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One Punch from the Promised Land: Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, And The Myth Of The Heavyweight Title Hardcover – September 3, 2013
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Pruitt-Igoe was a housing project in north St. Louis; a terrible place overrun with gangs, drugs, violence, and despair, it was demolished in the mid-seventies. Two young men who escaped Pruitt-Igoe were Michael and Leon Spinks, who found a haven in a local boxing gym and eventually became the first brothers to become heavyweight champions. Though Michael and Leon shared an affinity for boxing, the two were very different. Leon was a drinker and loved to party. Boxing great George Foreman once said Leon couldn’t box but was the greatest street fighter he’d ever seen. Michael, on the other hand, was serious, disciplined, and self-contained. He became the light heavyweight champion and successfully defended his crown 10 times before wrestling the heavyweight crown from previously undefeated Larry Holmes. After losing the title to Mike Tyson, he retired from boxing and has since lived a quiet, semireclusive life. Leon upset Muhammad Ali early in his career for his heavyweight title, but, after that, it was all downhill, financially and physically. The authors cover the brothers’ careers in revealing detail. An excellent read for boxing fans. --Wes Lukowsky
“I’ve lived in St. Louis more than half of my life. I first crossed paths with the Spinks brothers in 1976. Yet, all I knew of Michael and Leon were their ring records and the public caricatures of their personalities. Steady, dependable Michael. Wild, self-destructive Leon. Well written and deeply sourced, 'One Punch from the Promised Land' fills in a lot of blanks.”
—Bob Costas, award-winning journalist and sportscaster, NBC Sports and MLB Network
“The first brothers to both claim the world heavyweight championship, Leon and Michael Spinks finally have a book worthy of the unlikely dramatic arc of their gap-toothed lives. Theirs is a uniquely American story—about not only realizing the dream of rising to great heights, but also the struggle to stay there. John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro deliver a vivid and compelling dual biography populated by the giants and demons of boxing’s last golden age.”
—Jeremy Schaap, ESPN reporter and New York Times best-selling author of
Cinderella Man: James J. Braddock, Max Baer, and the Greatest Upset in Boxing
“This is a book about two brothers who became heavyweight champions and a relationship that stretches across the bonds of poverty and hope, fragility and strength. This is the way it happened with the Brothers Spinks. It’s a story that transcends boxing. I know. I was there.”
—Jerry Izenberg, author, and nationally syndicated sports columnist, Newark Star-Ledger
“This story of two brothers who used boxing as a way to escape the ghetto and become the first siblings to both hold the heavyweight title has the ring of Hollywood movie…. [T]he writers do a great job intertwining their subjects’ life stories with the social and political action of the era. Also, by expertly juxtaposing Leon’s carefree, self-destructive personality with Michael’s conscientious, dedicated nature, it creates a palpable tension that binds the brothers’ parallel yet contrary tales…. Just as much about America’s racial and socioeconomic situation as it is an exploration of the dynamics of family and the history of the sweet science.”
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Top Customer Reviews
The authors have done an incredible job of research for this book and it shows in the results. I know, or have known, many of the people written about but I still discovered new information.
I would highly recommend this book for all sports fans (not just boxing fans). In fact, this is a great human interest for everyone. My only wish is that the book were longer, it's that
There are a lot of positive elements of the book. The authors gave a lot of interviews with people who knew the Spinks brothers the best. There were a number of interviews with childhood friends from the brutal Pruitt-Igoe projects of St. Louis. Trainers, promoters, famous opponents, television analysts, and family members were interviewed. The facts about the fights were accurate and there were quotes from knowledgeable sportswriters of the day, such as Wally Matthews, Jerry Izenberg, and others.
The coverage on Leon's problems was extensive. I thought the focus painted an accurate picture overall, but the litany of indiscretions listed was a bit much. Leon was immature and couldn't handle fame and wealth. He was involved with a lot of extra-marital affairs and constantly battled substance abuse problems. I think the authors could have focused more on the acts of kindness that Leon was capable of on a regular basis. He was a generous man who shared with everyone when he could. He was a man of the people.
The authors contrasted Leon with the larger-than-life Ali. This was something that should have been a part of the book, but I think Leon was portrayed as being an especially stupid and barely literate guy. I think the authors lacked a little sensitivity at times. They criticized the poor educational system in St. Louis, but they should have given Leon more of a pass for not being a statesman in the order of a guy like Arthur Ashe. Leon received praise from Mike Tyson as a guy who was just lucky to survive the brutality and went farther than anyone could have expected.
The coverage on Michael was more charitable. He was presented as a deeply religious man and a hard worker. He did not savor the sport of boxing and saw it as the best way to get out of the dead-end ghetto. The analysis of his boxing ability was strong. He was an elusive boxer and could bang. He was a dominant light-heavyweight, but he wanted to money and security that came with taking on the heavyweights. He was accomplished, but he was way over his head facing a prime Tyson. Sadly, this image is indelibly forged in people's memories and tends to overshadow his Hall of Fame career.
Overall, I thought the book was a good one. The perspective of the authors was a little different than that of boxing insiders. I think they got most of the main facts correct, but I thought the emphasis of the text was a bit off in spots. I think they were looking to show that boxing is a corrupt sport to its core and fails to deliver on the promises to provide a good life for its participants. This is often true, but many seize the opportunity and are able to get out of the crime and poverty infested areas. The Spinks brothers deserve kudos for beating the odds and achieving fame and a place in the record books.
The Spinks brothers were the first boxing brothers to win gold medals and to win the heavyweight title. I would have liked to see coverage of Cory Spinks winning the undisputed welterweight title from tough Ricardo Mayorga. I saw the fight with my father on live televison. Cory was Leon's son, but he boxed like Michael. He was awkward and elusive and countered Mayorga effectively all night. He won a close decision and we were on pins and needles. The judges gave the well-earned decision to Cory. Leon and Michael held his arms up and were in tears. I looked over at my dad and he was getting misty-eyed. This was one of the most exciting things I've seen as a boxing fan. I kept saying "The Spinks Jinx is back."
The Spinks brothers were iconic figures in the 1976 Olympics. My dad told stories about the brothers again and again. He told about how dominant Leon was in the Olympics. He told me that Leon knocked Sixto Soria halfway across the ring with power punches. I got to see the fight for myself on YouTube years later and my father was right. It was most impressive. I watched Michael beat Dwight Muhammad Qawi and Larry Holmes on live televison. I remember being a young kid and I fell asleep during the undercard for the Holmes fight. I woke up and saw the main event. Michael outboxed the great Holmes and definitely won the first bout. I was thrilled to see Michael make history as the first light heavyweight to win the heavyweight belt. My dad fell in love with the Spinks brothers during the 1976 Olympics and I became a fan as well.
This was a good book, but the tragedy was emphasized a bit too much. There was mostly bad moments for Leon, but he had some good times too. Michael has been largely successful, but he had to overcome some big obstacles too. I choose to remember the positive moments. My dad was thrilled when Leon won the gold medal and beat the great Ali. I was thrilled when Michael beat Qawi and Holmes. We were both moved seeing Cory win the belt and his proud papa Leon in tears in the ring. It was unlikely that all these great moments could happen in one boxing family. Michael and Leon beat the odds and achieved lasting fame. Unfortunately, it came at a heavy price especially for Leon.
Michael and Leon Spinks were brothers who grew up in the roughest section of Saint Louis to become world-champion boxers. Aside from having that in common, one would be hard-pressed to find two men of more disparate temperament and constitution.
Michael Spinks had a long and illustrious career as both an amateur and a light-heavyweight champion. He also campaigned successfully as an undersized heavyweight and is unfairly judged solely by his spectacular loss to Mike Tyson (who mowed down everyone in his wake in his prime without blinking). Michael was quiet, modest, and frugal with his boxing winnings, slowly building his career in the shadows of louder and more famous boxers.
Leon, on the other hand, shot onto the scene like a rocket, fighting Muhammad Ali after just a handful of wins and becoming world champ in short order. He had his demons though. He did drugs, shirked training camp, slept with anything on two legs, and eventually lost his mind, his money, and one time his dentures in a drunken night of revelry. His mercurial impulses took him from sporting a mink coat and driving luxury automobiles to unloading trucks in a McDonald's parking lot and having to borrow money for a sandwich. No matter his personal faults, however, the portrait of "Neon" Leon Spinks that emerges from this book is ultimately a favorable depiction of a man incapable of self-pity, in love with life and overflowing with joy irregardless of what the world throws at him (and it threw everything, including the kitchen sink).
This book does a good job of showing how, even though Leon and Michael were totally different from one-another, their love and loyalty as brothers never waned or faltered. The work is filled with solid info for both those who already know boxing inside and out, and for anyone coming to the subject cold or just looking for a compelling biography about brotherhood and betrayal. Rare photos and interviews with everyone who was anyone in boxing in the seventies and eighties make this a worthy addition to any collection. It also contains some even-handed, none-too-strident meditations on the meaning of the black American athlete in American culture. Recommended.