We like to think that when a former champion closes his eyes one last time, to accompany him are the shouts of his audience cheering him. Like a proud look at the successes of a lifetime. It no longer matters what hits you take. Like to think that for too Leon Spinks (1953-2021) from St. Louis it went like this. Former world heavyweight champion in the late 1980s, the Missouri boxer was struck down by prostate cancer, which he fought against for months, before it spread to the bladder and the rest of that body that millions had enjoyed. in the athletic gesture. Especially on the evening of February 15, 1978, when his hammers displaced an absolute legend of boxing of all time: Muhammad Ali. An undertaking that – in terms of context and dynamics – contributed to making himself a boxing legend. In a ballet – challenge won and belt won; lost rematch and lost title – which represents the last real rivalry for Ali.
Leon – brother of art of the most gifted (both physically and technically) the light heavyweight multiple champion Michael – remained world champion only seven months flat. Enough, in years in which becoming world champions at the top was really an investiture, to enter the history of a sport that is not yet clear if you leave yourself more than you give. To climb to the top. Initially hospitalized in Las Vegas hospital, cared for by his wife Brenda, by December his condition had already appeared desperate for months. Operated twice, outpatient oncological treatments were useless in his final journey.
Leon was born in Missouri, in the years of segregation. The street or the ring, the alternatives. He, in the wake of family tradition, had chosen the second since he was a boy. His 185 cm (for 96 kg; in athletic maturity his ideal weight) did not immediately set him in the most prestigious category of the ring. But he was honored: climbing the hierarchies of the crowded (and super-competitive) scene of amateur boxing with stars and stripes. Selected as medium heavy (under 81 kg) for the Montreal Olympics in 1976, he was the winner – dodging the Cuban champion Teofilo Stevenson who fought in the top – by defeating another Cuban: Sixto Soria. The laurel opened the doors of professionalism to him, but directly in the highest weight category, in years in which the organizers were looking for potential champions with the lantern to oppose the usual suspects.
To access the highest category Leon he put on over 15 kg of muscle and defeated seven of the first eight opponents (draw with Scott LeDoux). A vertical, almost premature rise. So when, at the age of 24, his irregular face faced Ali’s, many predicted a one-way match and instead … In the ring of the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas in Nevada, on the evening of February 15, 1978, things went differently. Ali gave the Montreal champion the chance, knowing otherwise he would have to face annoying Ken Norton for the fourth time, after winning by points against Earnie Shavers. It was a serious mistake: first of all because of the difference in age (Spinks’ 24 years old, 36 of the current champion) and then because of the state of form in which he presented himself. The result was a fascinating, balanced encounter; technically refined.
Ali (compensation for the meeting of 3.5 million dollars) immediately showed that he was not at his best and suffered, from the very first shots, the aggressiveness of Spinks (purse of 320 thousand dollars). Then, from the fifth round onwards, Muhammad had a reaction of great pride: supported by experience and the best boxing technique, he seemed to control Spinks. At the tenth round the cards still gave the challenger a slight advantage. Although he had never fought on 12 rounds, he managed to take advantage of the gap, in turn containing the return of the champion. Eventually the points advantage for Spinks it was written on two of the three judges’ cards: Leon won the world heavyweight title by points, unified in the WBA and WBC acronyms. With a non-unanimous verdict. 144-141 and 145-140 the scores of the first two judges in favor of Spinks; 143-142 that of the third pro Ali. It was done: against all odds Spinks was champion
A rainbow belt around his waist, Leon tried to exploit the title economically. He also dodged Ken Norton (with whom he had signed a challenge agreement, in case of success with Ali) and immediately went for a rematch with the former champion, much more profitable. For this reason, at the end of March 1978 the WBC revoked his title (not having observed the hierarchies of the challengers). In the meantime – between the two matches – the success, the celebrity, the protagonism began to erode the (already turbulent) nature of the 24 year old. And he found himself at the center of various scandals (for possession of drugs; for the withdrawal of the license for dangerous driving). Despite a certain (inappropriate) flashiness – he was also nicknamed Neon for the flashy way of dressing – Spinks still seemed to train very hard for the new match. But Ali, aware that he had underestimated him, did not repeat the mistake.
On September 15, 1978 at the Superdome in New Orleans in Louisiana Leon (scholarship of 3.75 million dollars; almost 12 times the first) went again to meet Muhammad’s eyes (salary 3.25 million dollars). The indoor arena counts 63,352 paying guests (a record at the time) for a gross of 4,806,675 dollars. Estimated audience from home: 90 million (46.7% of tuned US TVs). And this time it was a one-sided fight: Ali incalz Spinks from the first take: he danced in front of the champion, approached him, beat him (with his right jabs; continued), put his left hand around his head, went away and danced again. So throughout the match. Clear and unanimous verdict of the three judges: 10-4, 10-4 and 11-4, speech closed. Forever. Having lost his rematch too clearly, Leon held a match against the emerging South African Coetzee (21 wins and 0 defeats): he also lost that one, seemed to come out of the big round, insisted and proposed himself for a new prestigious world championship.
In 1981 he challenged Larry Holmes for the Wbc world title and lost badly (kot to the third). It was the end of his career at the top. He dragged from one ring to another, between a defeat and a success, until December 1995, when the carneade Fred Houpe did not defeat him one last time. Spinks closed boxing at 42 with a record of 27 wins, 17 losses and 3 draws. He had only really danced for seven months …
February 7, 2021 (change February 7, 2021 | 12:20)
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