Larry Holmes – Respect Due
When I read this morning that Larry Holmes was elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame, it put a smile on my face and joy in my heart.
The Easton Assassin represents a poignant time in my childhood; as a six-year old, I was beginning to watch sports on a regular basis with my dad and started to chose favorites, (Unfortunately, the Eagles were one of those choices) Holmes was someone that I liked. Holmes became Heavyweight Champion in 1978 defeating Ken Norton, however my first memory of Holmes was his fight against Ernie Shavers, who may have been the meanest looking man in the ring I had ever seen – he had the look of a killer. Well in the 7th round against Holmes on September 28, 1979 Shavers hit Holmes with a right hand that dropped him quicker than he wanted to fall. Holmes would recover to win the fight and retain his title. I was sold after that. And besides – I dug those red and white PONY boxing shoes.
Fighting For His Crown
If I had to put a tag on Holmes’ career it would be that it was a Catch 22 – it was always damned if you do – damned if you don’t. This was never more evident than against his fight with his aging mentor and sparring partner Muhammad Ali in October of 1980. Ali was on a quest to be the first man to win the World Heavyweight title an unprecedented four times. In an emotional bout Holmes defeated Ali in a fight that he really didn’t want to fight. Here he was, the young lion of the heavyweight division and he had to face the man that was instrumental in his development. Ali was loved and no doubt the sentimental favorite – so what chance did Holmes have, if he lost – he would not be deserving of the title, and if he won – so what, he beat an old Ali. No points gained, no respect.
Respect seemed to be something that was hard to come by for Holmes – he wasn’t as charismatic as Ali and was by most accounts a quiet man that went about his work with the precision of a surgeon. He called himself the People’s Champion because he saw himself as a common man who just happened to be heavyweight champion. Holmes took on all comers Mike Weaver, the late Trevor Berbeck (prior to their fight outside a club, in which Holmes tries to kick Berbeck by jumping off of the roof of his limo), Tim Witherspoon, Renaldo Snipes and Leon Spinks. This was during a time when the Heavyweight division was at it’s best – Joe Frazier and George Foreman had retired a few years prior. Power notwithstanding Holmes used his signature jab – gained from training with Ali, to pick his opponents apart. They knew the jab was coming – there was just no way to avoid it.
Holmes’ defining fight was against Gerry Cooney on June 11, 1982, greatly significant because Cooney, who is white was considered a threat to Holmes’ title thus becoming boxing’s Great White Hope. In the months leading up to the fight it developed a racial undertone turn as both camps trained – splitting the country in two.
Critical Beat down
This was my first encounter with race and sports, I remember seeing a lot of Jesse Jackson and Don King as the fight drew closer. On the night of the fight Holmes was dealt the worst courtesy to a World Champion – he was introduced first – a custom reserved for the challenger. Despite enduring a memorable low blow that I hate to think about to this day Holmes battered Cooney on his way to a 13-round TKO. An overwhelmed Holmes wept after the fight.
Larry Holmes was his own man in and out of the ring:
- He was not intimidated by the media nor would he bite his tongue for them.
- Holmes always pointed out the fact that he knew white amerikkka didn’t want him as champion. And that they had it in for him.
- He knew his place in history – and didn’t mind sharing it.
- The first athlete that I remember who had multi-businesses in his town – Easton, Pa. is practically owned by Holmes.
If beating Cooney didn’t grab the ire of white amerikkka, Holmes’ comments about former Heavyweight Champion Rocky Marciano would.
On September 21,1985 Holmes faced light heavyweight Michael Spinks who was looking to make history as the first light heavyweight in the modern era to win the heavyweight title. Holmes was looking to make a little history of his own – Holmes was one victory away from tying Marciano for most consecutive wins by a heavyweight (49). Holmes would loose a close decision to Spinks, ending his title defense streak at 20 – second most by a heavy weight (Joe Louis 25 and third longest in history). When questioned about the record Holmes responded. “If you want to get technical about Rocky Marciano couldn’t carry my jockstrap.”
You can imagine how things went for Holmes from there; he would lose the rematch with Spinks and retire, get knocked out by Mike Tyson and retire. In 1995, at age 45, Holmes came within 1-point on two scorecards of winning the Heavyweight title from Oliver McCall. He would be in and out of the ring until the age of 52.
I never got to see as much of Ali in his prime as I would have liked outside of the old footage. But in watching the bulk of Larry Holmes’ career and seeing the damage that his jab did to his opponents. I realize that Holmes may be the closest fighter to Ali as far as boxing style that I may get.
Holmes title reign bridges the gap between Ali and Tyson, looking at that right there you seem to cancel Holmes out – looking at the big picture Holmes’ career resume measures up as one of the all-time greatest.
And that’s something that can’t be disputed.
You Earned My Respect – Champ.