Boxing legend Leon Spinks—who is most well known for his 1978 upset victory in the ring against Muhammad Ali—died Friday after a long battle with prostate cancer and other ailments.
On Feb. 15, 1978, in Las Vegas, Nevada, Spinks, an undersized heavyweight, became the undisputed heavyweight champion after going toe-to-toe with Ali for 15 rounds until he won in a split decision. According to CNN, it was only his eighth bout as a professional boxer.
Spinks’ win against Ali came two years after he and his brother, Michael Spinks, became gold medalists on the 1976 U.S. Olympic boxing team “that is regarded as one of the great teams in boxing history,” according to Yahoo Sports.
Five days after Spinks’ championship victory, his son, Cory Spinks, was born on Feb. 20, 1978, and he would go on to follow in his fathers’ shoes and become the undisputed welterweight champion in 2003.
Exactly seven months after he won it, Spinks lost the heavyweight title in a rematch against Ali in New Orleans on Sept. 15, 1978. The televised bout attracted 93 million viewers, Yahoo Sports reports. Spinks also lost his bout for the WBC heavyweight title to Larry Holmes in 1981.
Spinks ended his professional boxing career in 1995 with a 26-17-3 record that included 14 knockouts. His pro boxing career followed an enormously impressive amateur career in which he held a record of 178-7 with 133 knockouts.
In 2017, Spinks was inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame.
Spinks’ publicist told CNN in a statement that “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.”
He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2019. He was hospitalized in December that year after the cancer spread to his bladder.
The publicist’s statement continued with, “Leon fought his battle with numerous illnesses resiliently, never losing his trademark smile. Showing true Spinks determination, he never threw in the towel.”
According to Yahoo, Spinks is survived by his wife, his son and his brother Michael who is regarded as one of the greatest light heavyweights in boxing history and he followed his brother’s legacy when he became the heavyweight champion by beating Holmes in Las Vegas in 1985.