Leon Spinks ('The Prize Fighter')
’The Fight to Stay Alive Continues’
Leon Spinks (born November 7, 1953) is a former boxer who tasted life's highs and lows more than most other boxers. Spinks went from being Heavyweight champion of the world to being homeless in little more than a decade.
Spinks, who was born in St. Louis, had a stellar amateur boxing career. He won the Olympic gold medal at the Light Heavyweight division during the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, alongside brother Michael Spinks, who also won a gold medal on those games.
He debuted professionally on January 15 of 1977 in Las Vegas, beating Bob Smith by a knockout in five. His next fight marked his debut abroad, as he went to The Beatles' hometown of Liverpool, England, to beat Peter Freeman by a knockout in the first round. A couple of fights later, he saw a slight improvement in opposition quality, when he fought Pedro Agosto of Puerto Rico and knocked him out in the first. Then, he drew with Scott LeDoux and beat Italian champion Alfio Riguetti by a decision.
After that, Spinks was ranked number one among the world's Heavyweight challengers, and he made history on February 15 of 1978, by beating Muhammad Ali by a decision in 15 in Las Vegas to become the fastest guy ever to win the world's Heavyweight crown when he became champion in only his sixth fight. In his next fight, his only bout of 1979, he went to Monte Carlo, where he was knocked out in the first round by future world Heavyweght champion Gerrie Coetzee.
In 1982, Spinks decided to go down in weight and compete in the Cruiserweights. He beat fringe contender Ivy Brown by a decision in ten, and former and future title challenger Jesse Burnett by decision in twelve. His comeback was, once again, stopped on it's track in 1983 by the twice former and twice future world Cruiserweight champion Carlos De Leon, who knocked him out in six rounds in that year's only bout for Spinks.
Spinks boxed for eight more years, having mixed results. He retired after losing by decision in eight to Fred Houpe in 1995, and he was homeless for a period of time. During the late 1990s, however, he was picked up by Tri Star Sports Promotions to become a headliner on their year-round, touring autographs shows. Despite the fact that these days he is still – one way or another - making a living out of signing his name, he still remains a willing FREE autograph signer. And his son, Cory Spinks, was also once the IBF's world Welterweight champion.
Spinks had an overall record of 26 wins, 17 losses and 3 draws as a professional, with 14 knockout wins.
Trying to maintain that connection with his public, Leon is now appearing in a brand new movie called ’The Prizefighter’ (MTI Home Video) which also stars both Gary Busey and Tonya Harding. It recalls the real-life story of boxer Ed Jones who gets a second chance at fulfilling his life long dream of a Championship. Chatting to Leon just recently with regard his role in the new film as Ed’s training assistant, I first wondered why he decided to take this role on after all these years? “Because that’s what they wanted me to do. They wanted me for that role in this movie, so I did it. And I think that it came out alright.”
Were you nervous at all, being that this was your first movie? ”Yeah, but I was mostly fine about it. But yeah, I was nervous too ‘cause I didn’t want to mess up all their things.”
In the scene where Whitey smacks you in the face as he heads towards the ring, we never see you get hit … but we both know you could have taken the guy in real life! Were you even there that day for shooting? ”Yeah, I was there for it. You know, we had to make it a performance so that it would look that way on film.”
Based on the real-life boxer, Ed Jones … did you ever know or meet this man? ”No, I never knew him, but I’ve seen him on TV several times. But, I’ve never met him, no.”
And this Bad News Bears Slug Out that runs throughout this movie, were you in any of these type of fights growing up? ”Yeah, some of them, but I was the one that got beat up all the time,” he laughs.
Wow, ‘cause back in the day you were a big, powerful man … so how could YOU ever get beaten up? ”Well, back in those times I was actually smaller. I was a small kid. So, as time went on I built myself up and got bigger.”
How long did it take you to film your role in this movie? ”It didn’t take me long. It didn’t take me long at all,” he says very matter-of-factly. ”A couple of days. They told me how to act and to get the best out of my acting performance.”
Did you find it difficult or easy, the acting gig? ”Pretty much easy.”
Did you sign any autographs? ”No, no.”
Oh come on, you must have signed quite a few autographs! ”OK, yeah I did,” he sheepishly laughs.
Are there any more acting gigs lined up for you? ”Not right at the moment, but I’m looking forward to doing something else.”
Back on February 15th, 1978 when you been Muhammad Ali for the first time on that one vote, what are your recollections of that day? ”Well, I had trained hard and I had trained well. I had grown up watching Ali fight, but Ali used to run his mouth. I was used to that though ‘cause I’d hear him talking on TV, but he did it in the ring too. But, it didn’t bother me though.”
What kind of things did he say to you DURING the fight? ”He would tell me to slow down or say ‘Boy, are you really ready to make the 15 rounds.’ I’d be like ‘Come on, old man’.”
Did this chat go on for each round? ”Yeah, and I was always saying a few words, but there was a point where I had to get serious again. But I had to let him know that he was my idol but that I was right in front of him and ready for him.”
Did he say anything to you afterwards? ”No, not really ‘cause he was too busy over there doing his interviews and what-not. So, I didn’t bother him too much.”
What would be your most memorable boxing moment? ”I think my greatest boxing moment was when I won the Olympics in 1976. I fought for my country that day.”
Are you still involved in boxing today? ”Well, I have my son and I help him out as much as I can.”
Finally, what would you like your fans to know about you? ”That I’m still trying to get on my feet, that I’m always helping my kids out, and I just wanna help myself.”
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