How good of a boxer was Leon Spinks? (RIP)

Leon Spinks has died. Although I do love boxing, I don’t remember too much about him. I’m going to be watching some of his fights on YouTube tonight.

Anyway, this is basically a memorandum thread but also a good way to comment on his boxing skill.

The only thing I remember about Spinks is a quote form someone after his massively overpaid and overhyped fight against Mike Tyson in 1988, in which Tyson knocked him out after 91 seconds: “Never before have so many paid so much for so little.”

Well, he was good enough to win an Olympic gold medal. He was obviously a good boxer, but perhaps not a very good professional boxer. His mixed success against Ali probably says more about the inconsistency of late-career Ali than it does about Spinks. I mostly remember him for avoiding a match with Ken Norton. I don’t know if that was fear on his part or his management, or just a money thing.

I was a boxing fan at the time he was coming up. He was a profoundly stupid guy compared to his peers. There just wasn’t much character there. And this was long before he was old enough for the accumulated brain trauma to show up.

Here’s how I saw his career at the time: As Ali was fading, Spinks was the only guy in the right weight class anywhere near that level. So after the upset against Ali he assumed the mantle of champ. Which he held only until much better fighters like Tyson, Foreman, and Norton came up in turn.

He’s the boxing equivalent of the musical “one-hit wonder” band. Right place, right time, got lucky
… once.

It’s a darn shame he ended up with brain trauma and dying of cancer at a young age. Nobody deserves either of those things.

He was very good when he was young and strong. His stamina was remarkable for someone that early in their pro boxing career. He showed tremendous toughness and courage when he fought Ali the first time to win the title from him. It was that great combination of an iron chin and a strong heart that are invaluable in a fight, but each one useless without the other.

And then it was over. Drugs, alcohol, sudden fame and fortune, and his career was over. He was never a better fighter than on that one night. Never very close again. He had a few more fights, notably being demolished by Larry Holmes to end any serious consideration for Leon to regain championship status.

He is notable for defeating Ali, arguably on a bad night for Ali. His biggest mark was being half of the first pair of brothers to win the heavyweight title.

Wasn’t that Michael Spinks? This is Michael’s brother Leon.

IIRC, the WBC had a rule at the time, “No Immediate Rematches,” and demanded that Spinks fight Ken Norton. The WBA sanctioned the rematch against Ali, which Spinks fought, and the WBC handed the belt to Norton, which, again IIRC, he lost immediately to Larry Holmes.

Interesting typo there. Still accurate I suppose, but unintended I assume.

I don’t recall if it was a rematch issue or just that Norton had been the number one contender to fight Ali, not Spinks, and should have been given the title shot.

Whichever way they worked that out, they then followed up with the unique move of giving the title to Norton even though he had never won a title fight. Other champions have been awarded their titles for various reasons, but all others had won a title fight at some point.

That was Michael Spinks, Leon’s brother. Leon was the guy who beat Muhammad Ali and then lost to him in a rematch.

Leon’s victory over Ali in 1978 was one of the most shocking upsets in boxing history, certainly a greater upset than Buster Douglas beating Mike Tyson, even though Ali was old and not in his best shape. Leon had only fought seven pro fights before and his career went to hell after he lost to Ali in the rematch. He wasn’t one of the 100 greatest heavyweights of all time, and his brother Michael, the guy who lost the 91-second bout, was certainly a greater boxer.

Sorry. Until this thread, I had no idea there were two of them.

Three, really. They’re a bit of a mini-dynasty.