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Leon Spinks, boxing champion known for defeating Muhammad Ali, dies in Las Vegas

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Former World Heavyweight Champion Leon Spinks, Jr. Leon Spinks with the USMC Gold Medal (The Firm PR)

After a five-year battle with cancer, 67-year-old Leon Spinks, Jr. died in Las Vegas on Friday, family reports.

According to a release sent out on behalf of his wife, Brenda Glur Spinks, on Saturday, Leon died with his wife Brenda and a few close friends at his side.

"Leon fought his battle with numerous illnesses resiliently, never losing his trademark smile," the release said. "Showing true Spinks determination, he never threw in the towel."

Spinks, who served in the United States Marine Corps and won the Gold Medal for boxing in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, is most famous for becoming the undisputed World Heavyweight Boxing champion after defeating Muhammed Ali in 1978. Weighing 25 pounds less than Ali, Spinks faced him at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas, winning the title by a split decision.

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While Spinks would later lose the title to Ali, it was the defining moment of his career and cemented him in boxing history.

"Leon lived his life outside of the ring as a true hero and loyal friend to so many in the boxing world, including former opponents and peers, such as Ken Norton, Muhammad Ali and Ray Leonard, Jr," Brenda said in the release.

Spinks was born in St. Louis Missouri in 1953 and moved to Las Vegas in 2011, where he would marry Brenda.

Brenda states that COVID-19 restrictions meant that only a small number of people could be at Spinks' side when he died, but spoke fondly about how the local Las Vegas community celebrated his accomplishments.

"Leon built a life defined by the incredible strength and will to match," said the release. "He was a supreme and powerful athlete; but he was also a loving husband to his wife Brenda, loving father and stepfather to his sons. He was a devoted grandfather and a friend to those who knew him."