LARRY HOLMES complained bitterly about the verdict so Michael Spinks, who had upset the Easton man’s bid at Rocky Marciano’s historic 49-0 heavyweight mark, so they fought again.
Now as the heavyweight champion of the world, Spinks defended his crown against one of the best the division has seen and, once more Holmes cried robbery after losing a split decision.
Both fights were unmistakably close and while they were far from Holmes’ swansong, as many thought at the time, they were the icing on the top of a Spinks career that had seen him clear out one of the best light-heavyweight classes assembled.
A 1976 Olympic gold medallist – along with his brother, Leon, and the great Sugar Ray Leonard – Spinks made quick progress in the professionals, defeating tough Gary Summerhays in his first year and in 1980 he passed the first big hurdle of his career, defeating US-based Scot Murray Sutherland, dropping him on his way to a 10-round decision. He also came through a wobble against battle-hardened Yaqui Lopez to stop the Californian in seven, halted former (and future) champion Marvin Johnson in four before capturing his first world title, the WBA light-heavyweight crown, by defeating Eddie Mustafa Muhammad over 15 rounds. He made five defences before unifying the titles against the “Camden Buzzsaw”, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, in 1983 and then, after adding the IBF belt to his collection, he stepped up to unseat and upset Holmes becoming the first reigning light-heavyweight champion to win the larger prize.
Spinks was a tall, powerful fighter, intelligent and with a potent right hand at his disposal.
Two further high-earning contests saw him stop Steffen Tangstad (rsf 4) and Gerry Cooney ((rsf 5), setting him up for the June 1988 blockbuster against another undefeated heavyweight champion, this one at his peak rather than slightly beyond it.
The IBF had stripped Spinks for taking the Cooney payday over a defence against his mandatory challenger, Tony Tucker, but there was no doubt about who ruled the heavyweight roost after a dramatic night in Atlantic City.
After just 91 seconds, a youthful, aggressive and seemingly unbeatable Mike Tyson flattened Spinks in devastating style.
Michael’s own undefeated streak had been spectacularly culled and he walked away from the sport with his fortune and faculties intact.
He had made $13.5million in defeat, Tyson pocketed more than $20million.
“I miss the camaraderie,” Spinks said in retirement, “and the love we had and above all I miss the humongous paydays.”
Spinks went down as one of the great light-heavyweight champions, mentioned in the same breath as Archie Moore, Ezzard Charles, Roy Jones and Bob Foster.
He remained close to the man who guided him throughout his career, Butch Lewis, and while Spinks shunned the limelight, with the exception of visiting schools to inspire kids, he made appearances with Lewis from time to time until Butch died in 2011.
In the aftermath of the promoter’s death, however, Spinks sued Lewis’ estate in a Delaware Chancery Court alleging Lewis had failed to properly manage more than $24million he earned in his fighting days, violating an agreement that he would still manage the fighter’s money and pay his living expenses and, in the lawsuit, there were claims that Lewis had lumped their money together to pay his own personal and business expenses.
The month after Lewis died, Spinks’ lawyers alleged the executors of Lewis’ estate cut off payments to the retired fighter without telling him, causing his health insurance to expire and bills totalling $50,000 a month to mount.
The former champion’s lawyers claimed: “Spinks has had to invade his pension and retirement funds and incur significant taxes and penalties in order to meet these obligations.”
Lewis’ estate was valued at $8.5million.
Before Spinks could unify the titles his wife, Sandy Massey, and the mother of their two-year-old daughter Michelle, died. Massey was killed in a car crash leaving Spinks a single-parent.
He defeated Qawi two months later and, according to reports, Spinks’ daughter asked him in the dressing room if her mother would be watching the fight. Spinks broke down but managed to go through with the fight, coming through an eighth-round scare before winning a unanimous decision.
The ‘Spinks Jinx’ was a heavy right hand that became the St Louis favourite’s most formidable weapon.
Spinks and his brother, Leon, both won world titles, as did Michael’s nephew, Cory, a talented welterweight and light-middleweight. Leon’s grandson, Leon “III Generation” Spinks recently made his professional debut.