Leon Spinks, Former Heavyweight Champion Who Upset Muhammad Ali, Dies at 67

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Eric Todisco
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The Ring Magazine via Getty Images Leon Spinks

Leon Spinks, the boxing legend who upset Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight title in 1978, has died. He was 67.

Spinks died on Friday night with his wife, Brenda Glur Spinks, by his side after a five-year battle with prostate and other cancers, the Firm PR, a public relations firm that represented the late athlete, confirmed to CNN and ESPN.

Firm PR did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

In January 2020, Brenda told USA TODAY that her husband was hospitalized the month prior after the cancer spread to his bladder.

"It's going to be a long road and a lot of work,'' she said. "But we are bound and determined for the Champ to make a comeback."

Paul Morigi/Getty Images Leon Spinks

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Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Spinks began his amateur boxing career in 1974 when he won three consecutive national AAU light heavyweight championships. He went on to represent the United States at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal and won the light heavyweight gold medal.

Spinks' professional boxing career started in 1977. He defeated several strong competitors over the next year, including Bob Smith of Las Vegas, Peter Freeman of Liverpool, England, Pedro Agosto of Puerto Rico and Alfio Righetti of Italy.

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After just eight fights into his professional career, he faced off against Ali in Las Vegas on February 15, 1978. Spinks, who was 36 at the time, won the match over Ali in what is still considered one of the greatest upsets in boxing history.

"He had the will to win and the stamina," Ali said of Spinks at the time of the fight, according to The New York Times. "He hit pretty hard."

Bettmann/Getty Images Leon Spinks

Bettmann/Getty Images

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However, Spinks was later stripped of his WBC title for refusing to defend against top contender Ken Norton. Instead, he choose to face off against Ali for a rematch on September 15, 1978 at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana — and this time Ali was victorious.

Spinks only fought for a heavyweight title once more, losing to Larry Holmes on June 12, 1981 at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan.

Spinks officially retired from professional boxing in December 1995 with a record of 26-17-3 and 14 knockouts. In 2017, he was inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame.

Spinks is survived by his wife Brenda and sons Cory and Darrell. Son Leon Calvin was fatally shot in 1990 at age 19.