By: Sean Crose
Ever know someone who, no matter what you do, always brings up your worst moments from the past? You can win the Nobel Peace Prize, but this person will see – and present you – as the person you were at your lowest point. It seems many fight fans view Michael Spinks that way. In a career that spanned over a decade, one that saw the man reach the pinnacle of success, these people recall Spinks for something that took less than two minutes to unfold. It’s unfortunate – and unfair. If you’re a person of a certain age who only remembers Spinks as the guy who got knocked out by Mike Tyson in their 1988 heavyweight superfight, sit back and prepare to take a clarifying trip through time.
Before that, though, let’s start with that fateful June night. In my opinion, the Tyson that slipped through the ropes to enter the ring at the Atlantic City Convention Center that evening could have beaten any previous or post heavyweight champion. I’m talking all of them, from Sullivan to Fury. It was Tyson’s night, the absolute zenith of his career. Dempsey and Liston were never more frightening. Ali and Louis were never more determined. In that brief flash of a moment, Mike Tyson was the greatest heavyweight to ever live. He would never attain such a height again. Once Spinks was counted out in that first round, Tyson would return to being great after momentarily being the greatest.
But Tyson isn’t the focus here. Spinks is. And the most important thing to keep in mind about Spinks is that he was only a heavyweight for a handful of years. The majority of the man’s career was spent at light heavyweight, where he dominated the division through one of its greatest eras. Names like Archie Moore, Harry Greb, Gene Tunney, Roy Jones Jr and many others have shined at light heavyweight and Spinks ranks right up with the best of them. It’s even been argued that in his prime Spinks may have been the greatest light heavyweight ever.
After winning Olympic Gold as part of the heralded American team of 1976, Spinks turned pro in 1977 and worked his way through a series of warriors and future Hall of Famers, ultimately becoming the light heavyweight division’s undisputed champion in 1983. Fighting in an awkward style and possessing thunderous power through a right hand shot known as the “Spinks Jinx,” the fighter from Saint Louis topped the likes of Yaqui Lopez, Marvin Johnson, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, and Dwight Muhammad Qawi –top level competition all. By the time Spinks went on to best Larry Holmes for the heavyweight crown in 1985, he had earned a record of 27-0.
Coupled with the fact that Spinks held the lineal heavyweight title for close to three years before the Tyson bout, it’s hard to imagine why the man hasn’t gotten the respect he clearly deserves. Although it could be argued Holmes was aging when he lost twice to Spinks and that Gerry Cooney, who Spinks bested in ’87, was also well past his prime, there’s no doubt Spinks’ overall ring career was phenomenal. Spinks was the first light heavyweight champ to take the heavyweight crown – and was able to walk away from the sport at thirty having bested at least four future Hall of Famers.
It’s time to give credit where it’s due.