Larry Holmes Is Still Fighting for Recognition
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) _ The promotional brochure says it all: ″Larry Holmes Enterprises, Inc. Presents Life After Boxing.″
Holmes, the world’s premier heavyweight for 7 1/2 years, began that second life Nov. 6, 1986, when he retired with a 48-2 record following two losses to Michael Spinks.
″Being Chief Executive Officer of the Enterprises keeps the former Champion busy overseeing the operation of his growing corporation,″ the brochure states.
But the last couple of months the business at hand for the boss has been preparing to challenge Mike Tyson, the undisputed heavyweight champion, next Friday night at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
Boxing, not business, remains the life blood of Larry Holmes.
″I’m king of the ring, I can do anything,″ goes a line in a rap song recorded by Holmes, which is entitled, ″Can’t Keep a Good Man Down.″
But Holmes is 38 and hasn’t fought in 21 months. Tyson is 21 and hungry.
″They’ll say I’m too old, washed up, can’t fight anymore,″ said Holmes, who last fought April 19, 1986, when he lost a controversial decision in a bid to regain the International Boxing Federation title in a rematch with Michael Spinks.
″Holmes is too old to fight with his wife, let alone Mike Tyson,″ a reader wrote in the Sunday New York Times of Dec. 6. ″This will be a horrible fight. The winner of this fight will be the promoter.″
″Putting $3 million in the bank that’s what I’m fighting for,″ said Holmes, who at the same time denies needing the money. ″Promoters say it’s a sport. It’s not a sport, it’s a business-sport.″
Holmes signed for $3.1 million to fight Tyson, 10 percent of which goes to promoter Don King. His purses for his career, which began in 1973 with a four- round fight for which he took home $63, probably total more than $30 million.
″They haven’t seen my bank account,″ Holmes said of people who suggest that despite his boxing bankroll he is fighting again because he is broke.
Holmes does appear financially set. His holdings include a hotel outside nearby Phillipsburg, N.J.; a training center and a building housing his offices, bar-restaruant and night club in Easton and a suburban Easton home. He also is building an office-apartment complex on Larry Holmes Drive.
By electing to remain in Easton, a blue-collar city of about 26,000, where he is surrounded by his family, Holmes has avoided the pitfalls of life in the fast lane.
″I got what I went after (in boxing) and that’s dollars and cents,″ Holmes said. But he feels he has never gotten due recognition.
That perceived slight and what he felt were unjust decisions in two losses to Spinks could be the demons driving Holmes back to the ring.
Yet people in boxing already consider him to have been an excellent fighter.
″He worked at his trade,″ Muhammad Ali’s trainer, Angelo Dundee, said at the time of Holmes’ retirement. ″He fought every tough guy on the way up.″
Holmes also learned his trade by serving as a sparring partner for Ali, Joe Frazier and Earnie Shavers.
″He was a good ring general and had great mobility,″ said Eddie Futch, who trained Holmes for several fights.
He was dedicated and he was tough, fighting with such injuries as a pulled muscle in his left arm, a herniated disc in his neck and a chipped knuckle on in his fight thumb.
″If you can’t fight hurt, then get in some other line of work,″ Holmes said.
History should judge him to have been one of the better heavyweight champions.
He held the World Boxing Council title as well as the IBF championship and he won 21 championship fights before his two losses to Spinks. His two biggest victories, at least in terms of general public interest, were his 13th-round knockout of Gerry Cooney and his 11th-round victory over Ali.
While he beat Ali, he never escaped Ali’s giant shadow, nor, despite his his constant claim of being a ″people’s champion,″ did he ever catch the fancy of the general public as did Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Nor as Tyson is doing.
Ali, the consumate showman, could be outrageous and draw a storm of laughter.
When Holmes was outrageous, he drew a storm of protest.
After losing the IBF title to Spinks on a unaimous decision Sept. 22, 1985, and failing to equal the late Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 record, Holmes said, ″Rocky Marciano couldn’t carry my jockstrap.″
He later said he was just trying to say he felt he was just as great a fighter as Marciano despite the lost. ″I should have said it different, but I was mad,″ he said.
Before losing the 15-round split decision to Spinks April 19, 1986, Holmes stirred up controversy by saying in a television interview that he thought fight judges in Nevada must be drunk and take money under the table.
″I don’t like what happened to me those last two fights I had,″ Holmes said. ″You can say it was mouth, it was racial. You can say a lot things.
″I’m just a champion coming back to claim what they took from me.″
But Holmes well knows the price a man can pay in the ring.
″Even to this day I sometime wonder if it’s worth it,″ he said in an unguarded moment.
In recalling his one-side victory Oct. 2, 1980, victory over Ali, who was 38 at the time, Holmes once said:
″In between rounds, I sat on the stool and prayed I wouldn’t have to hurt him. It should never have happened.
″He didn’t know when to retire.″
EDITOR’S NOTE - Associated Press boxing writer Ed Schuyler Jr. has seen Larry Holmes fight 30 times.
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