A Legacy vs. 91 Seconds

By Ted Sares on November 19, 2013
A Legacy vs. 91 Seconds
Now does one loss, no matter how devastating, erase an otherwise perfect ledger?


Rising out of the disaster that was the Pruitt-Igoe housing development in St. Louis, Olympic gold medalist Michael Spinks hit the pro road running. In only his sixth bout, he beat tough and capable Gary Summerhays (28-12) in 1980, after which he won five fights against tough opposition including Johnny Wilburn, Ramon Ranquello, Murray Sutherland, and Yaqui Lopez. Attesting to Summerhays’s toughness, he knocked out Tony Mundine four months after his UD defeat to Spinks.

1981 was the St, Louis native’s breakthrough year when he KO’d rugged Marvin Johnson and then won a 15-round decision against crafty Eddie Mustafa Muhammad for the WBA light heavyweight title in Las Vegas. That win marked the beginning of his dominance in the light heavyweight division. Spinks defended his crown ten times against all the leading contenders including Vonzell Johnson, Mustafa Wasajia (conqueror of Bob Foster), future Hall of Famer Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Eddie Davis, and Sutherland again. This was the era of the Great Light Heavyweights and Spinks was the best of the lot. A fight between Matthew Saad Muhammad and Michael say in early 1981 would have been a dream matchup, but it was never made. By the time Spinks was in full stride, “Miracle Matthew” had run out of miracles and was on a fast downward slide having been beat up badly twice by Qawi (whom Spinks would beat in 1983).

Tragedy struck in January 1983, however, when Spinks’ wife, Sandy Massey, died in a car crash, leaving him the sole parent of his two-year-old daughter, Michelle.

In June 1985, Michael crushed undefeated Jim MacDonald (16-0-1) with four knockdowns in three rounds in an awesome demonstration of his powerful overhand right known as the “Spinks Jinx.” Skipping the cruiserweight division entirely, he then stepped up to heavyweight and challenged undefeated Larry Holmes (48-0) who was closing in on Rocky Marciano’s record of 49-0. Spink shocked the boxing world as he pulled off the upset of the year with a UD win on September 21, 1985 and became the IBF heavyweight champion of the world, thereby accomplishing something that eluded two other great light heavyweights—Bob Foster and Archie Moore. Spinks became the first reigning light heavyweight champion to win the heavyweight title

Seven months later the two met again and this time Spinks eked out a SD that was hotly protested by Holmes and many observers. The scores were 144-141, 144-142, and 141-144 and generated a number of memorable responses from Holmes. Spinks then beat Norwegian Steffen Tangstad by TKO and Gerry Cooney with a surprisingly savage fifth round stoppage, a clear sign that he had carried his power to the heavier division.

On June 27, 1988, Spinks met a prime Mike Tyson in Atlantic City with all three title belts at stake. The super-hyped fight lasted 91 seconds as Tyson blasted an overly tentative and seemingly intimidated Spinks into oblivion, and then into retirement with a 31-1 record. A right to the body felled Spinks seconds into the fight. Then a Tyson right uppercut ended matters. Michael Spinks was knocked out in less time than it took to sing the National Anthem, but he earned $13.5 million for his pains, more than half his career earnings. “Guess I fought a pretty dumb fight,” Spinks said, “trying to slug with a slugger.”

Now does one loss, no matter how devastating, erase an otherwise perfect ledger? I think not and that’s why Michael Spinks rates high in my estimation based on his level of opposition, his dominance, and his ability to become the heavyweight champion.

On Ring Magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Punchers of All Time, Spinks was ranked 42. On The Ring’s list of the 80 Best Fighters of the Last 80 Years, released in 2002, Spinks ranked 41. He was inducted into the IBHOF in 1994, just six years after his last fight.

Unlike most, Spinks left boxing with both his money and his health and never returned. Aside from a rare event honoring him and occasionally attending fights, Spinks has remained off the boxing scene and out of the public eye. However, he reportedly is involved in litigation against the estate of his former promoter Butch Lewis over the manner in which his ring earnings were managed.

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  1. jan labij 06:15am, 01/31/2015

    I really admire Michael Spinks.  Not only as a boxer, not only a two division champion, but as a man.  I never saw him act as other than a gentleman, in a profession where that’s a rarity.  Yes, he was over-matched against Tyson, but who wasn’t in those days.  Remember, Mikael is the only champion light heavie to become champion in the heavy weight division in modern times. He didn’t just become heavyweight champion, he successfully defended his title several times.

  2. Jack 11:29am, 11/21/2013

    Great article Ted and I agree. I would have liked to seen him matched up with the top light heavies of the seventies in their prime, wins over them would have enhanced his overall rating. The guys he did face from that era, had slipped quite a bit from their peak ( no fault of his own, just timing ). I have 2 Michael Spinks stories. The Spinks brothers came to Philly to live and train after the Olympics. They would attend the local fight venues for PR purposes, I met them at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby on a number of occasions. Michael was a good guy and always trying to look out for Leon. I have always been torn whether Michael actually won either fight against Holmes, but when it came time to fight Tyson, there was no question in my mind who would win. I had a friend who would bet 10’s of thousands of dollars on a fight, this is what I told him: The first solid combination that Tyson lands, ( whether it is 30, 60, 90 or 120 seconds into the 1st round ), Michael Spinks will get knocked out!!!! I can’t remember what prop bet he made, but the next time I saw him, he gave me an envelope with 10K in it.

  3. Ted 05:56pm, 11/20/2013

    Eric. Yep

  4. Eric 02:37pm, 11/20/2013

    Yaqui Lopez, Mustafa Muhammad, Marvin Johnson, and Dwight Qawi, that’s quite an impressive list of opponents that Spinks defeated at 175lbs. I would put that list up against any of Archie Moore or Bob Foster’s list of opponents anytime.

  5. Ted 10:20am, 11/20/2013

    Not me

  6. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 10:00am, 11/20/2013

    Ted Sares-Guess what….you really can smell fear….even through the television screen….Spinks could have made it up and beat the count…what for….when he was so plainly relieved that it happened so fast without prolonging the agony. Which reminds me….does anyone here really believe that Ortiz’s behavior in the Mayweather fight was anything other than his quirky ass, pseudo macho way of quitting.

  7. Ted 09:30am, 11/20/2013

    Mike. 100% agreement.

  8. Mike Casey 08:09am, 11/20/2013

    The Tyson blitz has never blurred my rating of Mike Spinks as a top quality light heavyweight champion. And Mike WAS a light heavyweight who over-achieved quite admirably when he invaded the heavyweights. The Tyson affair was Liston and Patterson all over again. I don’t think Spinks ever believed he could win that one. And if memory serves, not to many people predicted he would. Say what you will about Iron Mike with the benefit of hindsight, but he was scaring the pants off everyone at his peak.

  9. Ted 07:57am, 11/20/2013

    Thanks gents

  10. Pete The Sneak 07:22am, 11/20/2013

    Mike’s Legacy as a Great Light Heavyweight most certainly overide his 91 Second Heavyweight loss to Tyson. It was what it was. A pre-Buster Douglas Tyson was a monster and could intimidate the skin off a snake at the time. Those 91 seconds are only a blip to an otherwise marvelous career…Nice write up Toro…Peace.

  11. Djata Bumpus 06:28am, 11/20/2013

    Thanks for this Ted…Mike and I were tight for many years after I retired…Many of the guys that you mentioned I knew personally…In fact, Mike, Dwight Qawi (Braxton), and myself had our lockers right next to each other, at Joe Frazier’s Gym, for a couple of years, and saw each other everyday…The last time that I saw him was in ‘86, when a party was held for boxers at a nightclub in Philly…James Schuler was there too…James died a month later, after being killed by a reckless truck driver on a motorcycle that he bought days earlier, after losing to Hearns..A lot of memories…Again, thanks!

  12. Monte Cox 05:55am, 11/20/2013

    Mike Spinks was 11-0 in title fights at 175 pounds against tough competition. Spinks did beat Holmes legit in their first fight. Spinks was better and more accomplished than Bob Foster IMHO. Highly underrated he should be considered an elite all time top 10 light-heavyweight champion. Although Michael would have lost to the Patterson and Marciano that Archie Moore fought I do not think Moore would have beaten the Holmes that he beat and probably not the large power hitting Cooney either although he would have a chance in that one.

  13. Tex Hassler 07:25pm, 11/19/2013

    Michael Spinks was a great light heavy champion and nothing can take that away from him.  I personally did not think he beat Holmes in the first fight but I was not an offical judge. Spinks was and is an asset to boxing for that he will be remembered. Spinks was unfortunate enough to fight Mike Tyson at Tyson’s very peak.

  14. Ted 06:22pm, 11/19/2013

    I agree Don.

    Kid, I assume that was not a Freudian slip?

  15. Don from Prov 06:21pm, 11/19/2013

    Losing to an agile, hostile, and mobile HEAVYWEIGHT who was pretty much

    born to eat up a smaller boxer/puncher who fought like Spinks = nada.
    Mike Spinks was a GREAT light heavyweight, IMO.

  16. kid vegas 06:08pm, 11/19/2013

    He looked like he was scared shitless against Tyson, but that should not discount what otherwise was a super career,.

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