George Foreman: Trademark smile was late boxing legend Leon Spinks’ ‘greatest gift’

George Foreman said Leon Spinks had “the greatest gift.’’

“The smile,’’ Foreman told USA TODAY Sports. “No one took that away from him.’’

After learning Spinks had died Friday night at the age of 67, Foreman recalled Spinks’ disposition captured by the boxer’s legendary smile — famously gap-toothed when Spinks upset Muhammad Ali in 1978.

Foreman, the Hall of Fame heavyweight boxer, pointed out that Spinks experienced difficulties, which included drug and alcohol abuse, financial problems and the murder of one of his sons.

Also, in the last five years of his life, Spinks was hospitalized multiple times with a variety of medical issues, including prostate cancer.

“I can’t even say he had a life of tragedy when in reality he had the greatest gift, the smile,’’ Foreman said. “He could have let (tragedy) be his story. But that was not his story at all.

“I was at the Boxing Hall of Fame and I said, ‘Wow.’ He was there and made everyone feel good about being there. Always willing to stop and give you a smile and not hold onto your ear. And especially not complain. Never any complaints.’’

Leon Spinks, seen here in 2001, died Friday night at age 67. (Photo: BEV HORNE, Associated Press)

Foreman also reflected on the buildup to the first fight between Ali, then 55-2, and Spinks, then 6-0-1, before they squared off Feb. 15, 1978.

“It was considered a mere joke,’’ Foreman said. “Why in the world would they put (Spinks) in the ring with Muhammad Ali with such a short boxing career?

“He beat the devil out of Muhammad, from pillar to post, even Muhammad was surprised.

“(Spinks) was legitimate, and he has his rightful place in the history of heavyweight boxers.’’

REWIND: Spinks fought cancer like an opponent in the ring

Leon Spinks, who in 1978 defeated Muhammad Ali to win the heavyweight world championship, is fighting prostate cancer that has spread to his bones.


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