Legendary boxer, Leon Spinks, dead after cancer battle

Spinks was inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017

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Leon Spinks — former undisputed heavyweight boxing champ who defeated Muhammad Ali in 1978 — has died after a lengthy battle with cancer.

According to TMZ, Spinks passed away Friday evening at the age of 67 after courageously battling prostate cancer for five years. At his time of death, Spinks was surrounded by his wife Brenda and several other close friends and family.

The St. Louis native won a gold medal as a light heavyweight at the 1976 Olympics and his younger brother, Michael, won a gold medal in a separate weight class the same year.

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Early in his boxing career, with only seven professional fights under his belt, Spinks stepped into the ring against reigning heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali. Surprisingly, he became the victor in one of the biggest upsets in sports history when he defeated Ali in a 15-round, split decision win in Las Vegas in February 1978.

In defeating Ali, Spinks became the only fighter to ever take a belt from “The Greatest.” But in a rematch later that year, Ali took back the belt in New Orleans.

The two fights against Ali were the highlights of Spinks’ career, and he never again reached such heights. After his loss to Ali, he had two other opportunities to regain the title. But, he was defeated by Larry Holmes in 1981 and by Dwight Muhammad Qawl in 1986.

Spinks was inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017, along with his brother, Michael Spinks, who was regarded as one of the greatest light heavyweights in boxing history. But by that time of the ceremony, Spinks, who was plagued by health issues, struggled to walk and attended the event in a wheelchair.

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The former champ is survived by his wife, Brenda and son, Cory. Another son, Leon Calvin, who also boxed, was murdered in East St. Louis in 2017.

People took to Twitter to pay tribute to the late boxing legend including boxing promoter Lou DiBella, who gave his condolences to Spinks’ brother Michael, tweeting, “Rest in peace, Neon Leon, a heavyweight champion and a nice man. Condolences to @MikeSpinksjinx and the Spinks family. Rest In Peace and Power, Leon Spinks.”

Mark Ortega shared a photo of himself and Spinks with the caption, “Was a privilege meeting Leon Spinks when I was just a teenaged freelance boxing scribe. He scored one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight championship boxing history and his name will live forever. May he rest peacefully.”

Twitter user @cwucat62 tweeted the February 1978 Sports Illustrated cover, which featured Spinks flashing his gap-tooth smile, and said, “Easily a top 5 @SInow #SportsIllustrated cover of all time!”

theGrio’s Ashley Terrell contributed to this report.

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