Michael Spinks Interview - From Olympic Boxing Champ to Rocking the Pro Scene! By Ken Hissner (May 27, 2010) Doghouse Boxing
Michael Spinks was the 1976 Olympic champ on possibly the greatest Olympic team the USA has ever produced. Spinks would go on to win both the light heavyweight and heavyweight championships in the pro ranks. He will always be known as the first light heavyweight champion to win the heavyweight title and the man who stopped Larry Holmes win streak at 48! His brother Leon was also an Olympic champ on the same 1976 team. He would also go on to defeat a legend in Muhammad Ali for the world title. Together they were known as the Spinks Jinx!
Spinks amateur record was 93-7, winning National Golden Glove titles in 1974 and 1976, topping it off winning the Gold medal at the 1976 Olympics in his100th fight.
Spinks got a bye in the first round of the Olympics in Montreal.
In the second round he fought Ryszard Pasiewicz (POL). “He was pretty rugged you know, squared off shoulders. I had a tough time with him, for a minute. Than I figured him out, then I kinda put it to him. In the second round a right sent him flying,” said Spinks.
“Despite drawing a bye in the third round we continued to train. Coach Sarge Johnson and Pat Nappi made sure we got our running in. I tried to get away without running one day and Sarge took me to the window and showed me the top of a mountain and said see yourself on the top. I had to run anyway,” said Spinks.
Spinks would get his third “pass” winning in the semi-final by walk over. “In the gold medal round I meet Rufat Riskiev (Russia) who I lost to several months earlier. He was the reigning world champ. He was tough. It was the first time I was knocked down as an amateur, over in Russia. Oh man, I couldn’t believe he was there. I went down and did ten push-ups. He outhustled me in Russia,” said Spinks. “I was going to keep punching until I got him out of there (I was just seeking to make the team). At that time in my life I was seeking better opportunities. I figured when I came home I cold get a better job than I had) Riuskiev was trying to say I hit him below the belt but the referee saw everything. I hit him with a good body shot and he quit in the corner. He beat me in Russia and I beat him in Montreal,” said Spinks.
Pertaining to the aftermath in Montreal, Spinks was in another world. “I don’t even know if I was there. I was just elated and happy. I was just glad that I beat him back. I always wanted to win with my brother Leon. Once he learned how to fight he got over that fear after his first bout and was knocking everybody out in St. Louis. I paid a good price for that. I got beat by gang’s and different people whose friends Leon beat. They would ask me are you Leon’s brother? Then slap me on the face. They taught me well, by beating me up and I learned how to fight.
Pertaining to turning pro Spinks like teammates Ray Leonard and Chuck Walker was not planning on turning professional. I didn’t want to turn pro right away. I didn’t think I would make it as a pro. Maybe the Lord meant for me to do this and cash in on the gold medal. It stands alone for me. It was the beginning and of course I had my brother Leon with me,” said Spinks.
Here are some thoughts on Spinks by his teammates. “Michael was laid back,” said Davey Armstrong, 2-time Olympian. “Michael Spinks was a leader type,” said Leo Randolph. Himself a Gold medalist and former WBA Super bantamweight champion. That was two different views of Spinks, from two boxers from the greater northwest. “Michael was very quiet but a good friend. We both had to lose weight for the trials and would run together,” said Charles Mooney. He was a Silver medalist and only member not to turn pro making the Army a career. “Michael Spinks was quiet. Kept to himself,” said Howard Davis. He was a Gold medalist and winner of Val Barker award. “Michael Spinks was very quiet,” said Louis Curtis. Former 1975 AAU champion and Pan Am Games Bronze medalist Chuck Walker had this to say about Spinks. “We were friends, but we never had occasion to hang together while lot. We weren’t as tight as with some of the rest of the guys. With Michael at 165 and me at 156 we would spar together. As far as the sparring, it was pretty much nip and tuck and it was as rugged as it could be. I was kind of the flashy one and he was the nuts and bolts guy and we had some spirited sessions.”
Spinks turned pro in 1977 and in his 2nd fight defeated Luis Rodriguez who would later become Larry Holmes public relation man. The fight was in his hometown of St. Louis. In his 12th fight he defeated Murray Sutherland, 18-3, future IBF super middleweight champ in 1980 by a decision in 10. Sutherland was the first tough man champion to ever win a world title.
Two fights later he was put in with then unbeaten Yaqui Lopez, 10-0, who was everyone’s nightmare. He was able to stop him in the 7th round. He would stop Marvin Johnson, 27-4, who had lost his WBA light heavyweight title the year before. Next up in 1981 was his title fight with Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, 38-5-1, who had defeated Johnson for his title. He was a very good boxer. After winning the title he defeated Vonzell Johnson, 22-2, in his 1st title defense.
In 1983 he faced the WBC champion, Dwight “The Camden Buzzsaw” Qawi Muhammad (Braxton), 19-1-1, in a unification bout. He was very short but very tough. Spinks won a decision 9-6. In 1984 he added the IBF title to his WBA and WBC titles defeating Eddie Davis. In 1985 he challenged heavyweight champion Larry Holmes, 48-0, who was about to tie Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 record that still stands to this day. Instead of Holmes giving Spinks credit for his win he “blamed” Marciano saying “Marciano couldn’t wear my jock strap”! First of all who would want to wear it? Maybe Holmes should have worn it a little higher, like over his mouth. This writer had Spinks winning 8-7 in rounds.
The rematch in 1986 with Holmes was even closer with Spinks retaining the title. It ended in a split decision. This writer had Holmes winning 9-6 in rounds. In 1987 he fought big Gerry Cooney, 28-1, whom he stopped in 5. It was close for 4 rounds before referee Frank Cappuccino stopped the fight. “I waited 2 ½ years for this fight to happen. Living the life I was at the time I wasn’t the fighter I once was. I stopped drinking after that fight,” said Cooney. One year prior to the Spinks fight was Cooney’s last fight. It was the only fight he had in 2 ½ years prior to meeting Spinks. The judges all had different scores making it even after 4 rounds. Spinks landed over a dozen punches finally dropping Cooney whose right eye was closing. He would beat the count but it was just a matter of time in the 5th and final round.
In Spinks final fight it was one he would probably like to forget, though it was probably his biggest pay day. His record was 31-0 and Mike Tyson’s was 34-0. It was over in 1:31 of the 1st round. Spinks looked defeated during his entrance to the ring. Talking to the referee of that fight, Frank Cappuccino, he disagreed with me on the entrance. “Michael always had the same look when he came in the ring. I may have done half a dozen of his fights. He tried to mix it with Tyson and went down from a punch to the liver. Tyson was like Joe Louis. He only needed six inches to take you out. When Michael got up he got hit again and went down. His eyes rolled to the back of his head and I knew he was done,” said Cappuccino. Spinks was mixing it up as best he could instead of boxing Tyson. He was hit with a left uppercut followed by a right to the body and down he went. He beat the count and as Tyson came toward him, Spinks threw a weak right hand that fell short while Tyson’s right hand was on the button dropping Spinks a second time. Trying to get to his feet, Spinks fell face forward through the ropes. It would mark his first defeat and first time being knocked off his feet as a professional. It would be the last time Spinks would fight. It was June of 1988, one month before his 32nd birthday.
Today Spinks lives in Delaware along with his manager Butch Lewis. Bernard Hopkins is also a resident of that area. Spinks is not the out going person his brother Leon is. He is more laid back. In October of 2007 he was introduced into the ring at the Legendary Blue Horizon in Philadelphia. He seemed quite at home in the ring waving and talking to the fans.
It was November of 2008 I gave Spinks a three ring binder with stories on eight of his 1976 teammates I had written. I had questions printed out for him and my phone number. I tried prior to this going through his manager Butch Lewis at his office and residence with no avail. By stepping up into the heavyweight division financially it was a boost to his income. By leaving the light heavyweight division, he was certainly shortened his career.
The Spinks brothers are like night and day. The one time I met Leon in New York he had that big smile and I had to hug the guy. Michael on the other hand is laid back and not as outgoing. One thing for sure the Spink Jinx rocked the boxing world the night Michael Spinks upset Larry “The Easton Assassin” Holmes.
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