Nicknamed "Jinx", which spawned the nickname of his right hand, "The Spinks Jinx", Spinks is the brother of former world heavyweight champion Leon Spinks, and uncle of Cory Spinks, a former welterweight and light middleweight champion.
After a successful amateur career, which culminated in his Olympic gold medal win, Spinks went undefeated in his first 31 professional fights, beating such opponents as Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Marvin Johnson and Eddie Davis en route to becoming the undisputed light heavyweight champion. Following ten successful title defenses, Spinks moved up to heavyweight, and as an underdog defeated long-reigning IBF heavyweight champion Larry Holmes; in doing so, Spinks became the first reigning light heavyweight world champion to win the heavyweight title. In his final fight, Spinks was knocked out by Mike Tyson in 91 seconds, the only defeat of his professional career.
Spinks has been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and the World Boxing Hall of Fame. The International Boxing Research Organization and BoxRec rank Spinks among the ten greatest light heavyweights of all time.
Spinks won the 1974 156-pound Golden Gloves Light Middleweight Championship by defeating Wilber Cameron in Denver, Colorado and then took the Silver Medal in the National AAU 165-pound Championship Competition in 1975, losing in three rounds to Tom Sullivan in Shreveport, Louisiana. He rebounded to take the 1976 National Golden Gloves Middleweight championship with a three-round victory over Lamont Kirkland in Miami, Florida, and that same year captured the United States Olympic Trials Middleweight Championship by defeating Keith Broom in Cincinnati, Ohio. He went on to defeat the Soviet Union's Rufat Riskiev to win the Gold Medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. Spinks finished with a 93-7 amateur record with 35 knockouts.
With the Olympics behind him, Spinks returned to work at a chemical factory in St. Louis, "scrubbing floors and cleaning toilets," as one source tells it. He had no big contracts awaiting him and, while Michael appeared to experts to be the more promising of the two brothers, Leon was at that time the big shooting star, a television staple of ABC Sports, on his way to a shot at heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. Michael had their mother to care for, and he was intent on helping Leon prepare for Ali. All of this pushed Michael's career to the back burner. It was Butch Lewis in 1977 who convinced Michael to turn professional.Compiled an amateur record of (93-7)
Won the 1974 Light Middleweight (156 lb.) National Golden Gloves Championship.
Won the 1976 Middleweight (165 lb.) National Golden Gloves Championship in Miami, Florida.
Won the Middleweight Gold Medal for the United States at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada. Results were:
Defeated Jean-Marie Emebe (Cameroon) forfeit
Defeated Ryszard Pasiewicz (Poland) points
Defeated Alec Năstac (Romania) forfeit
Defeated Rufat Riskiyev (Soviet Union) TKO 3
Made it to the finals of the 1975 National AAU, losing to Tommy Brooks
From Mt Scott Community Center in Portland, Oregon.
Spinks then turned professional with a win over Eddie Benson, knocked out in one round on April 17, 1977 in Las Vegas. Spinks began with that, a 31 fight winning streak that would almost extend to the end of his career. After four more wins, Spinks finished '77 with the first fight that began a gradual ascent in opposition quality: an eight-round decision over Gary Summerhays, a popular young boxer of the time.
In 1978, Spinks won two fights, including an eight-round decision over former world Middleweight title challenger Tom Bethea, in the same undercard where his brother Leon dethroned Ali as world Heavyweight champion in Las Vegas.
1979 saw Spinks get less than three minutes of boxing action inside a ring, with his only fight ending in a first round knockout of Marc Hans, but in 1980, Spinks took his ascent towards the top to another level, when he beat future IBF super-middleweight champion Murray Sutherland, David Conteh, and fringe contenders Ramon Ronquillo and Alvaro Yaqui Lopez (who challenged for a world title four times). Of his five wins that year, three came by knockout, Sutherland and Johnny Wilburn being the only ones who lasted the distance.
By 1981, Spinks was already a top ranked contender, and after beating former and future world light-heavyweight champion Marvin Johnson by a knockout in four rounds, the WBA made Spinks their number one challenger, and so, on July 18 of that year, he met WBA light-heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, once again in Las Vegas. Spinks dropped Mustafa Muhammad in round 12 and went on to become the WBA light heavyweight champion with a 15-round decision win. He defended the title once in '81, beating Vonzell Johnson by a knockout in seven.
1982 began with a knockout victory over Mustafa Wassaja. Spinks had become a superstar, at least in the boxing world. He began appearing on the covers of boxing magazines and boxing fans started clamoring for a unification fight with WBC champion Dwight Muhammad Qawi. Tragedy struck his life, however, when in January 1983, his 24-year-old wife, Sandy Massey, died in a car crash, leaving Spinks the single parent of his two-year-old daughter, Michelle.
Meanwhile, the fight all the fans wanted was being asked for by boxing critics and magazine editors, too. On March 18, two months after his wife's death, Spinks and Qawi met in a boxing ring for the undisputed light heavyweight championship. The fight was broadcast by HBO World Championship Boxing, and, according to the book The Ring: Boxing the 20th Century, Spinks had a very tough moment to overcome before it even started: His daughter asked him, while he was in his dressing room, if her mother would come to watch the fight. After breaking into tears he composed himself and dominated the fight with his jab and plenty of strategic hooks and crosses. He repeatedly stopped Qawi in his tracks over the first 11 rounds (Rounds 7 and 10 being his best), but cautiously waited for Qawi to come out of his crouched defense to resume his assault. Qawi's best moments were accidentally stepping on Spinks' foot in round eight (apparently this was officially scored a knockdown by the judges) and a few "too little, too late" bombs in round 14. The official scores of 144-140, 144-141 and 144-141 surely reflected a mis-scored rd. 8 "knockdown" as Spinks realistically only surrendered 2 possible rounds (1 and 14). He defended the title one more time before the end of the year, against Oscar Rivadeneira in Alaska, whom he beat by a ten-round knockout.
Spinks fought only once in 1984, retaining his crown with a twelve-round majority decision over Eddie Davis. He and Qawi were only a couple of weeks away from fighting a rematch in September of that year, but that fight got called off when Qawi was injured during training. Spinks also was recognized as IBF Light heavyweight champion in 1984.
In 1985, Spinks beat David Sears and Jim McDonald, both by knockout, in title defenses, before challenging Larry Holmes for the IBF and lineal heavyweight championship. Holmes was trying to tie Rocky Marciano's record of 49-0 as the heavyweight champion, but it was Spinks who made history that night, winning a controversial and narrow fifteen-round unanimous decision and becoming the first world light-heavyweight champion since Tommy Burns in 1908 to win the world heavyweight title. His controversial victory over Larry Holmes was named Ring Magazine Upset of the Year. With this, Michael and Leon had also become the first pair of brothers ever to be world heavyweight champions, followed two decades later by Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko.
In 1986, Spinks and Holmes fought a rematch, and had nearly the same result, this time Spinks winning by a 15-round split decision. After that, he retained the world heavyweight championship once again, by a knockout in four against Steffen Tangstad. In 1987 he was stripped of the crown by the IBF for refusing to fight their mandatory challenger, Tony Tucker, and accepting a higher offer to fight Gerry Cooney instead. Spinks knocked out Cooney in five rounds, and after Mike Tyson had unified the Heavyweight belts, fans started clamoring for a fight between them as many still recognized Spinks as the legitimate Lineal champion.
The fight between Spinks and Mike Tyson took place in June 1988, with Tyson knocking Spinks down twice on his way to a first-round knockout. Tyson was the only fighter to floor Spinks. It would be Spinks's first defeat in the professional ring, as well as his last, as he retired following the fight.
Spinks had a record of 31 wins and 1 loss, with 21 wins by knockout as a professional.
In addition to his success as a heavyweight, Spinks is generally considered one of the greatest light-heavyweight champions and fighters of all time. He was the only light-heavyweight champion to remain undefeated in the entire history of the division since its inception in 1903 (until Joe Calzaghe), as well as the only reigning light-heavyweight champion to win the heavyweight title.
The Ring Magazine in 2002 ranked Spinks as the third greatest light-heavyweight of all time, behind Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore, but ahead of Tommy Loughran, Bob Foster, Harold Johnson, Maxie Rosenbloom and Billy Conn. Furthermore, Spinks did what no other light-heavyweight champion was ever able to do: move up to win the world heavyweight championship, by decisioning IBF champion Larry Holmes in 1985.
On The Ring Magazine's list of 100 greatest punchers of all time, Spinks was ranked 42nd.
On The Ring Magazine's list of the 80 Best Fighters of the Last 80 Years, released in 2002, Spinks ranked 41st.
East Side Boxing said in its tribute to Spinks, "Michael Spinks went undefeated fighting during the deepest era in Light Heavyweight history. And he beat the real heavyweight champion to win the title, who was also undefeated. Michael Spinks is the most accomplished light heavyweight champion in history."
Spinks remains pretty much out of the public eye, although Ken Hissner reported that, "In October 2007 he was introduced into the ring at the Legendary Blue Horizon in Philadelphia. He seemed quite at home in the ring waving and talking to the fans."
Spinks is the rare top fighter who left the sport with both money and his health and never returned to the ring. Aside from a rare event honoring him and occasionally attending fights, Spinks has remained off the boxing scene and out of the public eye.
The former champion lives privately in a seven-bedroom house, not including the guest house, on a five-acre spread outside Wilmington, Delaware. However, he has been known for visiting schools—carrying his gold medal and four title belts—where he tells kids to pursue their dreams. "Most of the kids don't have a clue who I am," he says, "but they listen when they see all the gold."
For years he remained close to his former promoter, Butch Lewis, training fighters and making rare public appearances at events promoted by Lewis.
In 2011, however, after Lewis died from natural causes, it was reported that Spinks had sued Lewis's estate in a Delaware Chancery Court, alleging that the promoter had failed to properly manage more than $24 million Spinks had earned in the ring and had violated their agreements that Lewis would continue to manage Spinks's money and pay his living expenses for the rest of the boxer's life. The lawsuit alleged that he commingled his personal funds with Spinks's and used Spinks's money to pay his and his children's own personal and business expenses. Also name as a defendant was Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, head of the real estate firm of RLJ Development LLC, in Bethesda, Maryland, and one of the executors of Lewis's $8.5 million estate.
According to Spinks's lawyers, following Lewis's death Johnson and attorney Leonard Williams stopped the payments without telling him, which in turn caused Spinks' health insurance to lapse and bills totaling up to $50,000 a month to go unpaid. "Spinks had to invade his pension and retirement funds and incur significant taxes and penalties in order to meet these obligations," the boxer's lawyers added in the filings.
Spinks asked that the court bar Johnson and Williams from transferring any further assets from Lewis's estate until there can be a full accounting and payments to Spinks are resumed.