Former heavyweight boxer Leon Spinks — who famously beat Muhammad Ali for the title in 1978 — died on Friday, February 5. He was 67 years old.
Spinks’ wife, Brenda Spinks, was by his side, in addition to a few close friends and family members when he passed away. He had been battling prostate cancer and other cancers for five years, Firm PR confirmed to CNN and ESPN.
Last year, Brenda told USA Today that her husband had been hospitalized in December 2019 after the cancer spread to his bladder.
"It's going to be a long road and a lot of work,'' she said at the time. "But we are bound and determined for the Champ to make a comeback."
The boxer took on Ali only eight fights into his professional career when he was 36 years old. Spinks' victory is still considered one of the greatest boxing upsets in history.
"It was one of the most unbelievable things when Ali agreed to fight him because you look at the fights he had up to then and he was not only not a top contender but shouldn't have been a contender at all,” promoter Bob Arum said. "He was just an opponent but somehow he found a way to win that fight."
Spinks began his boxing career in 1974 when he won three national AAU light heavyweight championships in a row and then went onto represent the United States in the 1976 Summer Olympics, where he took home the light heavyweight gold medal. He began his professional career in 1977 and beat competitors Bob Smith, Peter Freeman, Pedro Agosto and Alfio Righetti.
Spinks lost his WBC title when he refused to defend against Ken Norton in favor of a rematch with Ali months after their first fight, which Ali won.
Spinks retired in 1995, but in 2017, he was honored by being inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame.
Spinks is survived by his wife and sons Cory and Darrell. His son Leon Calvin died in 1990 at 19 years old when he was fatally shot. Cory went on to become a welterweight and light middleweight champion in his own boxing career, and Leon's brother Michael won the heavyweight title in 1985 and defended it three times before he was beaten by Mike Tyson in 1988.
Scroll down to see reactions to Spinks' death.
Recalling The Iconic Fight
DAZN Boxing posted a recap of Spinks' famous fight with Ali.
WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman paid his respects to the late boxer.
The 1978 Heavyweight Champion of the World— Rob Schneider (@RobSchneider) February 7, 2021
Leon Spinks has passed.
Leon was a kind and very funny and gentle person. I enjoyed spending time with the Champ & his lovely wife Brenda every time I went to Vegas.
Rest now, my friend.
You shocked the world! pic.twitter.com/KNkgOYQecY
Actor Rob Schneider took a moment to pay respects to his late friend.
Boxer Larry Holmes, who beat Spinks in 1981, paid tribute to his former opponent.
Boxing promoter and Boxing Hall of Fame inductee Lou DiBella remembered Spinks as a "nice man."