World champ Spinks celebrated 30 years after Tyson loss
By KEVIN TRESOLINI
Jul. 14, 2018
WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — One of Delaware's sporting icons continues to live a quiet life out of the public eye.
But 30 years ago last month, Michael Spinks was among the nation's — and world's — most familiar sports figures.
He made a hasty exit on June 27, 1988, when his heavyweight title fight with Mike Tyson ended in 91 seconds at Atlantic City Convention Hall.
It was Spinks' last match and his only professional loss in 32 bouts. By then, the scope of his talent was evident in that Spinks was an Olympic gold medalist as a middleweight, then won pro world titles as a light heavyweight and heavyweight before his matchup with Tyson, which was meant to unify the heavyweight crown.
"I thought I had gone as far as I could have went in professional boxing," Spinks said the night June 29 of his fight career. "I thought I did as much as I can do. I thought that was enough."
David Wooley felt that career and the anniversary of Spinks' farewell fight needed to be celebrated. That made Celebrations on Market, a Wilmington bar and restaurant on South Market Street, the perfectly titled venue.
"Michael is still very vibrant and still very active in the community and abroad," said Wooley. "This is the 30th anniversary of the Tyson-Spinks fight ... 30 years later you have a champion who is still alive to talk about that. Oftentimes these historical moments pass us without ever being recognized. So I took it upon myself to say, 'Thank you, Mike. This is a moment for you.' I wanted to make sure this didn't go by without notice."
Wooley, who teaches business at Wilmington University, had promoted and produced a closed-circuit TV showing of the fight at Brandywine Raceway, the harness horse-racing track then located on Naamans Road near its intersection with U.S. 202. It attracted more than 6,000 fans, showing what a big deal boxing was then.
No wonder. The fight grossed $70 million, the richest up to that time, with Tyson earning $20 million and Spinks $13.5 million.
It provided a nice retirement nest egg for Spinks, who had settled in Greenville in 1985 to be near his Delaware-based promoter and manager Butch Lewis, who died in 2011. Family, including his three grown children and several grandchildren, have long been at the center of that life.
Spink was just 31 when his career ended. He'll turn 62 on July 13.
"I never wanted to climb back up a ladder, to start over and try to get back up to that level," Spinks said. "... You don't want to get beat up. You've gotta train pretty hard."
The 6-foot-2 Spinks appeared fit and trim while dressed in black pants and a black short-sleeve shirt and wearing a black hat as he walked into the restaurant to the thumping beat of Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It."
He later posed for pictures and signed autographs as about 100 attended the event.
"Delaware's got a nice little historical community in sports and we have to celebrate people like that," said Newark resident Ed Smith, pointing out that Spinks was a predecessor to modern-day stars such as basketball's Elena Delle Donne and Donte DiVincenzo.
Among those gathered were longtime fans who remembered his career well and some who'd seen him fight and relished the workmanlike, efficient style Spinks took to the ring.
"I always thought he was the best," said Malone Harmon. "That was a classic era of boxing, with many good fighters. He was scrappy, talented."
Spinks had been the undisputed light heavyweight champ when he challenged unbeaten Larry Holmes for the IBF heavyweight title in 1985. Spinks won a close, but unanimous, 15-round decision to become the first light heavyweight champ to move up and capture a heavyweight title belt.
He won a split decision in a rematch, and soon afterward fight fans yearned for a matchup with Tyson, though Spinks had been stripped of that IBF title for not fighting the foe, Tony Tucker, that the organization wanted him to.
Sugar Billups had seen many of Spinks' fights while serving as Lewis' office manager, often marveling at his diligence and desire. Of those wins over Holmes, Billups said, "Michael was smarter. He outboxed Larry Holmes."
Tyson arrived in Atlantic City 34-0 with his reputation as a savage puncher already known. He threw 23 punches in those brief 91 seconds, flooring Spinks for the first time in his pro career with a left uppercut and, after Spinks rose, returning him to the canvas with a vicious left to the chin for his 31st career knockout.
"I still really believe Michael could have beaten him (if he'd avoided the early blow)," Billups said. "He really had a chance. It was like when Tyson fought Buster Douglas (his first loss in 1990, a 10th-round knockout). It can happen."
"I didn't want to lose, but Mike was packing a big punch at the time," Spinks said.
After the fight, Spinks told reporters he was just going to "go home, take some time off and relax."
He's been doing that ever since.
"I think people should look at him as a humble giant, as a humble spirit, as a person who, outside of the ring, is so gentle, such a loving person and he walked out on his terms," Wooley said. "That's a legacy in itself, that he walked out the front door, and we should honor that and respect him. That's a hero. That's an icon."
Getting out of the fight game when he did helped preserve and protect Spinks' health. Unlike some former boxers, Spinks speaks quite clearly, engages easily and, observed Billups, "He looks good."
"I feel really good," Spinks said.
The sport he left behind, however, has faded considerably from the public's consciousness.
"The talent is not there as it was when I coming up," Spinks, a St. Louis native, said. "There's a lackluster view of boxers. I think there are still a lot of boxing fans but the talent is not what we used to see. You've got the MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) and a lot of that other stuff so it just draws them to that."
When he gets out in public in Delaware, Spinks said, people still recognize him, 30 years after he stepped out of the spotlight for good.
"I think they still know I'm around," he said.
Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., http://www.delawareonline.com