Leon Spinks, Former Boxing Champion, Dead at 67 After Cancer Battle

Leon Spinks, the former undisputed heavyweight boxing champion, passed away Friday evening surrounded by his wife, Brenda, and several close friends and family members. He was 67. The cause of death was prostate cancer.

"At the time of his passing his wife, Brenda Glur Spinks was by his side. Due to Covid restrictions, only a few close friends and other family were present," a statement from Spinks' publicist read. "Leon fought his battle with numerous illnesses resiliently, never losing his trademark smile. Showing true Spinks determination, he never threw in the towel."

Spinks became one of boxing's biggest names after a career in which he pulled off a stunning upset. In February 1978, he faced off with Muhammad Ali in Las Vegas in only his eighth professional bout. Spinks defeated his opponent in a 15-round, split-decision win. He became the new heavyweight champion and the only fighter to ever take a belt from Ali.

"He was a 10-1 under-dog," said Rich Marotta, founder of the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame. "It was one of the greatest upsets in boxing history and he won a 15-round decision over the greatest. And he'll also be remembered for being a part of the 1976 Olympic games boxing team- arguably the greatest boxing team the United States has ever fielded in the Olympic games in Montreal and he won a gold medal, as did his brother Michael."

Ali and Spinks ultimately faced off during the second match in 1978. This highly-anticipated bout took place in New Orleans at the Superdome. Ali won by unanimous decision and reclaimed the heavyweight title. Spinks fought for the heavyweight title once more in his career, a loss to Larry Holmes in 1981.

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The former heavyweight champ retired from boxing in 1995. He walked away with a record of 26-17-3, which included 14 knockouts. He also won a gold medal as a light heavyweight fighter during the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal, Canada. Spinks was inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017.

A member of the United States Marine Corps., Spinks developed his passion for boxing during his military service. He also had a family connection. Spinks' younger brother was Michael Spinks, a fellow boxer who became a two-weight class world champion and Olympic gold medalist.