Leon Spinks

updated 11/28/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/28/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

IT was a cliché as old as boxing: the washed-up ex-champion, his money and his skills long vanished, fighting for chump change in a strange town. This time his name was Leon Spinks. Back in 1978 he had stunned the world when, in only his eighth professional fight, he beat a still-formidable Muhammad Ali. It was a very different story on Oct. 22. Spinks, 41, whose Halloween dentures and driving misadventures became a national joke during his seven-month tenure as champ, climbed into a ring in Washington and was knocked out in 69 seconds by journeyman John Carlo. Spinks says that although "I ain't making excuses," a middle-ear infection might have contributed to his loss. He is, he says, inspired by George Foreman's unlikely knockout of Michael Moorer on Nov. 5 to regain the heavyweight title he last held 20 years ago. "I'm glad he did it," says Spinks. "He's still trying. You can't do nothing but try if you still got it in your heart."

Spinks's career as an effective heavyweight ended when Ali took the title back from him in September 1978. After a few more fights, including a three-round battering at the hands of Larry Holmes in 1981, Spinks campaigned unsuccessfully as a cruiserweight and retired in 1988. He now lives outside Chicago with his wife of five years, Betty Wilson, 36, who works with the disabled. He is the father of two sons, aspiring boxers Darrell, 21, and Cory, 16 (a third son, Leon Calvin, was murdered in 1990 at age 19). In recent years, Spinks's life had become a downward spiral of drinking and brushes with the law. Now, his trainer Charles Hamm says, he's trying to set something up for next March against someone who won't be very challenging. "I'm gonna keep going," says Spinks. "It's still in my heart. I can do it."

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