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This Date in Sports September 15, 1978: Ali's Last Hurrah

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Muhammad Ali is once again the heavyweight champion of the world, winning a unanimous decision over Leon Spinks at the Louisiana Superdome. It is an unprecedented third title reign for Ali, who lost the belt to Spinks seven months earlier in a shocking split decision in Las Vegas. With the win, Ali improved his career record to 56-3; it would be the final win of his career.

Leon Spinks was July 11, 1953, in St. Louis. A longtime amateur, who won a Gold Medal at the Montreal Olympics, Spinks turned professional and quickly became a top contender in the heavyweight division. After just seven fights, one of which ended in a draw, he was given a chance at the heavyweight championship.

The decision to give Spinks a shot at the title was controversial and would lead to the WBC Championship vacating as they insisted that Ken Norton fight Ali. However, Muhammad Ali had already fought Norton three times, winning a unanimous decision on September 28, 1976, and did not want to fight him again. The first fight against Leon Spinks took place on February 15, 1978, at the Las Vegas Hilton. Spinks entered as a 10-1 underdog. The fight saw a lackluster version of Muhammad Ali, who at the age of 36 was being to show the physical toll of a long career, with many bruising bouts, including the “Thrilla in Manilla” in 1975, when Ali and Joe Frazier fought to the nearly to the brink of death. Without his trademark speed, Muhammad Ali was an easy target for Leon Spinks, who controlled the action. The fight would go the distance, ending with a split decision. Spinks won on two judges’ scorecards, 145-140 and 144-141, while Ali won 143-142 on the other.

After the WBC title was vacated, Leon Spinks defended the WBA and lineal heavyweight championship against Muhammad Ali in a rematch seven months to the date at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. Ali had first won the heavyweight title against Sonny Liston in 1964 and had his first reign ended when he was suspended due to refusal to accept military service. He would win his second title reign by beating George Foreman in 1974’s “Rumble in the Jungle.” Seeking to become the first three-time heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali came into the rematch with Leon Spinks better prepared and was in better condition. From the start, Ali frustrated the champion with a series of jabs. Unlike the first fight, when he was sluggish and slow, Ali was quick and agile. However, while he could still fly like a butterfly, the fight against Frazier had taken away much of Ali’s sting. Instead of pummeling Spinks, Ali used a series of jabs and was in control most of the night. When it was over, the judges unanimously agreed the Muhammad Ali was the winner, with scores of 11-4, 10-4, and 10-4.

After winning the heavyweight title for the third time, it seemed that Muhammad Ali was ready to hang up the gloves announcing his retirement in 1979. However, he came out of retirement a year later and fought Larry Holmes, seeking a fourth title reign. The fight was forgettable and regrettable, as Ali had begun to feel the effects of Parkinson’s disease and was beaten badly by his former sparring partner. Muhammad Ali would fight again a year later, losing to Trevor Berbick in the final fight of his career, making the win over Leon Spinks the final win of his legendary career.