The day Muhammad Ali beat Leon Spinks in a 15-round rematch for a historic third heavyweight title
After one of the biggest upsets in the history of boxing, Muhammad Ali reclaimed his title
Ahead of his “Battle of New Orleans” fight against 1976 Olympic gold medalist Leon Spinks, it was hard to tell that Muhammad Ali had shockingly lost their previous bout, which was named The Ring magazine’s upset of the year.
“I want you to know I’m real serious for this fight,” Ali said. “Put your money on me. I cannot get no better.”
On Feb. 15, 1978, seven months before their fight at the Superdome, Ali and Spinks went head-to-head for the undisputed heavyweight championship in Las Vegas. Spinks, the 10-1 underdog, defeated Ali, making him the newest heavyweight champion. With only seven professional bouts on his résumé, Spinks became the only the second man to defeat Ali in a title match.
Spinks was later stripped of his heavyweight title because he refused to fight Ken Norton, the No. 1 contender.
Before the championship fight on Sept. 15, 1978, Ali didn’t lack an ounce of confidence. He made it seem as if his February loss was all a part of the plan. After all, Spinks, who was 11 years younger, was the rookie and Ali was the vet.
“Do you know if I beat him the first time, I wouldn’t of got no credit for it,” said Ali. “He only had seven fights … the kid was nothing … so I’m glad he won. It’s a perfect scene. You couldn’t write a better movie than this. This is it. Just what I need. Competition. Fighting odds. Can the old champ regain his title for a third time? Think of it. A third time. Do-or-die. And you know what makes me laugh? He’s the same guy. Only difference is he got eight fights now.”
In front of a record-breaking 63,350 spectators, which included former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier singing the national anthem and celebs such as Sylvester Stallone and Liza Minnelli sitting ringside, Ali, 36, beat Spinks, 25, in a unanimous (11-4, 10-4, 10-4) 15-round win. Ali was penalized by referee Lucien Joubert in the fifth round for holding, but he dominated the match overall.
When he reclaimed the title, Ali made history by becoming the first man to win the heavyweight championship three times.
After the fight, Ali retired from boxing in 1979 — for the first time. In his comeback to the sport, Ali lost fights on Oct. 2, 1980, against former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes and on Dec. 11, 1981, against Trevor Berbick before he hung up his gloves for good, making the Sept. 15, 1978, rematch the last significant win of his boxing career.
Ali retired with a record of 56 wins, 37 of those by knockouts, and five losses.