World Heavyweight Champion: 1985-1988
When Michael Spinks became Larry Holmes’s twenty-first challenger in September 1985, history was very much against him. He was the latest in a long line of light-heavyweight champions seeking to step up and win the greatest prize in sport. All before had failed, including men of the stature of Georges Carpentier, Archie Moore and Bob Foster. Holmes felt that Spinks was a cast-iron certainty to join the roll of failure. ‘Don’t forget, I’ve been punched in the head by monsters like Earnie Shavers, Ken Norton and Gerry Cooney, so taking punches from Spinks doesn’t fill me with dread. When he receives my left jab in his face it will be like taking a solid right-hand punch from a light-heavyweight. I respect Michael in his own division, but this time he’s taken on more than he can chew.’
Spinks begged to differ. He studied film of his predecessors and noted in particular that none of the previous three light-heavyweight challengers had managed to go the distance. He was sure he could do better. Spinks himself had an impressive record since taking the middleweight title at the Montreal Olympic Games in 1976. Like so many illustrious fighters, he used this victory as the launchpad to a professional career, and in the nine years since, he had won all 27 of his fights -19 inside the distance – and made ten successful defences of his light-heavyweight title.
Chasing the record books
Spinks was a 5-1 shot to beat Holmes, odds that were not quite as long as those his brother had faced against Muhammad Ali seven years earlier. Ali had been 8-1 on to beat Leon. If Michael could upset the odds, he could become one of the only pair of brothers to win the heavyweight crown. Holmes, meanwhile, needed to beat Spinks to equal Rocky Marciano’s all-time record of 49 straight wins. In fact, there was doubt over one of Marciano’s credited victories, so if Holmes could get the better of Spinks, he stood to put himself out there in front as the most successful heavyweight in history. Something had to give.
The fight went the full 15 rounds and ended in a hotly-disputed decision. Holmes had been a mere shell of his former self and couldn’t nail the fast-moving Spinks, either with his right-hand or his famed left jab. Even so, two of the three judges scored the fight even going into the last round. Holmes was the aggressor in those final three minutes, Spinks boxing warily on the retreat. Nevertheless, the officials thought the challenger had done enough and he got the decision.
Holmes was incandescent. He launched a blistering attack on the judges, and even accused some of boxing’s supremos of spiking his guns. In short, he felt he was robbed. When he had calmed down, Holmes accepted the decision philosophically, shrugged his shoulders and announced his retirement. That didn’t last long, however, and a rematch was set for April the following year.
The second fight almost had a feeling of deja vu about it. Spinks was certainly negative in the early stages, waiting for 36-year-old Holmes to tire before he started opening up. As a result, he didn’t really start scoring until the sixth. The champion did make up a lot of ground thereafter, but it was by no means one-way traffic in the second half of the fight. Holmes rocked the younger man in the ninth, 12th and 14th rounds. The latter was a terrific right which Spinks did well to recover from. Recover he did, and the two men fought a fairly even final round. Most observers thought it was close but that Holmes had done enough. Holmes himself had no doubt. ‘Michael boxed well but I beat the hell out of him.’ The judges saw it differently and gave Spinks the verdict. Holmes was left seething for the second time, once again espousing his conspiracy theories.
Holmes’s bitter railing should not be allowed to detract from Spinks’s achievements. Unlike his brother Leon, who turned to drugs, Michael was a superb athlete and a worthy champion. He had bulked up to 14st 41b for his fights against Holmes, 25lb over the light-heavyweight limit and a full two stones heavier than his last fight in the lower division.
After knocking out European champion Stefan Taangstaad, Spinks chose to fight Gerry Cooney. The contest was not sanctioned by the IBF, whose title Spinks had taken from Holmes. Like his brother before him, Michael was stripped of his crown.
In 1987, a new kid on the block by the name of Mike Tyson began hoovering up all the titles going. This included Spinks’ IBF title, which he took away from Tony Tucker in August that year. The press hailed Tyson as undisputed champion; purists believed he had no right to call himself that until he met Michael Spinks. The issue was to be decided one way or the other on 27 June, 1988. And it was decided in dramatic fashion.
Born: St. Louis, Missouri, USA. July 13 1956
Height: 6’ 2’ Weight: 200lbs
World Heavyweight Champion: 1985-1988
World Light Heavyweight Champion: 1981-1985
Olympic gold medal 1976
Won32(21KOs) Lost 1