Former heavyweight boxing champion Leon Spinks Jr., who defeated Muhammad Ali for the world heavyweight title in 1978, has died. He died Friday after a five-year battle with prostate and other cancers, his representatives at Firm PR confirmed. He was 67.
“Leon fought his battle with numerous illnesses resiliently, never losing his trademark smile,” said a statement from Firm PR. “Showing true Spinks determination, he never threw in the towel.”
Born on July 1, 1953 in St. Louis, Spinks discovered his loved for boxing while serving in the Marines. He kicked off his career taking home multiple wins in the light heavyweight division. He first won the bronze medal at the 1974 World Championships, then the silver at the 1975 Pan American Games and later the gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
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While Spinks had numerous wins under his belt before debuting professionally in 1977, he cemented his place in boxing history by upsetting the legendary Muhammad Ali on Feb. 15, 1978 in Las Vegas. In what would become one of boxing’s most memorable victories, Spinks became the heavyweight champion.
In the 1990s, Spinks retired his boxing gloves and ventured into the wrestling world, winning the Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling world title in 1992. With the boxing win, he became the second man, after Primo Carnera, to hold titles in both boxing and wrestling.
In 2009 Spinks appeared in Pete McCormack’s documentary Facing Ali. Spinks was among the notable boxers who shared their experience going up against the icon. Also featured in the documentary were Henry Cooper, George Foreman and Joe Frazier.
Two years later Spinks moved to Las Vegas and in 2017 he and his brother Michael Spinks were inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame.
Spinks is survived by his wife Brenda Glur Spinks, who was at his side at the time of his passing.