Leon Spinks: A joke with no punch line

October 24, 1994|By PHIL JACKMAN

Maybe Leon Spinks was absent from practice that day, the day they discussed what boxing is all about. Here's the situation:

The ex-heavyweight and Olympic champion, the gent who beat up on the legendary Muhammad Ali (perhaps a tad under-trained) in only his eighth pro fight, was placed atop a fight card at the Washington Convention Center the other night. Name recognition, that's what the promoters were hoping would put a good-sized gathering in the seats.

Leon showed up all right, but it's certainly in order to ask: For what?

They clanged the bell for the first round and, out of the corner opposite the one occupied by Spinks, came this chap named John Carlo, a late substitute of unknown quality.

He had a boxing glove on each hand and Carlo certainly knew what was going on if Leon didn't. It was the left glove of his opponent Spinks got hit by, thrown in hook fashion to start the action, and Leon decided it was time to kiss the canvas.

"He caught me off guard," Leon was to say later, not bothering to explain what it was he was expecting from a man coming at him with gloves on in a boxing ring.

Spinks jumped to his feet, but here came Carlo again and the cad hit Leon a couple more times. Carlo then stepped back politely, allowing Spinks to fall. Which he did. The fight was halted after just 69 seconds.

"He should retire," said promoter Cleveland Burgess, sagely. "We tried to give him a chance, but I thought he'd have a little more fight in him than that."

Actually, there is very little reason why Burgess or anyone else should expect anything at all from Leon. Certainly not since a stretch of 10 fights when Spinks lost eight and drew one, getting knocked out four times, three in succession. That was between early 1986 and mid-1988.

But, then as we all know, boxing works in strange and mysterious ways. Even before Spinks had turned in this mystical performance, he was penciled in for a fight against Peter McNeeley Nov. 11 in the Boston area.

McNeeley, recall, is the lad they're trying to rush up the World Boxing Council ratings ladder so he can qualify for a fight against champ Oliver McCall, who's keeping the title warm until Mike Tyson alights from prison in six months.

Magically, McNeeley jumped 11 places (from 22 to 11) in the rankings by posting a 62-second knockout victory over J.B. Williamson, who, ringsiders say, offered absolutely no resistance while crumbling to the mat three times.

The benevolent promoter Burgess added that "anytime a guy of his stature loses to a no-name, it's sad."

Stature means level of attainment worthy of esteem and Leon certainly reached high when he won a split decision from Ali Feb. 15, 1978. Perhaps Muhammad had overdone his celebrating the day before, Valentine's Day. In any case, that was more than 16 1/2 years ago, and it isn't as if Leon has been keeping his nose to the grindstone since.

Even with the unified title, things did not go smoothly for Spinks, the WBC stripping him of its belt in little more than a month for refusing to fight Ken Norton. Three months later, Norton lost the WBC title to Larry Holmes, but Ali was soon back at the top of the heap by decisioning Spinks over 15 rounds for the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation titles.

While knockout losses to Gerrie Coetzee and Holmes over the next two years didn't add to his "stature," Leon did win a couple of fights before the North American Boxing Federation cruiserweight crown fell in his lap. In his next fight, though, that was gone when he was starched by Carlos DeLeon and that was nearly a dozen years ago.

And if Cleveland Burgess wants to talk about John Carlo being an unknown with his 13-2 record -- John's 33 and obviously a late bloomer -- how about Jim Ashard, Angelo Musone and Ladisloa Mijangos, who pummeled Leon even before the '90s started?

The promotion got what it wanted, a couple of newspaper stories about Spinks, mostly explaining how bridgework had eliminated the famed monstrous gap between his front teeth. Can it be qualified as a gap if two teeth or missing?

"Oh yeah, I saw Leon Spinks fight once," fight fans will be saying to their grandsons well into the next century. "He didn't even throw a punch, much less land one."

Bad as the show was, it qualifies as somewhat of a success when compared with the so-called "High Noon in Hong Kong" fiasco. The pay-per-view show pitted World Boxing Organization heavyweight champ Herbie Hide against Tommy Morrison with Ray Mercer taking on Frank Bruno in support, but it was called when more than half the fighters noted that not one cent had shown up in an escrow account the day before the show.

Hey, how 'bout a Leon Spinks-J.B. Williamson bout? They sound about even. The world awaits.

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