Coming out of the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Michael Spinks was content on taking care of his mother and supporting his brother Leon’s pro career while working at a St. Louis chemical factory despite winning a gold medal like Leon did. This all changed in 1978 after Leon lost the World Heavyweight title back to Muhammad Ali. As Leon’s behavior became more and more erratic, Michael decided it was time to take his own pro career seriously.
Michael’s first major victory occurred in just his 14th fight, a huge seventh round technical knockout win over perennial 175-pound contender Yaqui Lopez on October 18, 1980. That fight was the fight that convinced my father that Michael was for real. Lopez had given Matthew Saad Muhammad and Victor Galindez hell when fighting for their versions of the World Light Heavyweight title. After Spinks dismantled Lopez, my father felt at that point in time that Spinks was the best Light Heavyweight on the planet. It would take less than a year for Spinks to prove my father right.
On March 28, 1981 Spinks fought former two-time 175-pound champion Marvin Johnson, the winner to receive a shot at the WBA champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. Spinks at 6’1 always attempted to fight tall and with his potent left jab and even more potent right cross keeping his always shorter opposition at bay. Johnson was a 5’10 southpaw who was one of the most aggressive fighters in the history of the division. For the first three rounds, Johnson had the advantage by pressuring Spinks on the inside. Then in the fourth round, Johnson walked into a screeching left uppercut that put the Indianapolis native out to pasture. Spinks had earned the right to fight for a 175-pound title by stopping both Lopez and Johnson, the boogeymen of the division.
My father was a big fan of then WBA champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. He loved Muhammad’s counter punching acumen and patience. He knew Spinks was a better fighter and expected Spinks to win because he didn’t feel Eddie’s style was too passive to defeat Spinks’s style of constant jabbing. Once again, Spinks proved my father right in his assessment. The first 10 rounds were very close as Mustafa was able to successfully counter Spinks’s jab several times. However, beginning in round 11, Spinks began to assume command of the fight as he had all but closed Muhammad’s left eye. In round 12, Spinks knocked down Muhammad with his patented right cross, aptly named the “Spinks Jinx.” The remaining three rounds saw Muhammad in survival mode as Spinks outworked him en route to an unanimous decision in capturing the WBA crown.
Over the next 18 months, Spinks successfully defended his crown five times in relatively easy fashion. Then right as he was training for the biggest fight of his career, a World Light Heavyweight unification title fight with Dwight Muhammad Qawi, tragedy struck. Two months before the scheduled March 18, 1983 fight with Qawi was to take place, Spinks’s wife Sandy was killed in a car crash. Boxing fans and experts weren’t sure if the Qawi fight would go on as scheduled. Despite a heavy heart, Spinks didn’t pull out of the fight and that night put on an incredible display of boxing brilliance and discipline. Qawi at 5’5 was an aggressive inside fighter with a bob and weave style similar to Joe Frazier. Spinks stayed outside and used his eight inch height advantage to maximum use by tying up Qawi anytime he ventured inside. Spinks won an unanimous 15-round decision and not only claimed the Undisputed Light Heavyweight crown, but he also won the claim to being the best 175-pound fighter in the golden age of Light Heavyweights which included Qawi, Mustafa Muhammad, Galindez, Lopez and Saad Muhammad.
Spinks would successfully defend his title four more times before becoming the first reigning 175 pound champion to win the Heavyweight Championship of the World. His four year reign at 175 was one of the most dominating reigns in the history of the division. He fought everyone and in that golden age of the division, was heads and shoulders above everyone else at 175 pounds, easily making Michael Spinks the third greatest Light Heavyweight of all time.