Leon Spinks (July 11, 1953 Saint Louis, Missouri – February 5, 2021 Henderson, Nevada) was an American heavyweight boxer who competed successfully in both amateur and professional circles. As an amateur, he won gold at the Olympic Games in Montreal and faced world champion Muhammad Ali in his eighth professional match, whom he won to everyone's surprise, becoming world champion in February 1978. Already in September of the same year, he lost his championship back to Ali in a rematch.
Spinks' biggest achievement in his amateur career was the Olympic gold in the heavy middleweight division at the 1976 Montreal Games. At that time, he won the Moroccan A.L. With Fatih's knockout in the first round, Soviet A. Klimanov with 5-0 referee points, East German Ottomar Sachs with 5-0 points, Polish Janusz Gortat with 5-0 points and in the final match with Cuban Sixto Soria's stoppage in the third round. Two years earlier, Spinks had won bronze at the World Championships in Havana. In his amateur career, Spinks achieved a total of 178 wins and suffered seven losses.
Shortly after the Montreal Olympics, Spinks turned professional. In his first professional fight in January 1977, he knocked out his opponent Bob Smith in the fifth round. Spinks' winning streak was snapped in his sixth pro fight in October of that year, when he faced undefeated Scott LeDoux. However, after defeating Italy's Alfio Riguetti right after, Spinks became one of the top contenders in the heavyweight division.
In his next professional fight, only his eighth in a row, on February 15, 1978, Spinks was able to strike against Muhammad Ali for the universally recognized world heavyweight championship. In the match that took place at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas, Ali did not expect more from his inexperienced challenger, but in the end Spinks took the full 15-round match and the world championship to his name with a unanimous decision of the judges. At that time, the world was dominated by two major boxing organizations, the WBA and the WBC. The latter of these stripped Spinks of his championship belt when he agreed to a rematch with Ali instead of facing Ken Norton, who had been named number one contender by the federation. Norton became the WBC world champion, the first time in boxing history without winning a title fight. The episode left Spinks as the last undisputed heavyweight champion of the world before Mike Tyson became champion. Spinks and Ali met in a WBA championship match in September of that year in New Orleans. This time, Ali won all the judges' votes in the 15-round match. Right after, Spinks lost his match to future world champion Gerrie Coetzee by first-round knockout.
After knocking out WBC number one contender Bernardo Mercado in October 1980, Spinks was able to strike again for the world title, this time against the undefeated Larry Holmes. Holmes had defended his title against nine challengers, most recently against Ali and Trevor Berbick. In June 1981, the WBC championship match at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena didn't last long, when Holmes knocked out Spinks in the third round. The encounter was Spinks' only match that year.
Spinks continued his career quite sporadically, taking on both heavyweight and light heavyweight divisions. In 1985, Spinks fought hard again and knocked out Kip Kane in December and won the WBC Americas title. In his next fight in March 1986, he still got to fight for the WBC World Light Heavyweight Championship against Dwight Muhammad Qawi, but Qawi knocked him out in the sixth round. Back in April 1987, he won the WBC Americas Championship after defeating Jeff Jordan.
Since then, Spinks' career took off strong