Former heavyweight boxing champ, Leon Spinks

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Leon Spinks, the audacious snaggletooth heavyweight pugilist from East Louis, Mo., who thrust himself into the limelight after defeating Muhammad Ali in a split decision in 1978, has died. He was 67.

Spinks is the latest in a list of professional sports icons to succumb in the past few months. His passing came on Feb. 5, 2021. 

Born on July 11, 1953, Spinks competed from 1977 to 1995. In only his eighth professional fight, he won the undisputed heavyweight championship in 1978 against Ali, in what was considered one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. Spinks was later stripped of the WBC title for facing Ali in an unapproved rematch seven months later, which he lost by a unanimous decision.

Besides being heavyweight champion and his characteristic gap-toothed grin (due to losing two and later all four of his front teeth),

Leon Spinks

Spinks gained notoriety for the disaster which befell his career following the loss to Ali. However, he did challenge once more for the WBC heavyweight title in 198, losing to Larry Holmes by TKO in the third round, and the WBA cruiserweight title in 1986, losing to Dwight Muhammad Qawi by TKO in the sixth round.

As an amateur, Spinks won numerous medals in the light heavyweight division. The first was bronze at the inaugural 1974 World Championships, followed by silver at the 1975 Pan American Games, and gold at the 1976 Summer Olympics; the latter alongside his brother Michael Spinks, who won middleweight gold. Leon served in the US Marine Corps from 1973 to 1976.

Spinks also had a brief career as a professional wrestler in the 1990s, working for Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW) and holding the FMW Brass Knuckles Heavyweight Championship in 1992.

Wikipedia contributed to this story.