Remembering Michael Spinks

Michael Spinks -> Under-appreciated Greatness

Michael Spinks to many casual fans is best remembered as the man in the way of a full speed wrecking ball named Mike Tyson on 27 June, 1988 in what for generations to come will be by general consensus deemed Tyson’s absolute prime. This simplistic view of the former light heavyweight & heavyweight champion short changes his legacy – this is, after all, the man who in 1985’s Upset of the Year derailed Larry Holmes’ crusade to match Rocky Marciano‘s immortal record in the former’s 49th bout.

An awkward genius with quick hands and really brave.Spencer Fearon

Born July 13, 1956 in St. Louis, Missouri he is the brother of fellow former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks who went 1-1 with The Greatest, Muhammad Ali. Spinks won the 1974 156-pound Golden Gloves Championship; took the Silver Medal in the 165-pound National AAU Championship in 1975; won the 1976 National Golden Gloves Middleweight Championship and that year won the United States Olympic Trials Middleweight Championship. He beat the Soviet Union’s Rufat Riskiev to win middleweight gold at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. Spinks’ amateur record stands at 93-7 with 35 knockouts.

Legendary manager of the tuxedo without a shirt fame Butch Lewis in 1977 convinced Michael to turn professional. He was to this point living in the shadow of his brother Leon & appeared, for a time, content to suspend his ambitions so that Leon could follow his. “He’d call and say, ‘You about ready to go pro?’ ” Spinks told The New York Times. “I’d say, ‘No, not yet.’ It took six months before I said, ‘Come on, I’m ready.’ ” The relationship between Spinks & the idiosyncratic Lewis was exceptionally close; even by boxing’s hyperbolic standards. By 2011, however, after Lewis had passed away, it emerged that Spinks had sued Lewis’s estate, alleging that Butch had failed to properly manage the $24 million Spinks had earned in boxing and had violated an agreement that Lewis would continue to pay Spinks’ living expenses for the rest of his life. Robert L. Johnson, the world’s first African-American dollar billionaire was also named as a defendant in this action against Lewis’ estate as he was tasked as the executor of Lewis’ $8.5 million fortune.

Forget his sizeable achievements at heavyweight – wins over Yaqui Lopez; a 27-4-0 Marvin JohnsonEddie Mustafa Muhammad; a 24-0-1 Mustafa Wasajja & a 19-1-1 Dwight Muhammad Qawi between October 1980 & March 1983 during a ten fight run represent perhaps the finest 29 month span in light heavyweight history. I regard 19 of his 31 wins or 60.4% as being against credible international level opponents. This compares well to almost all other all-time greats, including: Dick Tiger 35 of 60/58.3%; Joe Frazier 16 of 32/50.0%; Bob Foster 18 of 56/32.1%; Gene Tunney 15 of 65/23.1%. Despite a relatively concise resume I provisionally place Spinks below only László Papp (& only marginally) on my all-time order of merit among fighters with less fights on their card.

Of the 5 co-winners of the BWAA Fighter of the Year in 1976 (Sugar Ray Leonard, Leo RandolphHoward Davis, Jr., Michael and Leon Spinks) only Ray Leonard achieved as much as did the younger Spinks brother in the pros.

Michael Spinks told Sports Illustrated in 1999 – of his brief clash with Tyson 11 years earlier, “When he hit me I lost my temper and forgot my strategy.” I believe his legacy deserves similar amnesia for that final bout in light of his many historic achievements that came over the course of years, not seconds.

Matt Hamilton, for ESNewsReporting.com

Matt Hamilton

Matt Hamilton