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Feb 15, 1978: World stands still as Ali takes the floor
- Updated: February 15, 2017
On February 15, 1978, Muhammad Ali lost his world heavyweight championship crown by a split decision to Leon Spinks in the glitzy Las Vegas.
Leon Spinks was the definite underdog with the bookmakers’ odds stacked 8-1 against him, but he proved more than a match for three-time champ Ali, took him over the distance and administered a shockingly proficient beating as well.
Showing no respect for Ali, who was a decade older than him and far more experienced, he controlled nearly the entire match and further burnished his pugilistic cred at the expense of ‘The Greatest’.
The location was the Las Vegas Hilton Sports Pavilion with 5,298 in attendance and millions more around the world hungrily clustered around their TV and radios sets.
Most were expecting a proper spanking of the uppity upstart, but instead came away impressed with his skills.
From the start, he took the lead and never let go of it. Ali tried to wear down his opponent, to let him tire himself and then finish him off. It failed to work as Spinks seemed to have a bottomless well of energy, skill and determination on which to draw from.
By the fourth round, the mighty Ali was spitting up blood from the merciless beating he was receiving and adminstering comparatively little in return.
From the seventh round, Ali tried to rally, but his opponent was clearly superior. By the latter stages, all he could do was try not to collapse from fatigue.
Said Ali after the battle, “I’m still the draw. The people in the world are still with me. We have the chance to go another time. I can’t believe I’m finished.
“In the first four rounds my strategy was bad,” he said. “It worked with people like Frazier, Foreman and Norton but not with Spinks.
“I figured he’d go, but he didn’t. He kept getting stronger. Next time I’ll have to come out on my toes and do my thing. Next time I’ll have to do better.
“He had a lot of energy and he just kept coming. He didn’t hurt me as much as Frazier, Foreman or Shavers but I couldn’t have lost to a better man. He’s a better fighter than Norton and he hit me harder than I thought.
“I couldn’t catch him up and pass him. I thought I won some rounds but then I fell back again and got a little tired.
“If I can’t get it next time I’ll just have to say: ‘I’m finally all washed up’ but I can’t believe I’m finished.
“Floyd Patterson won the heavyweight title twice but I’m going for the impossible by winning it three times.”