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Marine boxing teammate says Leon Spinks 'brought a lot of joy' to Camp Lejeune community

Pvt. Leon Spinks, top row, second from left, graduating from boot camp with Platoon 3090 at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Dec. 12, 1973.

U.S. MARINE CORPS

By TREVOR DUNNELL | The Daily News | Published: February 10, 2021

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Hall of Famer, boxing heavyweight champion, Olympic gold medalist, Marine.

The resume of Leon Spinks goes well beyond those four accomplishments, but each one has a unique story for how those experiences formed him into the man many in Onslow County and around the world admired.

His last fight came to an end on Friday when he died at the age of 67 from complications with prostate cancer. In January 2020, he announced the cancer took a turn for the worse as it spread to his bladder. Spinks was originally diagnosed in May 2019 and later that year, in November, he was told he only had two more weeks to live.

Spinks battled for another year and two months, refusing to go down.

Before he became a champion among many other things, Spinks first had to fight his way out of poverty, stricken by asthma as a child and dropping out of high school in order to join the Marine Corps in 1973 at the age of 20. When he joined the All-Marine boxing team after being stationed at Camp Lejeune, Spinks became a well-known character around Jacksonville.

After being inducted into the Jacksonville-Onslow Sports Hall of Fame in 2018, Spinks described Jacksonville as "his second home." A statement Mike Cline, chairman of the All-Marine Boxing Hall of Fame seconded by adding "he really liked the Camp Lejeune area and the town of Jacksonville.

Cline was teammates with Spinks on the All-Marine Corps Boxing Team.

"He brought a lot of joy to the community here as a Marine Corps boxer. This is a big boxing community and a lot of people liked to see him in the ring. When he won that gold medal in '76 it made everyone proud, especially here, because Camp Lejeune was his home," Cline added.

Cline compiled Spinks' achievements which range from 1976 Olympic gold medal winner to World Boxing Council Heavyweight Champion of the World, All Marine Champion, Armed Forces Champion and United States National Champion. Before his gold medal performance, Spinks had fought 135 amateur bouts.

Once he returned from the Olympics in Montreal, Spinks set his sights on professional boxing. He only fought seven professional fights before squaring off with "The People's Champ". By then, Muhammad Ali had fought against the likes of Joe Frazier and George Foreman. It was said Ali expected an easy fight, but Spinks had other ideas.

On Feb. 15, 1978, Spinks surprisingly outmaneuvering Ali and to some, laid an absolute beating on arguably the greatest boxer of all time. He took Ali the distance and won on points, becoming the world's heavyweight champion. 212 days later, Ali got the rematch he wanted, exacting his revenge to regain his title. Spinks again took Ali the distance but Ali took the title back by unanimous decision.

"He shocked the world, he was like the eye of the tiger. He was so aggressive and always stayed on top of Ali and he knew what he had to do to win that fight. He was a hard knock dude and the salt of the earth as far boxing was concerned," said Cline boasted of Spinks' victory.

Spinks professional career ended in 1995 with an official record of 26-17-3, knocking out 14 fighters along the way.

Over the years, Spinks has been inducted into many hall of fames. In Onslow, he joined the inaugural All-Marine Boxing Alumni Hall of Fame in 2016 as well was the JOSHF in 2018. In the middle of those inductions, Spinks was also honored with the induction into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame. His brother, Michael Spinks, was also inducted as part of the 2017 class.

His name will forever sit beside those such as Evander Holyfield, Oscar De La Hoya, Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson and many others.

"Leon was a true believer in Christ and he loved his faith. He loved his wife (Brenda) who was by his side 24/7. That smile he had is so infectious when people saw it and he had more grace than anyone I know," added Cline.

tdunnell@jdnews.com

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