View Full Version : Leon Spinks: Now There's A Man

03-23-2006, 06:54 PM
Leon Spinks: Now There's a Man

By Teri Berg from Max Boxing

How the mighty fall.

That’s the way life seems to have turned out for Leon Spinks.

“Neon Leon,” one-time Ali killer and jet-setting heavyweight champ, is now living in Where-Dat, Nebraska, cleaning locker rooms and mopping floors at the YMCA, and unloading trucks at the local McDonald’s in exchange for half-priced Big Macs.

If that image is depressing to contemplate, hold that thought – because it gets worse.

You’d like to think Spinks had the usual run of good years, then just stuck around too long. But Spinks reached his peak in one year and eight months – that is, his first eight professional fights, the last of which was his historic 15-round upset of Muhammad Ali. But Spinks didn’t let his loss to Ali in their rematch discourage him; he kept boxing until 1995. Nearly 17 more years. And not doing it very well, as his final record amounted to 26 wins, 17 losses and 3 draws.

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Those losses, and even the wins, cost Spinks more than he made. And they continue to exact payment.

Though he wouldn’t tell a Lincoln Journal Star reporter last April what happened to the nearly $5 million in winnings he earned in the 1970s, Spinks has insisted ad nauseum that he didn’t see a penny of his $3.25 million purse from Ali-Spinks 2, “The Battle of New Orleans.” Stolen by a double-crossing, low-down dog of a Detroit lawyer. Go figure.

Further, the paltry sums the Gap-Toothed One fought for throughout the 1980s and ‘90s worsened his financial headaches. How to square his own profligate spending habits as well as those of his parasitic hangers-on with fight purses as low as $2,500 (the amount he pocketed for his last fight, an eight-round loss to the soft-bellied Fred Houpe, who hadn’t fought for 16 years)? The mid-career Spinks was so flaky that in 1984, he couldn’t even keep a job making $1,500 per week at Mike Ditka’s restaurant in Chicago doing what he has always done best – meet-n-greet regular folks. The nightspot, popular during the reign of Da Bears, found the former champ too unreliable and dismissed him.

Upon Spinks’ retirement from boxing, there was – as one might expect – no money left.

For most professional athletes – particularly boxers, who get too few opportunities to make enough money to guard against devastating injury and to live comfortably into retirement – it’s usually all about the Benjamins. But, after 25 years of witnessing his (few) ups and (cringe-inducingly low) downs, I think it’s safe to say that Leon Spinks has never been so inclined.

All too soon “Inside Edition” aired a report of a destitute and homeless Spinks, scraping by with odd jobs at minimum wage. The only shred of his former life that remained was his heavy drinking.

Over the course of a tumultuous life, Spinks, who turns 53 this year, has lost a lot. Some of those things most folks never have a shot at – the Olympic gold medal in 1976, the heavyweight title 18 short months later, the vacations around the world with bodyguard Mr. T standing by. But Spinks has also lost things many of us take for granted.

Spinks ended his ring work seeming no more than a colossal waste of potential. He lost a chance for a respectable career and a fortune in winnings. (Promoter Butch Lewis, who worked with Spinks through the champ’s rematch with Ali, later said, “I know I could’ve made Leon upwards of $50 million if he had disciplined himself and done the right things for four or five years.” After going their separate ways, Lewis continued to handle Leon’s brother, Michael, who retired at age 30 with $30 million in winnings.)

Spinks also forfeited two wives, a close relationship with his sons and any chance of a stable family home. (His first son, Leon Calvin, a once-promising light heavyweight, was killed in 1990 in what was thought to be a gang-related shooting. Darrell Calvin Spinks boxed professionally for five years until retiring in 2000 at the age of 27. The youngest Spinks son, Cory, was the undisputed welterweight champ before losing the title to Zab Judah last year. Leon’s adopted son – his grandson, Leon Spinks Jr., who was left fatherless as a two-year-old upon the death of Leon Calvin – is, at 17, a Golden Gloves champ.)

Now, it seems, out in the middle of Nowhereville, Nebraska, Leon Spinks is also losing his mind.

He’s slurred his words for years and had neurological testing done as long ago as 1996, though observers usually chalked up Spinks’ problems speaking to his St. Louis dialect and the wide-open front door of his mouth. But even when Spinks put in his dental bridge, his words weren’t exactly traveling as the crow flies; rather, they moseyed here and there on their way to downright incomprehensibility. In a Dec. 2005 story, Stan Grossfeld of the Boston Globe reported that Spinks’ famous missing teeth aren’t the whole story – the one-time “People’s Champ” is suffering the ill effects of boxing-induced dementia.

What is some consolation – definitely for him, but hopefully for us as well – is that while Spinks is bereft of the spotlight and glamour and riches that were once his, has in fact been on the slippery slope of celebrity downfall for 20-something years, and is now lapsing into irreversible mental decline, he’s not unhappy. Not unhappy living in Columbus, Nebraska, population 20,881, an 87-mile, snoozefest of a drive west of Omaha, the nearest decent-sized city, and a solid nine hours from where he grew up in East St. Louis. Not bothered about pushing a janitor’s cart and swabbing out toilets part-time at the Columbus Family Y. Not troubled to spend his considerable spare time in town mastering the arts of cadging drinks and playing video games.

In fact, there are plenty of things to appreciate about where he’s at right now. No one much bothers him in Columbus – some folks don’t even know who he is. Once they find out, they’re thrilled to meet him. Wow! A former heavyweight champion! He has no pretensions, and they have no expectations other than that he act “like an everyday human being,” as one local described him.

Spinks has done volunteer work for a Columbus after-school program, a church kitchen for the homeless and the local Special Olympics, and his YMCA job lets him fart around with and try to talk some sense into local kids – one of the things he most enjoys.

Most importantly, Spinks has found a home in Columbus with a woman he’s been seeing there for nearly five years. She doubles as his business manager and daily chauffeur, which are not the quixotic undertakings they may seem. Spinks still works several autograph shows per year, making a few thousand dollars a pop. And he’s a standard bearer for induction weekend every summer at Canastota – and a popular one (though not an enshrined one). Also, his son Cory’s success has shined the spotlight back on Spinks, and added to the small reserve of celebrity he and his toothless grin will no doubt always have.

“I’m happy ‘bout life,” he told the Boston Globe. “[I’m] still trying. I ain’t giving up on life.”

Author Davis Miller once quoted Muhammad Ali as saying, “I know why this happened. God is showing me, and showing you, that I’m just a man, just like everybody else.”

Ali was at a point in his life then when his Parkinson’s had all but stopped whatever public life this very public man had enjoyed.

But, despite his heart-wrenching protestations, Ali was no mere mortal. Rather, like a minor Hindu deity, he was simply between stages of his godhood.

But Leon Spinks? He’s well acquainted with longing and grief. Suffering more bad luck than good. Beholden to those high and low to make his way in the world. Held in contempt by the learned, but ever humble and genuine among das volk. Wanting (and often found wanting), but nonetheless cheerful. Now there’s a man: Feet of clay, and the quintessence of dust.

And God has never tired of showing him.

03-23-2006, 06:56 PM

Leon Spinks

Spinks defeated Muhammad Ali for the world championship on February 15, 1978. The Cyber Boxing Zone gives no effect to the March 18, 1978 edict of the WBC which stripped Spinks of the title and awarded it to Ken Norton. Spinks lost the title to Ali in a rematch.

Leon signed the photo at left in June 1995. When I handed him the photo, he grinned and said "Hey! I love this shit!"

Born: Jul 11, 1953, St. Louis, MO
Amateur Record: 178-7 (133 kayos)
Pro Record: 26-17-3 (14 Kayos)

Amateur highlights

--- Wins National AAU 178-lb. Championship
--- Wins Bronze Medal, World Championships, Havana, Cuba

--- Thomas Johnson Shreveport, LA W Dec 3
(Wins National AAU 178-lb. Championship)
--- Orestes Pedroza Mexico City L 3
(Silver, PanAm Games)

--- Wins National AAU 178-lb. Championship
--- John Davis Cincinnati W 3
(Wins U.S. Olympic Trials)

Olympic Gold Medallist
--- Abddelatif Fatihi Montreal TKO 1
--- Anatoly Klimanov Montreal W Dec
--- Ottomar Sachse Montreal W Dec
--- Janusz Gortat Montreal W Dec
--- Sixto Soria Montreal TKO 3

Professional Record

Jan 15 "Lightning" Bob Smith Las Vegas KO 5
Mar 5 Peter Freeman Liverpool, England KO 1
Mar 20 Jerry McIntyre Louisville KO 1
May 7 Pedro Agosto St. Louis KO 1
Jun 1 Bruce Scott Montreal KO 3
Jul George Jerome Vancouver, B.C. Sch-x
Oct 22 Scott LeDoux Las Vegas D 10
Nov 18 Alfio Righetti Las Vegas W 10

Feb 15 Muhammad Ali Las Vegas W 15
(Wins World Heavyweight Title)
Apr 25 Leroy Diggs Santo Domingo, Dom Rep. Exh 4
Jun 30 George Mostardini Chicago Exh 4
Sep 15 Muhammad Ali New Orleans L 15
(Loses World Heavyweight Title)

Jun 24 Gerrie Coetzee Monte Carlo LK 1

Jan 12 Alfredo Evangelista Atlantic City KO 5
Mar 8 Eddie "The Animal" Lopez Las Vegas D 10
May 4 Kevin Isaac San Carlos, CA KO 8
Oct 2 Bernardo Mercado Las Vegas KO 9
(WBC Heavyweight Title Eliminator)

Jun 12 Larry Holmes Detroit LK 3
(For World Heavyweight Title)

Feb 24 Ivy Brown Atlantic City W 10
Oct 31 Jesse Burnett McAfee, NJ W 12
(Wins Vacant NABF Cruiserweight Title)

Mar 6 Carlos DeLeon Atlantic City LK 6


Feb 21 Lupe Guerra Detroit KO 4
Apr 9 Rick Kellar Honolulu KO 2
May 9 Tom Fisher Detroit W 10
Jun 29 Franco Thomas Santa Rosa, CA W 10
Dec 13 Kip Kane New York KO 8

Mar 23 Dwight Qawi Reno LK 6
(For WBA Cruiserweight Title)
Aug 2 Rocky Sekorski Detroit LK 6

Jan 17 Jose Ribalta Miami, FL LK 1
Apr 28 Jeff Jordan Nagoya, Japan W 10
May 22 Angelo Musone Jesi, Italy LK 7
Aug 29 Jim Ashard Eugene, OR D 10
Oct 20 Terry Mims Cleveland L 10
Dec 20 Ladislao Mijangos San Antonio L 10

Mar 1 Randall "Tex" Cobb Nashville, TN L 10
May 31 Tony Morrison Trumbull, CT LK 1


Nov 15 Lupe Guerra Gary, IN KO 3

Feb 28 Andre Crowder Countryside, IL W 10
Mar 20 Ricky Myers St. Louis W 10
Jun 17 Kenneth Bentley Atlanta W 10
Jul 24 Jack Johnson Countryside, IL KO 3
Sep 26 K.P. Porter Lansing, MI L 10
Dec 11 Kevin Poindexter Countryside, IL KO 1

Feb 27 James Wilder Davenport, IA L 10

Jun 23 Eddie Curry Raleigh, NC WDQ 9
Oct 1 Shane Sutclife Nanaimo, BC L 8
Oct 22 John Carlo Washington, DC LK 1

Jun 19 Ray Kipping Maryland Heights, MD W 8
Dec 4 "Young Sanford" Houpe St. Louis, MO L 8

Aug 29 Rick Wilson Chicago, IL Exh 4

Kid Achilles
03-23-2006, 09:07 PM
I wish Leon the best and hope he remains content with what he has. He's certainly had enough heartache for one lifetime.

03-24-2006, 02:44 AM
This news broke on Fightnews.com some months back and was quickly refuted by Leon himself. I forget his exact claims, but he said that he isn't working as a janitor, isn't basically homeless, and doesn't trade physical labor for half-priced Big Macs. Someone with more gumption and computer expertise than me could dig up the real facts (or the real facts according to Mr. Spinks) if they wished to. PeteLeo.

03-24-2006, 10:36 AM
Whatever Leon's situation is, I hope he's doing okay, and maybe it's that bad, something will come up for him that can better his situation.

03-26-2006, 08:26 AM
My earliest Boxing memory is as a very small child watching the two Ali - Spinks fights on TV with my parents, from that moment I was hooked on Boxing and Leon is still one of my favourite fighters to this day.


It really annoys me when many pieces wrote on Leon Spinks seem to have a mocking tone about them and constantly referre to him as "The Gap Toothed One" and much, much worse.

Sure Leon is far from a perfect human being, but are any of us? But he never robbed any banks, molestered any women or beat up members of the public etc. Most of the harm Leon has done is to himself and that's something Leon and those close to him have to deal with on a daily basis.

What some fans and writers seem to forget (or chose to) is like many Boxers Leon had a very rough childhood, with very little in the way of formal education. But his still went on to achieve great things in the Boxing ring.

As an amateur he was as much a force of nature than a fighter with his high pressure, swarming style. Who went on to beat many of the best amateurs in the World, win countless titles and an Olympic Gold medal, against a Cuban, how many people have done that? He may well have been one of the USA finest amatuer Light-Heavyweights ever! Certainly one of the most dangerous.

Then as a small Heavyweight with only a handfull of fights beat Muhammad Ali and became Heavyweight Champion Of The World. Sure Ali was near shot but it was still a huge upset and an amazing achievement for Leon.

More so when you consider during the two Ali fights, this young novice professional who was just about to fight the most famous athlete on the planet (maybe ever) was surrounded by complete chaos. He had his official manager Mitt Barnes telling him one thing, his unofficial manager Butch Lewis telling him another. There was his official trainer Sam Solliman telling him to do this, his unofficial trainer George Benton telling him to do something else. Then there was also Bob Arum making his own demands on the young Leon. It must have sent Leon around the twist! No wonder party animal Leon wanted to go out and get loaded rather than hang about the training camp with all that going on, not that Leon need too much of an excuse to party.

Even as a small Heavyweight I will always feel Leon had the ability to, if he had stayed clean to compete with all of the the alphabet title holders of the early 1980's, Larry Holmes apart. But Leon just lacked the maturity and dedication to stay in shape.

On tape and DVD I have many of Leon fights from some of his amateur fights from about 1975 to his mid 90's professional twighlight years. I have just under half of his professional fights and am always on the lookout for more. From what I have seen over the years Leons fighting style never really changed, he always had that reckless, high pressure swarming style. But in the ring he was always value for money and always gave 100%, it's just that he often didn't give 100% in training and often turned up in poor shape.

By all accounts Leon is a very humble, happy go luck, nice guy and I for one wish him al the best.

03-26-2006, 09:52 AM
I've met Leon a couple of times.

What was written in this story by Teri Berg is the truth.

Leon is suffering badly from the effects of the punches he took to the head over the 18 years he fought as a pro.

No question in my mind that Leon is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. A humble person, willing to accomodate every autograph and picture request and talk about whatever you ask him. But, I'd say he's functioning at a very low level mentally. I mean very low.

It's sad in some respects to see what has happened to him. But, Leon himself seems very happy and seems carefree about his life and doesn't seem to dwell on the fact that he was once heavyweight champion of the entire planet and now scrubs toilets at a YMCA in Nebraska.

Looking at Leon now, and back when he beat Ali in 1978, it wouldn't haven't taken a rocket scientist to figure out he was going to end up like this.

03-26-2006, 10:00 AM
I heard a rumour that during the end of his professional career (and maybe after it) Leon for a while and few a quick bucks took part in a number of unlicensed fight? Last three rounds with the Champ and win $200 type thing.

Anybody else heard this?

Kid Achilles
03-26-2006, 08:31 PM
Here's a question. I've often heard that Ali won the rematch as much because Leon slipped as Ali improved since the first match. How do you think Ali would have fared in the rematch if he had to face the same well trained Leon he lost to the first time around?

Roberto Aqui
03-26-2006, 11:30 PM
Here's a question. I've often heard that Ali won the rematch as much because Leon slipped as Ali improved since the first match. How do you think Ali would have fared in the rematch if he had to face the same well trained Leon he lost to the first time around?
Ali would have been beat again. Leon was only good for the one fight, and a shot Ali was perfect for Leon at his best.

Yes, I confess I do skewer Leon, but only to skewer the sometimes delusional Ali fans who think he walked on water during his career. I understand that Leon has low intellectual functioning and boxing just eats up guys like that. I'm glad that his brother did so much better and hopefully can remain a bit of a keeper for his older brother when needed.

03-27-2006, 08:19 PM
That's a sad story. By all accounts I have heard that Leon was always a happy-go-lucky and sweet guy. If a bit gullible and naive. Where is brother Mike during this? Isn't he doing incredibly well financially? I have heard that he has tried to help his brother out in the past and Leon being Leon, squandered everything Mike gave him. But working as a janitor at MacDonalds??? Can't his brother throw him a bone, and help him out somewhat?

03-28-2006, 08:25 AM
Re: how would the Ali of Spinks II fare vs. the Spinks of Ali 1....

I would say that this one is utterly impossible to call. Ali fought such completely different fights in those two matches. In fight 1, he rope-a-doped for 4 rounds, then fought like a hellcat for 7 rounds. He really rumbled with Leon and was clearly the better man. But he ran out of gas after 11 rounds, and Leon swept the final 4 for a very close win. That 15th round is a classic, as both men knew the fight was up in the air and fought like it.

In fight 2, Ali fought what can best be described as "intelligently". He was in better condition, used a great deal more movement and made full use of his advantages in reach and strength. Whenever Leon got too close, he just tied him up, gave him a parting shot on the break and went back to sticking him and staying out of his way. Completely different game plan.

Would the fight 2 Ali game plan work against fight 1 Leon? I have my doubts. I think Ali rumbled so much in fght 1 because Leon didn't give him any choice, laying on unbelieveable pressure and forcing the fight. But it could have, because while Leon laid on massive pressure, Ali didn't give him enough movement to know if Leon would still have been able to cut the ring and get to him if he WAS moving.

I've often contended that Ali of Spinks 1 is the best fighter we saw Ali be after the Thrilla. Tough, fighting hard, working shot for shot against a whirlwind opponent who wouldn't back off. It was certainly the most exciting Ali fight since the Thrilla, and when Ali was doing what he wanted to do, he was clearly the best man in there - only problem was he gave the first 4 rounds away, and only had enough left to fight that great fight for 7 more rounds. After winning 7 rounds in a row, he just didn't have enough to win any more rounds. And Leon was still fresh as a daisy going to the 15th, allowing him to pull out the round against a man who desperately wanted to finish him off.

04-01-2006, 01:27 PM
Does anyone know anything about Leons KO lose in the amateurs around I think 1974 to a fighter called D C Barker?

I think it was in the 1st round.