Obituary: Sam Solomon

SAM SOLOMON was a teacher of fighters in Philadelphia whose career peaked when Leon Spinks, an un-complicated, naive man-child, upset Muhammad Ali to win the world heavyweight title in February 1978.

Solomon had no chance of keeping Spinks, one of boxing's legendary party animals, disciplined for long, but he did inspire him to the triumph for which he will always be known. "Neon Leon" acknowledged as much. "Sam Solomon is more than a trainer," he said before the rematch with Ali, when he was beaten. "He is like a father to me. Sam doesn't only teach me about boxing. He talks to me about a lot of things besides."

Spinks was genuinely grateful for the efforts Solomon made for him, and sorrowful when it went spectacularly wrong. Spinks's promoter Butch Lewis recalled the dreadful time before the rematch when Spinks was merrily conducting a six-month bender instead of dedicating himself to training. Sometimes he was so far off the rails that Solomon would lock the errant champion in his hotel room. And somebody would sleep on a makeshift bed by the door.

One morning Lewis himself was on "guard duty" when Solomon woke him up, with the terrible words "Where's Leon?" The heavyweight champion of the world had escaped out of his window, crossed roofs and dropped down into the street. Solomon and Lewis found him playing pool in a bar. For all his failures, Spinks acknowledged Solomon's efforts. "He never got the full credit he deserved for what he did in helping me beat Ali," he said. "Sam was patient with me."

Spinks, who had won the 1976 Olympic light-heavyweight gold medal in Montreal, was a seven-fight professional novice when they threw him in with Ali. He had no right to box for the championship, but at 36 Ali was buying what time he could against opponents he considered safe.

As well as technical coaching - Solomon taught Spinks to shorten his punches and to counter the moves Ali would make - there was a great deal of pyschological work to be done.

There was friction in the Spinks team long before the rematch, partly because of the man's own character and partly because of rivalry and friction between Solomon and the younger Philadelphia trainer George Benton.

Benton, a former world class middleweight and later a widely respected trainer, went on record as saying Solomon did not want him stealing any limelight. Worse, he said Solomon was there merely for the money. "All of a sudden it dawned on me," he said. "These sonsabitches don't think this kid can win this fight . . . but they're going to get a payday."

In the dressing-room after Spinks had won, Benton recalled bitterly: "I couldn't get next to him. Everybody was pushing me out of the damn way. Leon was Sam Solomon's champ now . . . I put my clothes on and walked out." The two trainers made up, but fell out again during the rematch in September 1978, which led to Benton leaving the corner in mid-fight. Spinks lost on points and was effectively finished at 25.

Solomon was a long-time resident of Philadelphia, who had around 300 amateur contests and knew one of the greatest trainers in boxing history, Jack Blackburn, who taught heavyweight champion Joe Louis. As well as boxing, he was a serious competitor at baseball - a catcher in the Negro League of the time.

From 1950, he was a boxing trainer, and at different times worked with two other heavyweight champs, Sonny Liston and Ernie Terrell. When Spinks lost to Ali, Solomon faded from the world stage. He was never one of the great coaches but he remained in the game, working with youngsters in Philadelphia until his retirement in the late 1980s. In old age he suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

Leon Solomon, boxing trainer: born 1915; married (one daughter, one stepdaughter); died Philadelphia 13 December 1998.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project