Former professional boxer Leon Spinks and unidentified guest arrive at the 2006 ESPY Awards in Hollywood. File/Reuters
Former world heavyweight boxing champion Leon Spinks, who won Olympic gold and took the crown from Muhammad Ali in 1978 before losing a rematch, died on Friday, according to his publicists. He was 67.
He shocked the boxing world by beating Muhammad Ali to win the heavyweight title in only his eighth pro fight.
Spinks had been hospitalised in December at Las Vegas before losing a five-year battle with cancer with his wife, Brenda Spinks, at his side, according to a statement from The Firm PR to Las Vegas television station KVVU.
This photo shows the World heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali (left) and Leon Spinks fight in Las Vegas.
Spinks, who lived his later years in Las Vegas, died on Friday night, according to a release from a public relations firm. He had been battling prostate and other cancers.
"His final fight was fought with the same skill, grace and grit that had carried him through so many lifetime challenges," the statement said.
His wife, Brenda Glur Spinks, and a few close friends and other family members were by his side when he passed away.
A lovable heavyweight with a drinking problem, Spinks beat Ali by decision in a 15-round fight in 1978 to win the title. He was unranked at the time, and picked as an opponent because Ali was looking for an easy fight.
Leon Spinks punches opponent Cuba's Sixto Soria during the Summer Olympic Games in Montreal. AFP
Spinks finished his career 26-17 with three draws and 14 knockouts, but struggled to try and recapture the fame that came early in his career in one of the most shocking upsets in boxing history.
He got anything but that, with an unorthodox Spinks swarming over Ali throughout the fight on his way to a stunning win by split decision. The two met seven months later at the Superdome in New Orleans, with Ali taking the decision this time before a record indoor boxing crowd of 72,000 and a national television audience estimated at 90 million people."It was one of the most unbelievable things when Ali agreed to fight him because you look at the fights he had up to then and he was not only not a top contender but shouldn’t have been a contender at all,’’ promoter Bob Arum said Saturday. ”He was just an opponent but somehow he found a way to win that fight."
In the 1978 worlds in Strasbourg, France he captured gold in the floor exercise for the US's first men's title. He repeated the floor exercise gold in the 1979 worlds in Fort Worth, Texas.
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