Muhammad Ali reclaims heavyweight title from Leon Spinks

In February 1978, Ali lost the heavweight title to 1976 Olympics Champion Leon Spinks.

On September 15, 1978, Ali fought a rematch in the New Orleans Louisiana Superdome against Spinks for the WBA version of the Heavyweight title, winning it for a record third time.

Venue: Superdrome, New Orleans. 15th September, 1978.

Muhammad Ali was hurt by his loss to Spinks. Although gracious in defeat he admitted that he was lousy. Now the promoters, managers and sanctioning bodies that had for so long bow to the will of Herbert Muhammad were in a position to freeze Ali out.

The boxing public wanted a rematch. Spinks was stripped of the WBC belt when he refused to face Ken Norton instead of Ali. The WBC belt would then be disputed between Ken Norton and Larry Holmes, promoted by Don King.

Spinks and his manage held firm an signed to fight Ali for the WBA belt and linear championship. Muhammad Ali had given Lewis his start in the game and Lewis was keen to return the favor.

While Ali trained to regain his title, Lewis had his work cut out controlling the new champion. Spinks was arrested for possession of cocaine and kept breaking training camp.

The though of ali becoming the first man to win the Heavyweight Championship three times really caught the public imagination and 64,000 fans packed into the Superdome to see the contest.

Ali ignored the ropes and grabbed the center of the ring although his timing was slightly off. By round five he began to find his range and tee off on Spinks. Spinks countered by rolling from the waist to try and avoid Ali's scoring jabs. When this failed Spinks would charge at Ali who simply grabbed hold of Spinks until the referee broke them.

Ali controlled the fight. The fight was a slow one, devoid of thrills and Ali gave Spinks a lesson in ring craft. As the last rounds went by, the emotion of the fight began to take over. History was at hand. Ali took a clear decision and the title for the third time.

Nine months later Muhammad Ali announced his retirement from boxing.

September 15, 1978

In the years after taking back his heavyweight title from George Foreman in Zaire, Muhammad Ali fought some serious opponents (Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers) and some less dangerous ones (Jean-Pierre Coopman, Richard Dunn, Alfredo Evangelista). Leon Spinks was supposed to be one of the latter, an Olympic light-heavyweight gold medalist who had just seven professional fights. But Spinks pursued Ali tirelessly, and won a split decision in Las Vegas in February 1978. The rematch would be seven months later, in New Orleans.

On this date, before a huge crowd at the Superdome and a national television audience, Ali out-danced, out-boxed, and outsmarted Spinks, looking more like a master giving a lesson than a challenger taking on a champion. Ali won a unanimous decision, making him the first man to win the heavyweight title three times. Had he stopped then as he intended, with a kiss and a wave to the cameras, Ali might display a very different face to the world today. Instead, he had two more, ill-advised fights, both losses: in October 1980 against Larry Holmes, and in December 1981 against Trevor Berbick. Holmes battered his hero for ten unhappy rounds, doing immeasurable damage to the 38-year-old Ali; ten rounds with the much younger Berbick didn’t help either. But on one last night, thirty-one years ago this week, Ali turned back the clock, leading Howard Cosell at ringside to recite the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.”