Many people will glance at this headline and automatically think this is a no-brainer! Spinks was destroyed in 91 seconds by Mike Tyson, so he has to have been the greater fighter, right? I would say to those people, not so fast! Michael Spinks was an all-time Great Light Heavyweight Champion, and a case can be made that he is the greatest of all time. Tyson had a short, brilliant prime that flamed out because of his stupidity, i.e. letting Don King promote his fights. So, let’s look at these two legends’ careers more closely.
As an amateur, Tyson won gold medals at the 1981 and 1982 Junior Olympic Games, defeating Joe Cortez in 1981 and beating Kelton Brown in 1982. Brown’s corner threw in the towel in the first round. In 1984 Tyson won the gold medal at the Nation Golden Gloves held in New York, beating Jonathan Littles. He fought Henry Tillman twice as an amateur, losing both bouts by decision. The defeats against Tillman cost Tyson a spot on that legendary 1984 United States Olympic Boxing team, and make no mistake, Tyson lost those two fights. Many people try to make a bit of revisionist history, but Tyson lost two of the three rounds in each fight against Tillman. There was no shame in that, as Tillman had the perfect style to be an outstanding amateur boxer.
Spinks defeated Wilber Cameron to win the 1974 156-pound Golden Gloves Light Middleweight Championship. He then won the Silver Medal in 1976’s National AAU 165-pound Championship Competition, defeating Tom Sullivan in Shreveport. In 1976, he took the National Golden Gloves Middleweight Championship with a three-round win over Lamont Kirkland in Miami. The same year, he also captured the United States Olympic Trials Middleweight Championship, defeating Keith Broom in Cincinnati. Spinks benefited from a favorable draw at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. He was only required to fight two opponents to win the gold medal for the middleweight division, thanks to a bye and two wins by walkover. In the final, he defeated the Soviet Union’s Rufat Riskiyev.
Their amateur career quickly goes to Michael Spinks; he won Gold in 1976 and was a part of one of the greatest Olympic boxing teams of all time.
Spinks then turned professional with a win over Eddie Benson, knocking him out in one round on April 17, 1977, in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, Spink’s career took a back seat to his brother Leon who upset Muhammad Ali to become the world’s Heavyweight champion. Spinks fought sparingly in 1977, 1978 and 1979 as he put his own career aside to help his brother Leon. In 1979 Spinks only fought one round during the entire year. 1980 saw the rise of Michael Spinks, and it was a meteoric rise.
Spinks beat future IBF super-middleweight champion Murray Sutherland, David Conteh, and fringe contenders Ramon Ronquillo and the tough Alvaro Yaqui Lopez (who challenged for a world title four times). The Lopez win got people’s attention as Lopez was an excellent fighter with a great beard, and Spinks, after struggling for the first few rounds, destroyed Lopez.
Spinks became the number one challenger after knocking out the excellent Marvin Johnson in the fourth round; much like the Lopez fight, the win over Marvin Johnson got people’s attention because of the knockout of the durable Johnson. That led to his title clash with champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. Spinks showed his power by dropping Muhammad in the 12th round and dominating the fight, winning an easy decision. Check out the top new sportsbooks for betting on boxing.
Tragedy struck Spinks in January 1983; his 24-year-old wife, Sandy Massey, died in a car crash, leaving Spinks the single parent of his two-year-old daughter, Michelle. The unification fight with Dwight Muhammad Qawi was set for two months later.
On March 18, two months after his wife’s death, Spinks and Qawi met in a boxing ring for the undisputed light heavyweight championship. This fight was one of the biggest in the storied history of the Light Heavyweight championship. Spinks controlled the action and beat Qawi behind a stiff jab and by ring generalship.
In 1984 Spinks defended his title just once against Eddie Davis, Spinks made the decision, but the fight could have gone either way, and many ringside observers thought Davis deserved the decision. A rematch with Qawi was scheduled, but an injury to Qawi delayed the rematch. Was Spinks starting to slip?
In 1985 Spinks quickly handled David Sears and Jim Macdonald. The Macdonald fight was on June 6. Just three months later, Spinks would Challange the undefeated Heavyweight Champion Larry Holmes in a contest few gave him a shot at winning. Spinks put on over twenty pounds in just three months to fight Holmes.
The Holmes fight was Spinks shining moment; Spinks outworked and outboxed the Champion Holmes to win a close but just decision. Michael Spinks became the first Light Heavyweight Champion to win the Heavyweight Championship.
He defended the title against the non-descript Steffan Tangstad and then beat the much bigger Gerry Cooney, stopping Cooney in five rounds. Then you had the unfortunate fight with Mike Tyson.
Tyson turned pro in 1985 and won his first fifteen fights against journeymen until he increased the completion. The increase in the competition saw devastating knockouts of Marvis Frazier and Jesse Ferguson. Tyson was nationally known early in his career because of the work of Jimmy Jacobs and Bill Cayton, who masterfully guided the young phenom’s career. Cus D’amato died early in Tyson’s Pro career. Tyson struggled with the cagey former title contender James Tillis and Mitch Green, who both took Tyson the distance. Tyson got a shot at the alphabet champion Trevor Berbick in late 1986. Tyson easily defeated Berbick; from there, the entire world knew who the ferocious fighter was.
Tyson unified titles by beating Bonecrusher Smith and finally Tony Tucker; both men took Tyson the distance. Still, Michael Spinks loomed as the Lineal Heavyweight Champion, and in 1988 Tyson would fight Spinks once and for all to settle who the real champion was. Tyson was trained at that time by Kevin Rooney, and his title defenses over Tyrell Biggs, Larry Holmes, and Tony Tubbs were all quick and destructive knockouts. Tyson became the man after knocking out Spinks in the first round and seemed destined for greatness.
By 1990 Rooney was gone as Tyson’s trainer, and his promoter was now Don King; you had the Robin Givens mess, and things outside of the ring seemed to be falling apart for Tyson. Then early in 1990, it fell apart inside the ring as the unknown James Buster Douglas soundly beat Tyson. Tyson would win two tough fights against the rugged Razor Ruddock before finding himself in legal trouble.
Tyson was accused of rape by Desiree Washington and would end up spending three years in jail. Upon his return, he was matched with Peter Mcneely, who he would dispatch in less than two minutes. Tyson would reclaim a portion of his title with a win over the petrified Frank Bruno and then grabbed another piece of the belt when he would stop Bruce Seldon in the first round, and it was questionable if the KO blow even landed.
Evander Holyfield was considered old and washed up by then, and he was a considerable underdog against Tyson. Sadly for Tyson, Holyfield was not washed up, and Tyson took a massive beating from the underdog Holyfield. Tyson decided to take the easy way out in the rematch by being disqualified for biting Holyfield; I guess Tyson figured it was better to be disqualified than be knocked out. The rest of Tyson’s career was a mess, and for the most part, it was nobody but Tyson’s fault.
This one is easy; this decision goes to Spinks. Spinks dominated the Light Heavyweight division for over a decade and pulled one of the biggest upsets in Heavyweight history by beating Larry Holmes. Spinks fought and defeated the more challenging competition.
Tyson fans will repeat the mantra that if Cus had lived, Tyson would have been unbeatable. Those people are clowns and need to open their eyes. Tyson was mentally weak, and Spinks wasn’t. Just two months after his wife died, Remember Spinks fought and won one of the biggest Light Heavyweight fights of all time! Spinks was tougher than Tyson mentally. Spinks was at the end of the road when they fought, and by then, the size difference was too much to overcome. While I think at any point in their careers that Tyson would win, I also know that Spinks was a Light Heavyweight, and he was undoubtedly one of the five greatest of all time. Nobody thinks Tyson was top 5 unless they are just a Tyson fanboy.
Spinks takes intangibles; hell, most guys will cancel a fight if they have a hang nail nowadays; Spinks fought two months after his wife died and won the contest. Tyson never came off the canvas to win and was not good at overcoming obstacles. His fans consider his prime from 1986 to 1989; in 1990, he was 24 when losing to the journeyman Buster Douglas. To me, the fact that losing Cus, Rooney, Cayton, and Jacobs was a perfect time to show that he was an all-time great, and he came up far short. All those men warned him about Don King, but he still went with King. That shows a character flaw in and of itself. In all actuality, Cus may have hurt Tyson long-term by letting Tyson do as he pleased; he never learned about consequences and never learned to take responsibility for himself.
To me, this can’t be questioned as Spinks is an all-time great and Tyson wasted a ton of talent. Spinks dominated a loaded Light Heavyweight division for over half a decade, and he never ducked anybody while doing it. Spinks moved up and did something nobody had ever done, and while it is true that a prime Tyson easily defeated Spinks, it is also true that a Prime Spinks was at Light heavyweight around 1982, not as a heavyweight six years later. Very sad that when most people think of Spinks career, they think of his unfortunate loss to Tyson. Outside of the ring, Spinks carried himself with class, and he got less recognition than many fighters because he didn’t run his mouth and didn’t showboat. In short, Michael Spinks was everything a champion is supposed to be.
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