Leon Spinks, Former Heavyweight Champion, Dies At 67 After Lengthy Cancer Battle

Leon Spinks
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Leon Spinks fought professionally for over three decades.

Former undisputed heavyweight champion Leon Spinks died on Friday at 67 following a five-year battle with multiple cancers. 

Spinks (26-17-3, 14 KOs), who won Olympic gold in 1976, went on to upset Muhammad Ali via split decision over 15 rounds just five years later. The fight saw Spinks make history in just his eighth pro bout as the quickest boxer to win the heavyweight championship. 

The older brother of Michael Spinks, a two-division champion and fellow Olympic champion, Leon lost the rematch to Ali just seven months later in front of over 63,000 fans in New Orleans. Although Spinks would continue fighting professionally for another 17 years, including unsuccessful attempts at heavyweight and cruiserweight titles, most of his career was marked by drug addiction and legal troubles. 

Born in St. Louis in 1953, Spinks served in the United States Marine Corps from 1973 until 1976, when he won Olympic gold as a light heavyweight in Montreal. His son, Cory Spinks, won world titles as a welterweight and junior middleweight before retiring in 2013. 

Spinks died in Henderson, Nevada, with wife Brenda Glur Spinks by his side. A resident of Las Vegas, Spinks revealed in 2019 that he was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. 

Three years after Spinks lost to Ali, he brought a four-fight unbeaten streak into a 1981 heavyweight title bout against Larry Holmes which he lost via third-round TKO. A reinvention at cruiserweight followed before Spinks lost a 1986 title bout via sixth-round stoppage against Dwight Muhammad Qawi. 

Spinks retired in 1995 at the age of 42 after losing five of his final eight fights. 

A charismatic personality, Spinks was well known for his bright smile that was further accentuated by his missing front teeth. 

This story was originally published by CBS Sports on Feb. 6, 2021 at 9 p.m. ET.