He turned professional in St. Louis on the undercard of Spinks fourth fight and then moved to Philadelphia. He challenged Donald Curry in 1983 for his WBA welterweight title. Butch Lewis managed all three of the St. Louis boxers at one time. Another fellow Marine from Philadelphia was Buster Drayton who won the IBF light middleweight title in 1986.

My intention in this story is not to dwell on life after the Ali fights or about his now living in Nebraska. I want to tell about his amateur career and what lead him up to winning the title from Ali. Spinks had won the 1974, 1975 and 1976 AAU light heavyweight titles. In 1974 he represented the USA in Havana, Cuba coming home with a Bronze medal after losing to Soviet boxer Oleg Korotayev. Mate Parlov of Croatia won the Gold and would go on to become WBC light heavyweight champion. In 1975 at the Pan Am Games Spinks won a Silver medal losing to Cuban Rene Pedroso in the finals.

In the 1976 Olympics in Montreal’s opening round Spinks defeated Abellatif Fatihi of Morocco by knockout in the1st round. Next he defeated Anatoly Klimanov of the Soviet Union, Ottomar Sachse of East Germany, and Janusz Gortat of Poland all by scores of 5-0. This was followed up with a stoppage of Cuba’s Sixto Soria in the Gold Medal round. Spinks said “the Gold medal meant more to me than beating Ali. They can’t take the Gold from me.” How wrong he was when someone robbed his mother’s house and stole his Gold medal.

I do not plan to cover much of his professional career except his first 9 fights which includes both fights with Ali. Turning professional in January of 1977 in Las Vegas along with teammate Howard Davis, Jr., Spinks stopped “Lightning” Bob Smith, 6-6-1, in the 5th round of a 6 rounder. Two months later he traveled to Liverpool, England, on the undercard of a John Conteh, WBC light heavyweight title bout. He stopped Peter Freeman, 13-8, of England, by knockout in the 1st round.
Just 15 days later Spinks on a card with Davis and Gerry Cooney traveled to Louisville, KY, home of Ali. He stopped Jerry McIntyre, 1-2, giving up 37 pounds, in 0:35 of the 1st round. Less than 2 months later in his hometown of St. Louis in an 8 round main event he stopped Pedro Agosto, 27-8-1, in 1:55 of the 1st round. Agosto had gotten into the 4th round with then 44-1 George Foreman in his previous fight. Spinks brother Michael and John Tate were on the undercard in 6 rounder’s.
Less than a month later Spinks traveled back to Montreal and was scheduled to fight Canada’s George Jerome, 11-7-3, who never showed up. Bruce Scott, 10-37-1, of Texas was brought in at the last minute, and was dropped twice in the 2nd round and once in the 3rd round being counted out after the bell. His brother and Tate were on the undercard.

After just 5 fights and less than 11 rounds Spinks was matched with Scott LeDoux, 21-6-1, who outweighed him by 30 pounds. The bout was in Las Vegas in October of 1977 in his first 10 rounder. LeDoux had just lost to Olympian Duane Bobick in his previous fight and was a rough and tumble kind of an opponent. LeDoux got the first vote 46-45 while Spinks got the next vote 47-45 with the final vote 46-46 declaring it a draw. His brother and Tate were on the undercard.

In the 7th fight of the year for Spinks Italy’s champion Alfio Righetti, 27-0 (14), was brought into Las Vegas. It would be his first bout out of Italy and he managed to take Spinks the distance of 10 rounds. All three judges scored it 46-44 in favor of Spinks who was now 6-0-1, with 5 knockouts and only 10 months of experience when he was signed to fight Muhammad Ali, 55-2, who had won 14 straight, and was the WBC/WBA world champion. The bout took place on February 15th, 1978 in Las Vegas. Ali was Spinks hero but he knew when the bell rang that would all have to be behind him. He pressed Ali the whole 15 rounds. He had less than 31 rounds of experience up until that point. Spinks got the first vote 145-140 while Ali received a 143-142 score. The final tally was 144-141 for the “new heavyweight champion of the world Leon Spinks”! This was Ring Magazine’s 1978 Fight of the Year.

From that point on for the next 7 months before their rematch the preparation Spinks had endured for their last fight was not quite the same. He was a little heavier and Ali a little lighter. The bout was held in the Superdome, in New Orleans before 63,350 people compared to about 7,000 in Las Vegas. In order to meet Ali again Spinks had to give up his WBC title due to not fighting their #1 contender Ken Norton. Ali moved better and Spinks was not as hungry and the result was a lot different. Spinks was only given 4 rounds by all the three judges out of the 15 rounds. Ali had regained his title.

Spinks was 7-1-1 at this point and would get one more chance at the WBC title in 1981 losing to Larry Holmes who would eventually lose to Spinks brother Michael. I met Spinks in December of 1985 when he was to fight Kip Kane, 15-1-1 for the WBC Continental Americas title in New York’s Felt Forum. I was with matchmaker Don Elbaum and Buddy LaRosa who had managed Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor and then Kane. When I was introduced to Spinks he flashed that famous smile of his and I just had to give the guy a hug. He had a charm about him. This would be his last fight before dropping down to the cruiserweight at 190. He would come in at his highest weight of 213 for Kane. After dropping Kane in the 1st round, Spinks would go on to stopping him in the 8th round.

For Spinks he dropped 23 pounds and 3 months later lost to WBA champion Dwight Muhammad Qawi, 25-2-1, Reno in March of 1986. It would be his last shot at a world title and first and only cruiserweight fight. The rest of the way over the next 9 years would be filled with ups and downs, mostly downs. His final record was 26-17-3, with 14 knockouts. That’s 19-16-3 since losing to Ali.

I have written about 9 of Spinks teammates. More than half of them had some similar things to say about him up until the Olympics in 1976. Dave Armstrong: Leon was more of the jokester than Michael. You know he beat me in a cross country run and I had run in school. Leo Randolph: Leon was a happy go lucky let’s do it now kind of a guy. Louis Curtis: Leon was mischievous and always joking. Howard Davis, Jr. Leon was a character all to himself. Charles Mooney: John Tate and I almost got into a fight over the cartoons we were going to watch on TV at the Olympic camp. Leon had to separate us. Can you imagine me at 119 pounds and him this big heavyweight (laughing)? I had known Leon from the service (Mooney served 22 years in the Army). He was in the Marines. Leon would put the fear in you being the warrior he was. Chuck Walker: He went out of his way to wish me luck as I was leaving the Olympic village for my bout in Montreal and he called me “Blood, which I took as accepting me as a brother. Since them, I feel we have been very close. I enjoy him now when we get together at events. There is a genuine closeness.

At the team’s 30th re-union at the IHOF in 2006 in New York Spinks saw teammate Chuck Walker across the room. “Best dancer, the only white guy. Ain’t that something,” said Spinks. Spinks is the only member of the team that goes back to the IHOF each year signing autographs and meeting all the fans. In spite of all the millions made in the ring and lost and all the incidents out of the ring he kind of summed it all up in one sentence. “I just want to be Leon,” said Spinks.

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