Boxing News Week 2 February 2021: RIP LEon Spinks

The boxing world was silenced by the death of Leon Spinks this past Friday as the champion succumbed to his five year fight with cancer. Leon is best known for defeating Muhammad Ali in 1978 in only his eighth professional bout. The twenty-four year-old’s meteoric rise fell as quickly as it rose with a defeat in their rematch just seven months later. The young former champion was able to battle back into title contention and got his second and final title shot at heavyweight when he faced Larry Holmes in Detroit for Larry’s tenth title defense. Spinks was beaten in three rounds and his career ultimately saw highs and lows with a failed cruiserweight title bid in 1986 followed by a 1-7-1 skid until 1988. Spinks fought on until 1995 and finished his career 26-17-3 and having faced all times greats, hall of famers, and world champions. He shared the ring with Ali, Holmes, Jersey’s own Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Gerrie Coetzee, Carlos DeLeon, Randall Cobb, and Scott LeDoux. In addition, he is a 1976 Olympic Gold Medalist, a former Marine, first pair of brothers to hold the heavyweight championship after his brother defeated Larry Holmes, had Mr. T as his bodyguard, is the father of Cory Spinks who was an undisputed welterweight champion and has been inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame. He is also greatly known for his lifestyle after winning the title, he was arrested two months after the Ali victory and faced felony possession of cocaine, misdemeanor possession of marijuana and two driving offenses. He was never able to relive the magic of the great upset in February of 1978 but is a memorable figure none the less.

Opinion: Leon Spinks has always been a fascinating character given his what could have been ending. Fans today still argue about whether he was pushed along too soon and succumbed to the fame and never truly developed as a professional. Other fans feel he came along at the perfect time with Muhammad Ali past his best and right before the emergence of Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson. Unfortunately, Ali and Spinks fought twice but it feels like the two were not both at their best when they shared the ring. In the first fight Spinks was motivated and well conditioned and won a swarming fifteen round decision over a lackluster Ali who appeared to be waiting for Spinks to tire so he could pounce. In the rematch Spinks had gone through the legal proceedings of his arrest and was clearly living a fast party lifestyle and Ali went back to vintage form. Ali danced on his toes in the New Orleans Superdome thrilling the crowd who had not been accustomed to a mobile Ali in quite some time. Could Spinks have kept it together over the long haul had he not gotten everything at such a young age and had to stay hungry? Could he have been champion and reigned longer had he developed against journeymen and contenders rather than be sent out into the deep waters of world level professional boxing in less than ten fights? We don’t know of course but it leaves many with questions of what could have been. Spinks certainly lived an interesting life and should be remembered for a great moment in the sport.

The Deontay Wilder loss to Tyson Fury fallout continues as we approach the one year anniversary of the anticipated rematch at heavyweight. Wilder was stopped in the seventh round when the towel was thrown in by Mark Breland to signal the end of the contest. Wilder was cornered by Tyson Fury and had taken punishment from the opening round. Wilder was angry in the aftermath of the stoppage and after rumors of Breland’s impending firing the trainer was eventually let go. Wilder had remained silent for a time as the rematch clause sat collecting dust when Wilder finally opened up about the loss. To put it bluntly, Wilder did not take the loss well and came out with a myriad of excuses. I don’t want to dwell much on them because I don’t want to lend credence to the accusations and conspiracy theory level stuff he has said. In short he accused Fury’s team of putting weights in his gloves and removing padding in his gloves and said that Breland had spiked his water during the fight. Breland sat silent until recently when he decided to fire back during an interview with The Fight is Right and did not hold back despite a history of not being outspoken. In his retort he criticized Wilder for having weak opposition, never learning to jab properly, only having power, not hitting the speed bag or jumping rope and blamed Wilder’s close confidant Jay Deas for watching the hand wrapping and glove procedures and mocked Deas for not knowing enough about boxing to catch cheating even if they were. Wilder came back in a 78 Sports TV interview and stated that others were telling him to fire Breland sooner but he had remained loyal. He doubled down on the spiked water accusation and promised to be back stronger despite Breland saying he is finished. At the moment Wilder nor Breland seem to be on track to new things. I have not seen any high profile hiring for Breland and Wilder is on the outside looking in as Fury and Anthony Joshua seem destined to meet in May and Wilder has nothing lined up as Alexander Povetkin, Dillian Whyte, Joe Joyce, Joseph Parker, Oleksandr Usyk and the other main contenders are tied up or making negotiations for other fights.

Opinion: I know it is easy to just come out and shit all over Wilder for his bizarre accusations and poor sportsmanlike behavior but I think some of this fallout is a bad look for Breland too. Yes Mark was unfairly slandered and he has a right to defend himself but the shots he took at Wilder comeback to him as a trainer. Breland trained Wilder for a decade or so and if Wilder “doesn’t jab, doesn’t hit the bag, doesn’t hit the speed bag, doesn’t jump rope”, and is all power then doesn’t that fall on the trainer? I think it does and he has culpability in lack of development of Wilder. I’d like to see these two men shake hands and move on and I would like Breland to find another marquee guy to train and Wilder to get some redemption after his crazy fall from grace. Furthermore, the stoppage was well justified and the fight could have been stopped sooner.

Quick Hits:

*Canelo Alvarez tells ESPN that he wants to unify 168 lbs. in 2021 with Saunders in May and Plant in the fall to secure all four championship titles and be the first to fully unify the division in the four title era. He also declared he will fight three times in 2021 and possibly four depending on how things play out which would put him in an unbelievable five bouts in twelve months. That sort of activity is unheard of in a modern day champion let alone one of the highest earners in boxing. This will put Golovkin in the background and we will see what path he takes now that his biggest fight is being pushed off. This also freezes out David Benavidez from the title picture as well as it is unlikely that Haymon will put him anywhere near Plant with the big fight as a possibility.

*Manny Pacquiao continues to search for opponents and the list has included Conor McGregor, Floyd Mayweather, Mikey Garcia, and Ryan Garcia. During this time he has not defended he WBA title he won from Keith Thurman and has been stripped of his title and put in “champion in recess status” which means he can face the new champion immediately upon his return. Cuban Yordenis Ugas has been elevated to champion status. While Manny has paid his dues as a fighter he was holding up the title picture. Ugas is the WBA champion and though his title lacks clout his status makes him an interesting target for Errol Spence to unify titles with as both are on PBC. As a fan of Ugas I am happy to see his hard work pay off and would be excited to see him get a crack at Spence

*Eddie Hearn announced Demetrius Andrade will defend his WBO Middleweight Title against Welsh fighter Liam Williams in the US. Andrade has struggled to attract name fighters to share the ring with him despite a push from HBO earlier in his career and a deal with DAZN while GGG, Alvarez and Saunders were all on the streaming service. This fight will not be met with much fanfare and does little to raise Andrade’s stock, it is a great chance for Williams to make a name for himself.

*According to Boxingscene Oscar De La Hoya has been approved for a boxing license. I don’t want to spend much time on this, I know “celebrity boxing” and high profile exhibitions are trending but I don’t have much interest here.

*Jessica McCaskill scored a major upset in 2020 of Cecilia Braekhus by preventing her from successfully reaching twenty-five consecutive title defenses and winning the undisputed welterweight championship. She meets Braekhus March 13th in an immediate rematch and has been the center of a lot of attention since the victory. McCaskill was featured by Sports Illustrated boxing writer Chris Mannix in a DAZN interview laying out some of her options. McCaskill has her sights set on three potential fights: Katie Taylor in a rematch of their lightweight contest that Taylor won by decision in a chance for Taylor to win a second undisputed distinction, Claressa Shields who is headlining an all women’s pay-per-view card in Michigan in a fight where she would again have to move up in weight, and finally a cross over fight with MMA legend Cris Cyborg. I like that McCaskill is looking at taking big fights and isn’t sitting on her title and taking soft defenses but I do worry she is over looking Braekhus. Their first fight was very close with one judge scoring the fight a draw and different outlets scoring for Braekhus. Statistically McCaskill threw 230 more punches but was out landed 85-84, I don’t like to quote statistics as gospel but McCaskill was fortunate to get the decision against a long reigning champion in a close fight. Despite her new found fame McCaskill needs to make sure she wins this fight first. Women’s boxing is at an interesting moment right now as the best fighters are unifying titles, displaying interest in changing weights to make marquee match ups and grow the popularity of the sport.

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