‘The important thing is leave with the title’ – Muhammad Ali after losing heavyweight title to Spinks in 1978

On February 15, 1978, a 24-year-old heavyweight boxer named Leon Spinks shocked the world when he pulled off an upset over Muhammad Ali in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Spinks, a former member of the US Marine Corps who had just seven pro fights at the time, found a way to last until the 15th round against “The Greatest.”

How did Spinks defeat Ali?

It was in that last round, that the 24-year-old pug landed a left-right to the head at the bell, sending Ali stumbling back to the corner as reported by the Associated Press back then.

As both boxers waited for the verdict, Art Lurie had it 143-142 in favor of Ali. However, the two others voted for Spinks. Howard Buck scored it 144-141 and Lou Tabat had it 145-140 for the 1976 Olympic gold winner.

The 36-year-old Ali seemed to be in control of the fight after 10 rounds. However, Spinks would not give up easily despite facing the champion 27 lbs lighter, with a shorter reach and years of experience. Spinks made that clear in the days before the actual fight.

“I’m in condition,” Spinks said. “I can go the whole 15 smokin’ – not like Joe Frazier but like Leon Spinks,” he added.

Ali being interviewed by WBAL-TV's Curt Anderson in Baltimore, 1978 | Wikimedia Commons - Marylandstater
Ali being interviewed by WBAL-TV’s Curt Anderson in Baltimore, 1978 | Wikimedia Commons – Marylandstater

After the decision was announced, Ali and his camp slowly exited the ring and toward the dressing room without the possession that the defeated boxer prized most of all.

“The important thing is leave with the title,” Ali stated.

Muhammad Ali’s payback, last boxing win

Ali and Spinks would meet again on September 15, 1978, with the former reclaiming the WBA and The Ring heavyweight titles. This feat made him the only boxer to win the heavyweight title three times.

However, little did most figure that would be the last official win of Ali’s storied boxing career. He initially announced his retirement on July 27, 1979, only to reveal that he would fight anew to face Larry Holmes for the WBC heavyweight title.

“The Easton Assassin” dominated Ali with the fight being stopped in the 10th round.

Ali’s last fight happened on December 11, 1981, against Trevor Berbick. The 1975 Pan American Games bronze medalist won via unanimous decision in what would be Muhammad Ali’s last professional boxing career fight.

Join the discussion