St. Louis, MO, USA - In the realm of top heavyweight boxing history, certain moments stand as vivid and indelible markers. For Michael Spinks, one such moment came in 1985, and another, only three years later, left a lasting imprint in the minds of boxing aficionados. The journey between these events defines Spinks's remarkable venture into top heavyweight boxing, beginning with his unforgettable victory over Larry Holmes and culminating in the ruthless dominance of Mike Tyson.
The Shocking Triumph Over Larry Holmes
The boxing world stood agog in disbelief as Spinks, a 6-1 underdog, accomplished the improbable in 1985: dethroning the legendary Larry Holmes. At the time, Holmes was 48-0 and seeking to etch his name in the annals of history. The signs of his decline had been perceptible for a while, with opponents like Tim Witherspoon and Carl Williams having demonstrated the chinks in his armor. The quest for mythical status had rendered Holmes vulnerable and beatable.
Spinks revealed, "It wasn’t my idea. It was my promoter, Butch Lewis." Spinks had already dominated the light-heavyweight division, and after discussions about a potential showdown with the undisputed middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler fell through, he needed a fresh challenge. Holmes, 35 and nearing retirement, seemed more a legend than a fierce competitor. Ironically, Spinks's victory occurred 30 years to the day since Rocky Marciano had concluded his illustrious career.
For Spinks, the motivation extended beyond personal glory – he sought to avenge his brother Leon's earlier defeat by Holmes. Many gave Spinks little chance of ending Holmes's seven-year reign. When Spinks scaled just shy of two hundred pounds, some remarked that he appeared like a heavyweight, but could he fight like one? The New York Times skeptically remarked that Spinks "may very well be able to touch his knees with his chin, but Holmes will be trying to make his chin touch the canvas."
However, Holmes wasn't the Holmes of old; he was merely old. The Las Vegas crowd witnessed an aging champion struggling to find his rhythm against his smaller challenger. Spinks's quirky, elusive style thwarted Holmes's attempts to control the fight. The aged champion faltered to land his punches, setting the stage for an impending upset. After 15 grueling rounds, all three judges awarded Spinks the decision. Holmes, who had aimed to match Rocky Marciano's 49-0 record, found that even he couldn't battle against time. While Holmes contended he had been robbed, his performance in the rematch seven months later suggested a different narrative.
In their rematch, Holmes entered the ring with fury, reminiscent of his prime years. He proved more aggressive, inflicting damage on Spinks, but couldn't dispatch the former light-heavyweight champion. Spinks, resilient and determined, weathered the storm as Holmes faded. In the 14th round, Spinks faced a precarious situation, but Holmes unaccountably let him slip away when he appeared on the brink of victory. When the dust settled after 15 rounds, Holmes found himself on the losing end of a contentious decision. Holmes, unable to reclaim his heavyweight title, opted for retirement.
Subsequent Challenges and Smart Moves
The ambitious Norwegian Steffen Tangstad emerged as Spinks's next opponent. Although Tangstad was relatively unknown and unheralded, he provided little challenge for Spinks. After just four rounds, Spinks dispatched Tangstad, proving his mettle as a true heavyweight.
Next in line was Gerry Cooney, a fighter laden with demons following his racially charged bout with Larry Holmes in 1982. By 1987, Cooney had fought sparsely, leaving Spinks in a much better condition to face him. Despite relinquishing his IBF title and exiting the HBO heavyweight tournament, which would have determined the undisputed heavyweight champion, in favor of the Cooney fight, Spinks's smart decision eventually paid off.
The fight with Cooney wasn't a box office sensation, but it sold out Convention Hall in Atlantic City. Spinks started slowly but eventually dismantled Cooney in five rounds, marking his dominance.
Mike Tyson's Unstoppable Ascendance
The true pinnacle of Spinks's heavyweight journey materialized when he faced a young and ferocious Mike Tyson. This showdown in Atlantic City was a multi-million-dollar event, pitting two undefeated world heavyweight champions against each other. Spinks, although stripped of his title, posed a formidable obstacle to Tyson's quest for undisputed status. It was correctly promoted as "Once and For All."
Tyson was at the peak of his career, and Spinks realized too late that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The fight concluded in a mere 91 seconds, with Tyson's explosive punches leaving no doubt about the outcome. In that brief time, Spinks tasted the wrath of Tyson and the power of a true heavyweight, which he wasn't despite his undefeated record.
Following his devastating loss to Tyson, Spinks wisely chose retirement. Spinks stayed true to his word, becoming that rare fighter who remained retired.
"It was an easy decision and one that I never ever thought about going back on," he declared, closing the chapter on an extraordinary heavyweight odyssey.
Michael Spinks's journey through the heavyweight division may have begun with an improbable triumph, but it culminated in a battle he could not win. Despite the challenges he faced, Spinks remains an enduring figure in the rich tapestry of boxing history.