Born in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 13, 1956, Michael Spinks won the middleweight gold medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. As a professional, Spinks became one of boxing's greatest light-heavyweight fighters of all time, winning the belt in 1981. In 1985, he made history when he beat Larry Holmes for the heavyweight crown, the first light-heavyweight ever to win the belt. Spinks retired in 1988 and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994.
Michael Spinks was born on July 13, 1956, in St. Louis, Missouri. He was just 4 years old when his father, a sign painter, left the family, putting all of the responsibilities of childrearing in the hands of his wife, Kay Spinks, a tough, God-fearing woman who survived on welfare assistance and made her kids read the Bible for four hours a day.
In the crime-infested neighborhood of St. Louis where the Spinks family resided, Michael and his six siblings were not popular: "[Other kids] used to call us the ugly Spinks family," Michael later recalled. "For a long time I hated the name Spinks."
Early Boxing Career
Michael Spinks was at first a reluctant gym rat. His older brother, Leon, who would go on to win the heavyweight crown, had urged him to work out with him. Michael's first opponent, in fact, was his brother. "I remember being in the ring for the first time," Michael told Sports Illustrated in 1983. "Leon was hitting me and I was crying. I said, 'You're my brother.' He kept hitting me. Then I hit back, and pretty soon I was putting mouses under his eyes."
While Leon struggled to tame his wild side, the calmer, cooler Michael became the head of the family, earning the respect of his four younger brothers and kid sister. Respect also followed him into the ring, and soon Spinks was traveling outside St. Louis to fight.
In the spring of 1976, Michael Spinks, who, although he was a Golden Gloves champion, at the time was paying his bills by washing dishes at a hotel restaurant, unexpectedly qualified for the U.S. Olympic team. His teammates included his brother Leon and Sugar Ray Leonard. At the Montreal Games that summer Michael Spinks beat Soviet fighter Rufat Riskiev in the finals to earn a gold medal in the middleweight division. The Spinks family good fortune continued when, shortly thereafter, Leon won gold, too, as a light-heavyweight.
Professional Boxing Career
Following the Olympics, Spinks went professional. Packing a devastating right hand dubbed the "Spinks Jinx," the young fighter quickly climbed the ranks of the light-heavyweight division.
In 1981, after a series of big victories, Spinks decisioned champ Eddie Mustafa Muhammad to win the World Boxing Association title, and two years later he captured the World Boxing Commission crown to become the undisputed light-heavyweight champion.
In a surprising move, Spinks then jumped to the heavyweight division in an attempt to become the first light-heavyweight champ to also secure the heavyweight belt. In 1985 he got his title shot and notched a victory over the heavily favored International Boxing Federation champion, Larry Holmes. At the time, Holmes was 48-0 and just one win shy of tying Rocky Marciano's undefeated record. Seven months later Spinks validated the title win with a second defeat of Holmes.
After losing his title in 1987, Spinks stepped into the ring against undefeated and undisputed heavyweight champ, Mike Tyson, in 1988. Spinks suffered a punishing loss, getting knocked out just 91 seconds into the contest. It was Spinks's first and only professional defeat. Immediately following the bout, Spinks announced his retirement.
Spinks finished his career with a 31-1 record, with 21 knockout victories. In 1994 he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
In 1983, Spinks suffered a terrible loss when his wife, Sandy Massey, was killed in an automobile accident. The couple had one daughter together. She is Spinks's only child.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated not long after his wife's death, Spinks assessed his life and what he had weathered. "I don't know what an average person goes through in a lifetime, but I've been through a lot up to now—and I have lived life as cautiously as I possibly can. My life hasn't been a bowl of cherries."
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