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Boxing legend Leon Spinks, former world champion who defeated Muhammed Ali, dies from cancer

Former World Heavyweight Champion Leon Spinks, Jr. lost his five-year battle with prostate and other cancers, at the age of 67 on Friday, Feb. 5 at 8:15 p.m. At the time of his passing his wife Brenda Glur Spinks was by his side. Due to COVID restrictions, only a few close friends and other family were present.

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Leon fought his battle with numerous illnesses resiliently, never losing his trademark smile. Showing true Spinks determination, he never threw in the towel.

Leon will be remembered as a beloved husband, father and brother. Leon served our country in the United States Marine Corps, who he proudly represented when he won a Gold Medal in the Montreal Olympics in 1976. But Leon truly cemented his place in history on February 15, 1978, in Las Vegas, Nevada, when he shocked the world by beating Muhammed Ali, to become the undisputed World Heavyweight Boxing champion Leon entered that fight with only seven prior professional fights, weighing only 197 pounds and being outweighed by over 25 pounds. Leon fought 72 professional fights, winning 46 of them.

Leon was born on July 11, 1953. He was born and raised in the projects of Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis, Missouri. Leon discovered his passion for boxing as a young man while serving in the Marines. He immediately began building a reputation as a strong, formidable opponent. Tragedy and triumph were recurring themes throughout Leon’s life, but his will to fight never waned. He faced every challenge as he did his illness, with dogged determination. He married his long-time companion Brenda Glur Spinks in Las Vegas, on October 9, 2011, in a small ceremony, witnessed by Tony Orlando and close family friend Terrah Trimble.

As an amateur boxer, Leon won numerous medals in the lightweight division. He went on to win his first medal, a bronze, during the 1974 World Championships. In 1975, Leon earned a Silver medal at the Pan America Games. Leon’s amateur career culminated in 1976, when he won an Olympic gold medal. Leon’s brother, Michael Spinks won the middleweight gold medal in those Olympics. Leon’s gold medal set him up to his history making challenge of Muhammad Ali.

Leon lived his life outside of the ring as a true hero and loyal friend to so many in the boxing world, including former opponents and peers, such as Ken Norton, Muhammad Ali and Ray Leonard, Jr.

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After moving to the site of his greatest triumph, Las Vegas in 2011, Leon became a fixture about town, always accompanied by his trademark smile. He loved spending time with friends and family, attending concerts and local shows, dining at local restaurants and signing autographs and memorabilia for fans at Inscriptagraphs and Field of Dreams on the Las Vegas strip.

He was beloved by the local community. Perhaps the most endearing demonstration of his popularity, was his 2013 surprise 60th birthday celebration, held at the former Las Vegas Hilton, where Leon changed history by defeating Muhammad Ali in their first bout. The celebration was attended by numerous celebrities and a boxing dignitaries, including Leon’s brother, Michael Spinks and the legendary Jake “Raging Bull” LaMotta. During the festivities, Leon was serenaded by Quite Riot lead singer, Paul Shortino, John Payne and the cast of the hit Vegas show “Raiding the Rock Vault.”

On the 39th Anniversary of Leon’s defeat of Muhammad Ali, the formal announcement was made that Leon had been chosen for induction into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame. At the ceremony, Leon stood up and simply said, “it’s about time!” In August 2017, along with his brother Michael Spinks, Thomas Hearns and Ken Norton, Leon was inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame.

Leon and Brenda often traveled around the US, attending boxing events and ceremonies from California to New York City. Although mysteriously absent from induction, Leon was a fixture at the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Leon built a life defined by incredible strength and will to match. He was a supreme and powerful athlete; but he was also a loving husband to his wife Brenda, loving father and step father to his sons. He was a devoted grandfather and a friend to those who knew him.

His final fight was fought with the same skill, grace and grit that had carried him through so many lifetime challenges.

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