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And the boxing world has new life. Some said it could never be done. They said the champion would never lose his crown on a decision. They said you had to knock out the champ to take the title. But Leon Spinks proved all the skeptics wrong.
With a split decision in the Las Vegas Hilton, Spinks fulfilled his dream last night, winning the Heavyweight Championship of the World by defeating The Greatest, Muhammad Ali. But more than a personal victory, Spinks' win represents a belated Valentine's Day present to the boxing world.
For too long now, Ali has sat atop the boxing world playing rope-a-dope with unworthy opponents and carrying second-rate fighters through 15 rounds. The pattern was a tiring one and the heavyweight ranks needed some shaking up. Leon Spinks provided that dynamic force.
Now boxing has a new outlook, and Ali will be back with a fresh approach. Don't think boxing's greatest is all done, because even at age 36, the former champ said after the fight, "I want to be the third man to regain the title."
And that's right where Ali is now. He has no more worries about running from Ken Norton. He doesn't have to go looking for Alfredo Evangelistas to play around with. The rematch is just waiting, the big purse is guaranteed: Muhammad Ali will be back and he will have to fight for real if he is again to find success.
For Ali, the loss marks an end to a downhill slide which has left a blemish on his career of late. Now Ali can begin again, and though many supporters would prefer that he retire, you can bet that the former champ will be back. Ali would never end his career as a loser--it's not his style.
For Spinks, the win marks the long-awaited knockout of Ali's no-fight fighting. Spinks came out like a hungry tiger, flashing his sparsely-toothed grin continuously. He patted Ali on the behind after each round and stared the champ down with his own incredulous looks. But most of all he punched, and he scored early, wiping out Ali's late-round comeback attempts.
For seven rounds, Spinks made the fight go while Ali played bystander. Then Ali scored in the middle rounds, working an especially-strong right-left combination through rounds nine, 10 and 11. Ali danced, Spinks punched, and when it came down to the wire, Spinks had more.
So now, there's a new champ with a 7-0-1 record and a very vulnerable future. The former marine, the kid who grew up as a TV boxer, the Olympic gold-medalist, and the kid they all said should never have had the shot--he's the champ.
All that means that now there's real life in the heavyweight ring. All those hungry challengers will be eager to get Spinks, and he'll be the spunky, determined, Cinderella champ.
One can only wonder if Leon Spinks realizes how much his win has really done for his sport.
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