Leon Spinks, who surprised the boxing world by beating Muhammad Ali for the world heavyweight title in 1978, died Friday night at age 67, according to the Firm PR, a public relations firm that represents him.
Spinks, who had been suffering from prostate and other cancers for five years, died with his wife, Brenda, by his side, the firm said.
The St. Louis native, a former Marine who won a gold medal as a light heavyweight at the 1976 Olympics, was just 13 months and eight fights into his pro boxing career when he stepped into a ring against Ali on Feb. 15, 1978, in Las Vegas.
But Spinks — a heavy underdog who had never gone beyond 10 rounds — came right after the champ, who was 36 years old and clearly on the downside of his career.
Spinks, then 24, had enough endurance to survive a 15th-round flurry from Ali — and provide one of his own in the closing seconds. The split decision went to Spinks, who flashed his famous gap-toothed grin after becoming the only fighter to take a title from Ali in the ring.
“In that fight everything clicked,” promoter Bob Arum said Saturday. “He came in with a game plan and he beat Ali. It wasn’t that Ali wasn’t at his best, but Leon shocked everybody with how good Leon was.”