The Fighting Metaphysician

By Pete Ehrmann on January 27, 2014
The Fighting Metaphysician
Wilder’s record was 2-33-1 going into his 1993 fight with Leon Spinks in Davenport, Iowa.

“Everybody has a level where they’re at their best. As long as you reach your level, it doesn’t really matter if you lose…”

With one caveat, I give four stars to One Punch from the Promised Land: Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, and the Myth of the Heavyweight Title. The double biography by John Flores and Ouisie Shapiro, published by Lyons Press, is a well researched and compelling look at the lives and careers of the only brothers adorned with the heavyweight championship belt.

There are jaw-dropping details about the drug and alcohol abuse that kicked into high gear after Leon won the title in his eighth pro fight and that was responsible for his freefall into ignominy afterwards. “By the late 1980s no legitimate promoter would touch Leon,” write the authors. The other kind did, though, and when Spinks wasn’t wrestling or kickboxing he was trading whacks with no-names and no-hopers on the tank-town circuit.

It was widely considered the nadir of Leon’s career when he lost a 10-round decision to James Wilder on February 20, 1993. “Perhaps the single most embarrassing fight for any former heavyweight champion,” said David E. Finger in his book “Rocky Lives!,” citing Wilder’s record of 2-33-1 going into his fight with Spinks in Davenport, Iowa.

You know who was as dismayed about that fight as anybody? The guy who won it.

Most boxers in James Wilder’s position would parade around for the rest of their lives in a sandwich board proclaiming I BEAT THE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD! But when I interviewed him 20 or so years ago, Wilder didn’t revel in the memory of his upset victory over the 1976 Olympic gold medalist who dethroned Muhammad Ali two years later for the undisputed title.

In fact, he was downright glum about it.

“Leon has a lot of personal problems, and I felt like I was adding to his misery,” said Wilder, sounding more like the social worker he was outside the ropes.

Winning and losing were actually immaterial to the Milwaukee boxer. “I stopped counting after 20,” said Wilder of his defeats. “It didn’t matter anymore. When I’m in the ring battling an opponent, it feels like I’m most happy and at peace with myself.”

And: “Everybody has a level where they’re at their best. As long as you reach your level, it doesn’t really matter if you lose.”

After beating Spinks, the fighting metaphysician lost 19 fights in a row and retired in 1998 with a record of 3-53-1.

“Another perpetual loser” write Flores and Shapiro of Wilder. As I once heard Huntz Hall declare with his trademark comical hauteur in his “Bowery Boys” guise as Horace DeBussy (Sach) Jones:

“How provincial!”

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  1. Eric 02:56pm, 01/28/2014

    Spinks looked pretty good beating the much bigger Bernardo Mercado in 1980 and didn’t too badly against Holmes in the first two rounds of their title bout. The guy was rushed too quickly but he was blessed in that he earned millions before he even had a dozen professional fights. Hindsight is always 20/20 and I’m sure Leon has wished countless times that he would’ve been a tad more frugal with the millions he accumulated in that brief period of time.

  2. Ted 07:04pm, 01/27/2014

    Great book. Great book indeed.

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