Thad Spencer was groomed by boxing experts as the next heavyweight champion of the world, following Muhammad Ali.
Spencer was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on March 28, 1943. His family moved to Portland when he was 3 months old. He came from a large family of five brothers and six sisters. Spencer attended to Jefferson High School in Portland.
Spencer started his amateur career as a middleweight when his first cousin, Willie Richardson, introduced him to boxing at the age of 14, but he couldn't go to the gym where his cousin trained because it was for professionals only. He learned to box at the Knott Street Community Center in northeast Portland and won several Golden Gloves and championships in Oregon and Washington. By age 15, Spencer was a sparring partner for heavyweight contender Eddie Machen.
Spencer got married at 17, and decided to turn professional in 1960. His first manager was Sid Flaherty. After a few fights, Spencer went with his second manager, Willie Ketchum, and his adviser was lawyer Nate Cohen. Spencer became known for his lightning-fast hands and feet.
A series of impressive victories over contenders Amos Lincoln, Doug Jones, and Billy Daniels landed Spencer in the heavyweight elimination tournament following Muhammad Ali's problems with the United States draft board in 1967. In August 1967 he met former WBA World Heavyweight Champion Ernie Terrell in the opening round of the tournament. Spencer shocked the boxing world with a one-sided 12 round decision over the favored Terrell. In the 2nd round, Spencer's lightning combinations even sent the 6 foot 6 inch Terrell to the canvas. Spencer became the toast of the boxing world. He was trained briefly by former World Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis. Louis picked Spencer, as did most experts, to win the WBA elimination tournament.
Spencer was rated Number 1 by the WBA and Number 2 in the world by the The Ring magazine. He was featured on the cover of the November 1967 issue of The Ring. (Spencer divorced in 1967, at age 24, with three children: two sons and a daughter.) During his training in early 1968 for his fight with Jerry Quarry in the semi-finals of the WBA Tournament, Spencer was arrested for a "driving problem." Spencer, a 6-to-4 favorite, was easily defeated by Jerry Quarry, losing via TKO at 2:57 of the 12th and final round. Ketchum blamed Spencer's upset knockout loss to Quarry on a "lack of training and proper conditioning."
Spencer claimed he was then going to rededicate himself to his promising career. At 25, and rated 5th in the world, experts still believed he could capture the vacant title.
Spencer traveled to England in the Spring of 1968 to fight the Number 9 rated Eduardo Corletti. However, Corletti suffered a sprained ankle, and the Number 10 rated Leotis Martin came in as a substitute. Again, Spencer was the favorite, but in the very first round was decked for a 3-count. Things got worse, and by the 3rd round, Spencer had lost his speed. He rebounded in the 8th round to cut Martin's eye, but Martin came out in the 9th to knock out Spencer in yet another shocker.
Spencer tumbled to 8th in the world. His backers claimed a party-lifestyle was ruining Spencer's promising ring career. Spencer brushed aside his critics and signed to fight Billy Walker and Mac Foster. Against Walker, Spencer came out flat-footed and decided to slug it out with a fighter noted for slugging. It proved his downfall, and by the 6th round, the fight was halted. A dejected Willie Ketchum told the world press: "What's the use, it's not there anymore. Fast living has caught up with Thad, and he knows it now."
Spencer went on to meet undefeated former marine Mac Foster, who was 17-0 with 17 knockouts. Thad Spencer still had a name and set a Fresno record, when 5,100 fans paid $29,718 to see his bout with Foster on May 20, 1969. Again, Spencer decided to slug it out, and after being rocked several times, he was knocked out by a left hook to the temple in the first round.
The loss to Foster ended Thad Spencer's days in big-time boxing. Manager Ketchum left him, and Spencer found himself traveling about the U.S. and South America, picking up fights where he could. He dropped decisions to prospect Tony Doyle, and was destroyed in two rounds by heavyweight hope Jose Luis Garcia in October 1970, who was then managed by Spencer's old manager, Willie Ketchum.
In the mid 1970s, any hopes Spencer had of returning to the ring were ended when he was twice wounded in separate shootings. He survived, but disappeared from the fight scene. He reappeared at a Muhammad Ali get-together, and later went into promoting in California and Vancouver, Washington in the 1980s and 1990s.
Thad Spencer never became world heavyweight champion, but for six months in 1968, he was the Number 1 Heavyweight Contender in the World.
NEWS REPORT, Thad Spencer 
He died December 13 2013, at the age of 70.
- Ring Magazine, September 1968, page 53: MARTIN WHIPS SPENCER AS BRITISH ALIEN RULE CRACKS, by Johnny Sharpe.
- Ring Magazine, February 1969, page 53: SPENCER AT END OF LINE? KO BY WALKER HINTS FINISH, by Johnny Sharpe.
- Ring Magazine, August 1969, page 51: FAREWELL, THAD SPENCER! HE'S KO'D IN ONE BY MAC FOSTER, by Don Fraser.
- Portland Observer Obituary: