Mayweather vs. Spinks: Who’s the “first family” of boxing?
Another 24/7 documentary series began on HBO this past Saturday night, and again the Mayweather family took center stage. Forget the Osbournes, the Gosselins or the Kardashians; the Mayweather clan is far and away the most outrageous and entertaining family in the reality-TV sphere.
And if you ask anyone with the surname Mayweather, they’ll tell you they’re also the greatest family dynasty in boxing history. That’s partially because the Mayweathers (aside from the level-headed, non-eccentric Jeff) believe they’re unparalleled in every possible way. And it’s partially because there’s some truth to the claim of superiority. The reality is, if you’re talking about boxing’s greatest family dynasties, there are only two families in the discussion. The Mayweathers are one of them. The Spinks family is the other.
For the purposes of this article, we’re defining a family dynasty as something that stretches beyond two people. The Klitschko and Marquez brothers don’t count, nor do the Galaxy twins or Floyd Patterson and his adopted son Tracy. Given that qualifier, there are only two truly great boxing families.
Sure, there are other decent ones, but most were limited to one great fighter and some also-ran relatives. For example, Erik Morales was exceptional, but his brother Diego and father Jose didn’t go far. Chris Eubank had a cousin and two brothers who boxed, but none of them amounted to much. Hector Camacho Sr. was an extraordinary talent, but his son Hector Jr. and brother Felix don’t get the “extra” on the front of “ordinary.” Joe Frazier sired fighters of both sexes, but none approached Dad’s achievements.
There are other families that went more than one fighter deep, but they still don’t come close to the Mayweathers or the Spinkses in overall achievement. Among the families that fit that description: the Byrds, featuring Chris, sister Tracy, brother Patrick and cousin Lamon Brewster; the Penalosas, featuring titlists Gerry and Dodie Boy and their father, sub-.500 1960s journeyman Carl; and arguably the third best of all-time behind the Spinks and Mayweather families, the Hiltons, featuring Dave Hilton Sr. and his sons Dave Jr., Matthew and Alex.
In the end, though, it has to be Mayweather and Spinks at No. 1 and No. 2, in some order.
The Mayweathers include future Hall of Famer Floyd Jr., two-division titlist Roger (Floyd’s uncle), solid welterweight contender Floyd Sr. (Floyd’s dad), gatekeeper-type Jeff (brother of Roger and Big Floyd) and amateur fighter Justin Jones (recently revealed to be a son of Floyd Sr.).
The Spinks family boasts Hall of Famer Michael, short-lived heavyweight champion Leon (Michael’s brother), lineal welterweight champ and junior middleweight alphabet titlist Cory (Leon’s son), trial horse-type Darrell (another son of Leon) and current amateur “Li’l Leon” (Leon’s grandson).
In both families, you could make the argument that there was one all-time great fighter, one very good fighter, one pretty good fighter, one mediocre fighter, and an up-and-comer of quality to be determined. Neither family stands decisively above the other. But if you had to choose, which one is better? Who is the “first family” of the fight game?
“As good as Floyd Jr. is, and I think he’s the best in boxing right now, I’d probably have to give the edge to the Spinkses,” said Harold Lederman, who was one of boxing’s top judges during the Spinks and Mayweather runs of the ’70s and ’80s and has been HBO’s unofficial scorer during the Little Floyd and Cory era. “Leon and Michael, it’s incredible that you have two guys that won the heavyweight title, and then Cory who won the welterweight and junior middleweight title. As a family, I think they’re quite incredible. I mean, Leon won the heavyweight title in his eighth fight and Michael lost one fight in his entire career and that was to Mike Tyson. And let’s not forget Michael’s reign at light heavyweight; he beat everyone of his time. And we haven’t seen the last of Cory Spinks yet, so they may even go on to greater heights.”
Lederman’s conclusion is influenced by the fact that he doesn’t hold the careers of either Roger or Floyd Sr. in particularly high esteem, noting that the former knocked out Sammy Serrano for his junior lightweight belt when “Serrano was at the end of his career” and that the latter was “an average welterweight.”
Bruce Trampler, the longtime Top Rank matchmaker and a 2010 International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee, doesn’t necessarily agree with those opinions. He declined to make an overall judgment as to which is the greater boxing family. But he obviously thinks it’s a closer, tougher call than Lederman does, in part because he disagrees about who might be overrated or underrated among the individuals in the two families.
“Big Floyd didn’t win a title, but if he was fighting now, he might well have won a title,” Trampler said. “You look at the guys he had to fight and get through, it was just a different era. He had issues with dedication and other issues outside of the ring, but he was a really good fighter.
“Meanwhile, Leon Spinks was far from a great fighter; he was far from even a good fighter. Leon was put into the position he was [challenging Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight title in his eighth pro fight] because he was a complete train wreck outside the ring. He had to be moved very quickly, but not for the right reasons. Leon had just come off a draw [against Scott LeDoux] and clearly the wheels were already coming off. Cory’s career has been better than his father’s overall. We [Top Rank] had Cory early in his career; he’s a very good fighter.”
Both Trampler and Lederman (and almost any unbiased boxing observer) agree that one of the toughest sub-debates of this overall debate is who’s superior at the top of the respective families, Michael Spinks or Floyd “Money” Mayweather. And like the overall debate, it’s a bit tricky to reach a conclusion until Mayweather’s boxing career is over; maybe his “KO by 1 Mike Tyson” moment is still to come, and maybe it’s never going to come.
In the end, the fact that three Spinkses held legitimate lineal world championships, even if Leon was a mediocre fighter who just had one legendary victory, probably does give them the edge over the Mayweathers, only one of whom held a lineal title. So we’ll go ahead and say that, by a slight margin, the Spinks family is the greatest boxing family in history.
But does that make them the “first family” of boxing? That designation can be stretched to include factors like the personalities of the Mayweathers and the success the three Mayweather brothers have enjoyed in the sport after hanging up their gloves. Floyd Sr., Roger and Jeff have all gone on to noteworthy careers as trainers and all remain in the boxing spotlight in their 40s or 50s, something you can’t say about Michael and Leon Spinks.
So in the final analysis, we’ll hedge our bets. The Spinks family was the greatest boxing family dynasty. But the Mayweather family just might edge them out for the title of “first family” of boxing.
Especially when a new season of 24/7 is starting up.
ÔÇó Speaking of boxing families, how about Travis and Tarvis Simms getting arrested for fighting each other last week? It might be time to award these two “honorary Mayweather” status.
ÔÇó I don’t mean to suggest the premiere episode of 24/7 Mayweather-Mosley wasn’t entertaining, because it was, but there might be some shark-jumping going on when extended camera time is given to both a bowling outing and the “drama” of waiting for someone to urinate.
ÔÇó On the one hand, I hope Ray Austin does sue the WBC and I hope he receives an enormous judgment that puts them out of business forever, the way Graciano Rocchigiani’s was supposed to. On the other hand, do you really have a right to complain about getting screwed out of your No. 1 ranking when you don’t deserve to be ranked in the Top 20? If Ray Austin didn’t have a problem with them when they screwed over every other heavyweight contender in the world to make him No. 1, then he shouldn’t have a problem with them now.
ÔÇó A quick apology for the minor sound problems on last week’s Ring Theory. My audio track and co-host Bill Dettloff’s audio track recorded about a second or two off from each other, hence my distracting apparent tendency to laugh at Bill’s jokes before he finished telling them. Bill’s a funny guy. But he’s not quite “I’m laughing in anticipation of the hilarity to come” funny.
Eric Raskin can be reached at [email protected] You can read his articles each month in THE RING magazine.