St. Louis, MO, USA (October 5, 2023) - Leon Spinks, forever etched in boxing lore for his shocking victory over Muhammad Ali in 1978, was an enigmatic figure in the sport's history. Spinks, the reigning Olympic champion, was just 24 years old and relatively inexperienced in the professional ranks, with only seven fights to his name when he faced Ali. He was considered the sacrificial lamb for Ali, who at 36, was in the twilight of his career. However, Spinks defied all odds and pulled off a remarkable upset, showcasing his inspiration and raw talent.
Spinks was never the model boxer outside of the ring. His stories of excess, including alcohol and drug use, were well-known even before his historic victory over Ali. But that win catapulted him into a world of fame and indulgence. His lifestyle choices often led him astray from training, and when he did train, it was a mere inconvenience to his party-filled life. His dedication was questionable at best, with birthday celebrations lasting for an entire ten days.
In the lead-up to his rematch with Ali in September 1978, Spinks was frequently seen intoxicated and indulging in partying. He seemed unfazed by the impending fight, leading a lifestyle of indulgence that included alcohol, drugs, and women.
Spinks once admitted, "All I cared about was going on to the next party. Who was I going to get high with? My life was cocaine, weed, cars, and women. And I enjoyed it."
The day before the rematch with Ali, Spinks continued his self-destructive behavior, consuming alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, and engaging with women. Despite this, he miraculously made it to the weigh-in. However, his debauchery continued until just an hour before the fight, when his wife found him in a hotel room, drunk.
Spinks somehow managed to enter the ring, a miraculous feat in itself, but he lost convincingly to Ali in front of 70,000 fans. The former champion later claimed he hadn't squandered his title on vices, but few believed him.
In the time between the two Ali fights, Spinks had accumulated a 70-person entourage. However, after his loss to Ali, they all deserted him, leaving him alone to continue his self-destructive partying.
Despite further opportunities to win world titles, Spinks couldn't replicate his 1978 success. His career spiraled downward, marked by losses until it finally ended in 1995. The victory over Ali had brought him fame and fortune, but it also initiated his downfall.
Spinks reportedly earned $3.75 million for the rematch with Ali. In contrast, in the five fights before challenging Dwight Muhammad Qawi for the cruiserweight title in 1986, Spinks earned just over $26,000, leading to financial troubles and bankruptcy.
Some argue that the heavyweight title came too soon for Spinks. However, if it hadn't come when it did, it might never have come at all. While it's unfair to label Spinks a lucky fighter, his victory over Ali was more a result of his lifestyle than his skills. Spinks had the talent, as evidenced by his Olympic gold medal, but his story remains a tragic tale of missed opportunities. He embraced his newfound fame a little too eagerly, never escaping the shadows of his upbringing in the ghetto.
Spinks once reflected, "I never had anything. All of a sudden, I had something. I tried to do too much. I was crazy. I didn't care about anything. You think it's never going to end." Sadly, for Spinks, it did end, and it ended far too quickly.