- NAME: Leon Spinks
- OCCUPATION: Boxer
- BIRTH DATE: July 11, 1953 (Age: 60)
- Did You Know?: In 1976 in Montreal, African-American boxers Michael and Leon Spinks became the first brothers in Olympic history to both win gold medals at the same Summer Games.
- PLACE OF BIRTH: St. Louis, Missouri
- Full Name: Leon Spinks
- Nickname: Neon Leon
- ZODIAC SIGN: Cancer
Best Known For
American boxer Leon Spinks won an Olympic gold medal in 1976 and beat Muhammad Ali for the world heavyweight championship in 1978.
Think you know about Biography?
Answer questions and see how you rank against other players.Play Now
Born on July 11, 1953, in St. Louis, Missouri, boxer Leon Spinks won the light heavyweight gold medal at the 1976 Olympic Games. He upset Muhammad Ali for the world heavyweight title in 1978 after just seven professional bouts, but lost the rematch seven months later. Financial problems forced Spinks to continue fighting long past his prime until he retired in 1995 with a career record of 26-17-3.
"I got hit a lot. I'm glad I lived through it."
Leon Spinks was born on July 11, 1953, in St. Louis, Missouri. He weighed less than four pounds at birth, and at 2 weeks old, he developed yellow jaundice and almost died.
As a boy, Spinks dealt with low blood pressure and periodic fainting spells, hardly a prescription for survival in the crime-infested area of St. Louis, where he resided. Along with his younger brother, Michael, who also went on to become a champion boxer, Spinks was a frequent target of neighborhood gangs.
"Sometimes I'd fight back," he later recalled. "But when we were younger, there were always too many guys fighting us at one time."
Spinks's childhood was also shaped by the absence of his father, who abandoned the family after his seventh child was born. That left the childrearing to Spinks's mother, Kay, a tough, God-fearing woman who survived off welfare assistance and read the Bible to her children for hours after supper every day.
Spinks made it to the 10th grade before dropping out of school and joining the Marine Corps. For the undisciplined 20-year-old, adjusting to military code was a tough transition. He frequently fought with his drill sergeants and his boot camp experience lasted an unprecedented six months.
Eventually, Spinks made peace with his new life, got out of boot camp and joined the All-Marine boxing team. By 1976, he was arguably the best amateur boxer in the world, wining all but seven of his fights and registering 133 knockouts over a three-year period.
At the 1974 World Games in Cuba, Spinks captured the bronze medal as a light heavyweight. He collected the silver the following year at the Pan-American Games, then won the light heavyweight gold medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada.
Spinks made his professional debut on January 15, 1977, in Las Vegas, Nevada, knocking out Bob Smith in the fifth round for the victory. He was 6-0-1 as a pro and had boxed just 31 rounds when he got the call to fight his boyhood idol, Muhammad Ali.
Ranked as one of the greatest upsets in boxing history, Spinks won the undisputed world heavyweight championship from Ali with a 15-round split decision on February 15, 1978.
"He wasn't in great condition," Spinks later said of Ali. "[He] ran out of gas and I could've gone 20 [rounds]. I just know one thing—I went with one thing my mother taught me. When a man hits you, hit him back."
Just two months later, Spinks was stripped of the World Boxing Council title for refusing to defend his belt against the No. 1 contender, Ken Norton. Spinks, who still retained his World Boxing Association crown, chose to fight Ali again for a bigger payday.
profile name: Leon Spinks profile occupation:
Sign in with Facebook to see how you and your friends are connected to famous icons.
Your Friends' Connections
Included In These Groups
Boxing was first introduced as an Olympic event at the 1904 Summer Olympics. Since then, the Games have introduced us to future boxing legends. In 1960, boxer Muhammad Ali won a spot on the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team, returning home that year with a gold medal. At the 1976 Olympics, Sugar Ray Leonard won the gold medal in light-waterweight boxing, with the heavyweight title awarded to Leon Spinks. These men join the group of fighters, from George Foreman to Floyd Mayweather, who have made history in their run for Olympic Gold. Biography looks at some of the hardest hitters in Olympic boxing history.
Olympic Boxers 10 people in this group
Who was the first African-American boxing champ? How about World Cycling champ? Who was the first African-American to win an Olympic gold medal? What year did Jackie Robinson break baseball's color barrier? Who was Althea Gibson and what first did she achieve? Detail our collection of pioneering African-American athletes for the answers to these and many more questions, and explore our African-American Firsts: Athletes photos gallery.
African-American Firsts: Athletes 37 people in this group
Browse our collection of African-American Firsts: Awards & Honors, including Oprah Winfrey, who became the first recipient of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' Bob Hope Humanitarian Award in 2002; Floyd Patterson; the youngest heavyweight champion in history and the first heavyweight to regain his title following a loss; Shani Davis, who became the first black athlete at the Winter Olympics to win a gold medal in an individual sport in 2006; and Henry Armstrong, who became the first boxer to hold three different weight division titles at the same time in 1938. Explore full biographies, photo galleries, videos and more, only at Biography.com.
African-American Firsts: Awards & Honors 43 people in this group