Updated: Jul 10, 2020
The Oxford English dictionary defines undisputed as being something that everyone agrees on or with. In the case of Michael Spinks, his boxing career took him to that level of greatness only reserved for the very few, being crowned the undisputed light heavyweight champion. Many of Michael’s nights he can remember fondly, though there remains one which continues to live in infamy.
Given issues of time differentiation and unreliable WIFI connectivity, the conversation with Michael started out pretty bumpily. However, once the conversation got going it was evident how much Michael enjoys discussing his boxing career, despite the fact that since he retired in 1988, he must have discussed it hundreds of times.
Michael Spinks made his first stamp in boxing back in the 1976 Olympic games in Montreal, Canada as part of a star-studded team which featured his brother Leon, and a name that would go on to create history in the sport: Sugar Ray Leonard.
It was not the expectation that Michael would walk away with a medal, despite him having a well accomplished amateur record which saw him win the golden gloves tournaments at super welterweight and middleweight in 1974 & 1976. He would face some tough European opposition, but went on to whitewash his opponents with ease and ultimately walked away with a gold medal. Having been part of such a successful Olympics, both for him and the USA, I wanted to find out what it was really like to have been part of such historic games:
“The Olympics was a great experience. It made it even better that I was a part of that team with my brother Leon, who also won a gold medal, but for me, all I wanted to do was just make the team, and I actually never thought about winning a gold medal. As I progressed through the tournament it did not really dawn on me on the magnitude of where I was at until I got to the final and a teammate said, “In your next fight its either a gold or a silver,” and at that point I felt well why can I not win a gold. I want to win a gold”
In this current generation, the majority of fighters that go to the Olympics tend to immediately turn professional - with the lure of a big-money deal from a major promoter waiting for them - but some decide to stick it out in the amateur scene for a while longer, competing in further tournaments whilst waiting for that lucrative offer. When Michael Spinks returned from Montreal, a hero alongside his brother, there was no big-money offer on the table initially, and whilst his brother did turn professional, it took Michael a year and a convincing chat with Butch Lewis (who was Leon’s manager at the time) to actually make that decision. And it was in-between the time that it took from winning a gold medal at the Olympics to turning professional, that Michael actually ended up taking a steady job at his local factory to make ends meet.
“I took a job instead of turning professional. I actually did not want to turn professional because of the business side of the sport and how fighters were always being ripped off of their money. So I was just content with taking a job and making money that way, but then before I knew it Butch Lewis turned up wanting to sign me up and I had to go away and really think about it. Once I had consulted with my brother, who was already a professional at this point, I then decided to turn professional myself.”
During our conversation, I really wanted to find out about his legendary light heavyweight campaign, as he had fought some tough fighters who were either former world champions, future world champions or the nearly men of the sport – those who had been unsuccessful in their attempts. The first name that came up was Yaqui Lopez, who at the time had a record of 49-10 and had lost twice to Victor Galindez for the WBA title and twice to Matthew Saad Muhammad, who was the WBC king for a little while in this highly competitive division.
“The fight with Yaqui was pretty tough for a while, It took me a few rounds to really get going, but when I did, that is when you see the step up in level, and getting the win really helped me along in what was a pretty tough division at the time. Guys like Marvin Johnson, Murray Sutherland, those fights really helped me to prepare for the fights that I was heading for.”
Michael’s first taste of glory was in 1981 when at twenty-four years old, and only sixteen fights into his career, he beat Eddie Mustafa Muhammad 38-5-1 (32KOs) to capture the WBA light heavyweight title and thus start a run in the division that has yet to be matched even today. Five defences of the title later and he then came up against a fighter with whom he had previously shared the ring within numerous sparring sessions, the man who was the current WBC champion, Dwight Muhammad Qawi 19-1-1 (12KOs). What made this bout even more significant was the fact that the winner would be crowned the unified light heavyweight champion.
“Before I fought Qawi, I actually use