Boxing legend Leon Spinks died at the age of 67 on Friday night near his home in a Henderson, Nev. hospital after battling with prostate cancer for several years, according to family friend Joe Bernal. His wife Brenda was at his side. His death was also reported by FIRM PR, which represented Spinks.
The former Marine rocketed to international fame in 1978 when he beat Muhammad Ali in a split decision to earn the undisputed world heavyweight title in what was considered one of the biggest upsets in boxing history.
Spinks’ gap-toothed smile became his trademark as he burst on the scene as an amateur. Fighting alongside his brother Michael and a charismatic light welterweight by the name of Ray Leonard, they became most successful U.S. Olympic boxing team in history. All three fighters won gold at the 1976 Summer Games.
Fresh off his Olympic success, Leon Spinks turned professional the following year. In just his eighth pro bout, he squared off against the legendary Muhammad Ali for the undisputed heavyweight title. An out-of-shape Ali had underestimated Spinks at the Las Vegas Hilton in February of 1978 and paid the price as ‘Neon Leon’ was given the nod by split decision in one of the most stunning upsets in the history of boxing. Spinks, who was 24 lost a rematch with Ali seven months later by unanimous decision.
He had one more heavyweight title fight in 1981, but lost to Larry Holmes in a third-round TKO. He retired in 1995 with a record of 26-17-3 and was named to the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017.
He is survived by his wife, two children, and his brother Michael.