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Famous boxing brothers: Spinks's


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Yes, so we've finally come to this great boxing brother duo. Leon and Michael Spinks were both popular and beloved in their time as prizefighters, although Michael is clearly the more accomplished and talented one. But some think that Leon had the talent to achieve more than he did, but that he was pushed towards big fights before he was ready. He is of course mostly known for upsetting Muhammad Ali in 1978 and then losing in a rematch not long thereafter. This would remain his crowning achievement and Leon would taste defeat in his two other world title fights, first to Larry Holmes and then to Dwight Muhammad Qawi (at cruiserweight), both by TKO. Michael on the other hand knew not what defeat was until the very end of his career, when he faced Mike Tyson. Let's take a look at their respective careers.


Leon was born 11 July 1953 in Saint Louis, Missouri. Standing 6'1 he was not a big heavyweight but his skills and determination made up for that. He was a rather good puncher, not a knockout artist however. He had a stellar amateur career with 178 wins and only 7 losses, also scoring 133 knockouts. He won the national amateur title in 1974 at 178 pounds and also captured the bronze medal at the world championships in Havana that same year, also at 178 pounds (light heavyweight limit in the amateurs). He again won the national title the following year as well as a silver medal at the Pan American games, before his great achievement came in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal: he won the gold medal, most notably defeating the Polish Janusz Gortat 5-0 on points and stopping Sixto Soria of Cuba in round 3 in the final. He didn't actually lose a single point in this competition! With such an amazing performance, professional career was imminent. He made his debut on 15 January the following year and dispatched journeyman Bob Smith early in the 5th round by TKO. He then scored three straight first round knockouts and then a third-round knockout, before surprisingly drawing against the tough and solid Scott LeDoux. It was considered a disappointment since LeDoux had a record of 21-6-1 and was considered nowhere near his own caliber. But still, after decisioning the 27-0 Alfio Righetti of Italy, Spinks was given the big fight already in his 8th pro fight: a showdown against THE MAN, Muhammad Ali. Bob Arum announced after the Righetti fight that Ali had signed to fight the winner of the fight and so it was "Neon Leon". With the WBC and WBA titles on the line, the two faced off on 15 February 1978 at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas. WBC sanctioned the fight under the condition that the winner must fight Ken Norton next. Leon was a 10-1 underdog but produced his best performance when he outpointed Ali to win by a split decision after 15 rounds. Spinks, 11 years the younger man, bullied Ali throughout the fight, which was close, but Leon no doubt deserved to win it. He didn't do anything special like rocking Ali or dropping him, but he fought the right fight and won. Afterwards, Ali said:"I gave the best I could. I knew he was a good fighter. It was a close fight. He was the aggressor. It could have gone either way." Spinks, always the good-natured joker, said:"I was very serious during the fight, but I also had a lot of fun. He kept saying things to me, trying to make me mad, but all he did was make me laugh. It was like he was telling me jokes. One time he called me a dirty name. I said, 'Oh, Ali, how could you say such a thing?' Can you imagine your idol calling you a dirty name?"


Spinks then signed to fight Ali again, and in doing so got stripped by WBC for not facing their mandatory Ken Norton next. It was exactly 7 months after their first fight, 15 September, this time at Superdome in New Orleans. The fight was seen in about 80 different countries, such was the interest in it. Attendance was 63,350, the largest ever for a boxing match. Spinks earned 3.75 million but returned home the loser this time, as Ali made a better performance and came in with a better strategy. He took the unanimous verdict and with it also Neon Leon's zero. Ali announced his retirement after the fight and vacated the WBA belt while Spinks congratulated him, saying he is still his idol. He came back to the ring on 24 June next year but was surprisingly destroyed in one round by rather unknown South African Gerrie Coetzee, later known as "Bionic Hand". Coetzee dropped Spinks three times before the fight ended at 2:03 in the first round, in Monaco. Coetzee's right hand did most of the damage. After his first knockout loss, Leon rebounded in January 1980 by knocking out Alfredo Evangelista of Uruguay, the former challenger of Larry Holmes, in 5 rounds, showing he had power. He then drew against Eddie Lopez in a wild fight where Lopez had a point deducted for butting and then on 2 October that year he scored his second biggest victory against Colombian puncher Bernardo Mercado, in an eliminator for the WBC title now held by Larry Holmes; Mercado, at 6'4 the 3inches taller and 7 kilos or 15 pounds heavier man, was favored to win after stopping Earnie Shavers in March, but Leon proved he is a better boxer when he slowly but steadily broke him down before stopping him in the 9th round by TKO. It seemed that he was back in the big league now, on the threshold of again achieving greatness. But, Larry Holmes stood in the way of that and proved to be too much to handle for him in the end. The fight happened 12 June 1981 at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit (Louis had attended Holmes' previous title fight against Trevor Berbick, before dying just a few days later, in April). Leon started a 4-1 underdog but opened the fight well and landed some good, clean shots. In the third round however, the bigger and stronger Holmes (weighing 12 pounds more and 2 inches taller) pinned him against the ropes and unleashed a barrage of right hands that seriously hurt Neon Leon, before the referee jumped in and ended it.


Spinks got almost 500 K for the fight, but he knew now that his moment of greatness had passed. He then started campaigning as a cruiserweight, feeling that he was relatively small for a heavyweight, and won the NABF title by decisoning veteran contender Jesse Burnett in October 1982. However, in his next fight, which wasn't for the title, he ran into Carlos DeLeon, a future four-time world champ, who gave him a beating until Leon retired in his corner after round 6. That was in March 1983 and Leon would take a 2-year layoff before returning and stopping Lupe Guerra in 4, decking him three times, February 1985. On 13 December, he won the WBC Continental Americas heavyweight title by TKO 8 against Kip Kane, then 15-1. He decided to return to cruiserweight and fought the WBA champion Dwight Muhammad Qawi 22 March 1986 in Reno, Nevada. Qawi, at only 5'6 much shorter man but of very strong build and a clever boxer, dominated Spinks and even clowned him at times, before ending his dream of becoming a world champion for good when he stopped him by TKO 6. From there on, it just got worse and Leon ended his career with 17 losses, 9 by stoppage, fighting too far past his prime and finally hanging em up in 1995, aged 42. He won 26 times, 14 by ko.


And then we come to Michael. 3 years younger Michael was born 22 July 1956, also in Saint Louis. His amateur career was even more impressive than his brother's, only knowing triumph. He was the Golden Gloves light middleweight champion in 1974, the 1976 middleweight GG champion and finally won the Olympic gold in Montreal that year as a middleweight. He and Leon thus became the first brothers to become Olympic champions in the same Olympics in boxing. He also won by a 3rd round stoppage in the final, like his brother. Michael was taller and liter than his brother, standing 6'2 1/2 and started his pro career as a light heavyweight, in April 1977. In his 12th fight, he beat Murray Sutherland by UD10, also knocking him down once. His first really notable victory was against the multiple world title challenger Alvaro "Yaqui" Lopez, who was as tall as he and a famously durable brawler. It was 18 October 1980 in Atlantic City and the fight was rather even for the first 5 rounds, as both guys got rocked in a give and take fight. In the 6th, Spinks started to assert himself and hurt Lopez, before knocking him down with a barrage in the next round before the fight ended after 46 seconds. His next pivotal victory was against Marvin Johnson, former and future world champion. The fight was even early on and Johnson came forward giving all he had in the first 3 rounds. Michael then landed a perfect left hook in round 4 which floored Johnson and he remained down until the fight was over. "I saw the picture-perfect left hook and then I took it. I don't think anybody could throw a better left hook", Spinks said later, "Hey, if he got up from that, then I would have quit." A joker and good-natured guy like his brother, Michael was a natural favorite with the fighting fans and establishment and it got him his first world title fight against Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, the WBA champion, 18 July 1981, 4 days before his 25th birthday. Muhammad, a clever boxer with power, had problems making the weight but opened best and boxed well in the first 6 rounds, before the younger Spinks started to assert himself. He closed Muhammad's right eye and dropped him with an overhand right in round 8, before closing strong and taking the unanimous decision.


After making 5 defenses, stopping Vonzell Johnson, Mustafa Wasajja, Murray Sutherland and Jerry Celestine, in 1983 it was time for a big unification fight against WBC champ Dwight Muhammad Qawi, later his brother's conqueror. It was 18 March at the Convention Center in Atlantic City where the two would square off. However, two months before the fight, tragedy struck as Michael's wife and the mother of his 2-yearold daughter, Sandra Massey, had died in a car accident. Spinks went on with the fight, suffering a questionable knockdown in round 8 but fought smart and avoided exchanging with the stronger Qawi, instead concentrating on boxing smart and using his height and reach advantage. He won by rather close scores in the end, 144-141 twice and 144-140. He also added the IBF title to his collection when he decisioned Eddie Davis in 1984. After defending the undisputed title twice by TKO 3 against David Sears and TKO 8 against Jim McDonald, he decided to have a go at the heavyweight title against the man who had brutally beaten his brother: former WBC and now IBF champion Larry Holmes. Spinks was the first world light heavyweight champion to challenge a world heavyweight champion since Bob Foster did it against Ali and Frazier. Most experts thought he would lose as he was naturally smaller and lighter, even though almost as tall as Holmes, only half an inch between them. Spinks had to bring in a nutritionist specialist who put him on a high-carbo diet which would make his body grow and turn into that of a heavyweight. He weighed in just a 3 quarters of a pound under 200 while Holmes weighed in at 221 1/2. During prefight training, Holmes had experienced a pinched nerve in his right hand, which he later claimed was responsible for a poorer than usual performance. He was 48-0, just one win from tying Rocky Marciano's record, but Michael denied him this achievement as he outboxed him and convincingly won, in the end getting the unanimous decision by the scores 145-142 and 143-142 twice. 21 September 1985 thus entered history as the first time a light heavyweight had won a world title at heavyweight ever.


He signed to fight Holmes again on 19 April 1986. Holmes came into the fight very determined to win his title back and on his robes was written "I'm back!" But, despite doing better than the last time, Holmes would not get his title back as Spinks won by a split decision in a very close fight. Holmes was furious and told the judges to kiss where the sun doesn't shine. Spinks got 2 million for the fight and became the only man to beat Holmes twice. This time, Spinks weighed in at 205 and he said afterwards:"The last time I worked on becoming a heavyweight. For this fight, I started as a heavyweight and worked on improving what beat Larry the last time." It was his speed, as well as the fact that he simply was a lighter and more mobile man than his opponent, while being at least as clever boxer technically. Michael made his second and last defense of the IBF belt against the Norwegian Steffen Tangstad, a former European champion and at 6'2 and 214 pounds, a man more of Michael's own size. Tangstad did well until the third round, when Michael dropped him with a straight right. Tangstad got up and finished the round, but in the fourth he was again dropped, this time by a left hook and then knocked out with a left and a right. Spinks earned 1 million. But in February 1987, he was stripped of his title for refusing to fight Tony Tucker, Don King's man. He instead fought Gerry Cooney, who was on a successful comeback run after knocking out three rather good fighters. The fight was advertised as being for the world title, the REAL world title. It was 15 June at the Convention Center when Michael produced his last victory: with his superior handspeed and boxing iq, he wore Cooney down, battered and dropped him twice in round 5 before the fight was stopped by the referee. He was an 8-5 underdog, due to being much smaller than Cooney. And then came Tyson. Spinks was regarded as the lineal champion, which made Tyson eager to fight him and prove that he is the only true heavyweight champion. The fight was the biggest boxing event of the decade, as Trump Plaza put up 11 million $ to arrange the event and HBO paid 3 million for delayed TV rights. Spinks came in weighing at his heaviest ever, 212 1/4 while Tyson weighed 218 1/4, despite being about 4 inches shorter.


Spinks was simply intimidated by Tyson, too intimidated to be able to put up a good fight. He went down for the first time in his career after about a minute of the fight, after first getting his head snapped by a left hook and then hit with a right below the heart. He went down to one knee and then got up. Tyson moved in to attack and Spinks tried to fend him off with a right, but it had no effect. He was then hit with a sweeping right and knocked out. Time was 1:31, 91 seconds. After this devastating defeat, he knew there was nothing left to do or prove and he retired, with a fine record of 31 wins, 21 by ko, and that 1 sole loss. He became a manager and most notably managed Maurice Blocker to a WBC and IBF welterweight title. He was also the manager of Elijah Tillery, his former sparring partner. Michael Spinks was a great fighter who had all the gifts a fighter can want, the jab, the punch, the boxing skill and IQ, the handspeed and the height, and he also had a pretty good chin, only being knocked down and out once in his career. He is one of the greatest light heavyweights in history and also was one of the best heavyweights of the 80's, despite a brief tenure there. He was ranked as the 3rd best light heavyweight ever by The Ring. Unlike many other prizefighters, he retired with both his health and money. Sadly, the same can't be said about his brother, who after his retirement faced a string of domestic, financial and health problems. He has had to work as a custodian at YMCA and McDonalds, but now lives in Vegas with his wife, trying to make a living off signing autographs. His son Cory of course carved out his own name and glory as the undisputed welterweight champion and also won the IBF light middleweight title twice. Spinks family have a special place in boxing history, but unlike the Mayweather family, stay out of spotlight for the most part and are happy with what they got. Titles come and go, but the legacy lives on.

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