We’ve heard how former WBC and IBF heavyweight champion came from down south in Cuthbert, GA, to Easton, PA, working in a steel mill along with his father. How he worked his way to the Olympic trials in 1972 losing to Duane Bobick by disqualification. “I was only a light heavyweight,” remarked Holmes recently. Wasn’t Michael Spinks a light heavyweight when he defeated Holmes? How Holmes served as a sparring partner for both Muhammad Ali and “Smokin” Joe Frazier only to later defeat Ali and Frazier’s son Marvis. NOW let’s take a closer look to the man behind the “football (straight arm) jab!”
When Holmes has either Mike or Steve Mittman who are a quality father and son team serving as ring announcers “Larry sometimes tells us how he wants to be introduced,” said Mike. After hearing him introduced as “holding the heavyweight title the longest” or “having the best jab in the history of the heavyweight division” instead of Joe Louis the answer to the first comment and Ali the second. I remember yelling “Ali, Ali” after Holmes was about to be introduced as having he the best jab! Current WBO, WBA and IBF heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko has held titles for the past 9 years. That makes Holmes No. 3 on the list with 7 years.
As far as the best jab goes who hits harder than Sonny Liston who knocked out an opponent’s front teeth with his jab in the first round? As far as speed Muhammad Ali had the fast pair of hands in the history of the heavyweight champs. Holmes has held his jab out like a football player’s straight arm blinding his opponent for his sneaky right hand to come over the top his whole career and I am not aware of him ever losing a point though warned.
Holmes makes no bones about bringing “race” into the conversation long before he was scheduled to fight Gerry Cooney. In September of this year it will be 30 years since he was the first heavyweight champion to lose to a reigning light heavyweight champion in Michael Spinks. After the fight he made no remarks about losing to Spinks but said “Marciano couldn’t wear my jockstrap”. Some 25 years later he was quoted as to saying “that remark about Marciano not being able to wear my jockstrap cost me many endorsements. What I meant to say was Marciano couldn’t walk down the same sidewalk I do”.
Recently at the Title Gym in Malvern, PA, when a “heckler” questioned Holmes as saying “I never chased Marciano’s 49-0 record” by saying “then why did you say Marciano couldn’t wear you jockstrap? He immediately said “that’s because Marciano couldn’t wear my jockstrap”. Here we go now its 30 years with the same “racist” accusation against the Italian boxer from Brockton, Massachusetts who retired with a 49-0 record.
There were 4 others that passed that mark of 49-0 that Marciano still holds like Julio Cesar Chavez, Sr., Nino LaRocca, “Yori Boy” Campas and Willie Pep but all 4 suffered losses before retirement leaving Marciano at 49-0. Former WBO light heavyweight champion Dariusz Michalczewski was 48-0 before losing his last 2 fights. Denmark’s Brian Nielsen was 49-0 before losing and was 31-0 when he defeated Holmes. Pep was 62-0 when he lost. La Rocca was 56-0 when he lost. Chavez was 87-0 when he drew with Pernell Whitaker and 89-0-1 when he lost. Ricardo Lopez retired with a 51-0-1 record. He was 47-0 when his bout with Rosendo Alvarez ended in a technical draw. Two boxers who lost within a week of each other were Paul Spadafora who was 48-0-1 when he lost and Chris John was 48-0-1 when he lost in his last bout in 2013. So Holmes getting to 48-0 wasn’t the only one “chasing” the record of Rocky’s!
This gives you an idea how difficult it has been especially when a boxer nears Marciano’s 49-0 record. Holmes won a pair of questionable fights prior to 48-0. When asked if he thought he won those fights he said “I got the decisions didn’t I?” Both were with inexperienced opponents “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon, 15-0, when he was 42-0 winning a split decision and Carl “The Truth” Williams, 16-0, when he was 48-0. In an interview Williams said “even Larry’s wife was crying at ringside after the fight.” Holmes best punch was his jab so he didn’t like boxing anyone with a good jab. One was Jimmy Young who he sparred with but avoided fighting in an official capacity. Two others were Greg Page and Gerrie Coetzee but Holmes broke both contracts. He was scheduled to fight John Tate who was injured and never fulfilled that contract.
Holmes will tell you he had 22 title defenses. Holmes had 16 title defenses of the WBC title after defeating Witherspoon and Scott Frank, 20-0-1 and told his promoter Don King “no more young lions”. He counts Marvis Frazier 10-0 who was not ranked and it was not recognized by the organization he held his title. King got together with Bob Lee and created the IBF giving Holmes the title and defended it 3 times successfully. That’s a total of 19 defenses not 22. Wladimir Klitschko has 22.
Back in 1983 when this writer was putting on a show at the Easton High School with 10% of any profits going to St. Anthony’s where the Holmes brothers started their boxing. He saw Mark Holmes in the parking lot. He asked Mark if he wanted to be on the show though it would probably have to be an exhibition do to the cost of an actual bout. Mark said “I’d love to since I haven’t fought at home since turning pro but you have to ask Larry.” Seems Larry was his manager.
So I went into see Larry in his office was told “I’m not putting my brother on some rinky-dink show.” I later went to watch Larry sparring when he suddenly stops and walks to the ropes pointing down to me who was sitting in a chair and said “I ought to come down there and beat the shit out of you. The next time, I tell you something don’t go to my brother.” Outside the gym is a canal and since I don’t swim I didn’t reply to his false accusation.
The next time I saw Holmes on one of his promotions I was bringing in a boxer named Chris Organtini from Norristown turning pro to fight his PR man’s son Richie Lovell, 1-0-1. Holmes saw me and asked “what are you doing here?” I replied nothing but a smile letting Holmes know I wasn’t bringing a stiff. Organtini won and came back again and won. I knew the matchmaker and was told the opponent was shacked up in Holmes hotel in Phillipsburg, NJ.
After Holmes won the WBC title he seemed to fight opponents with less than 20 fights besides Frazier who after stopping him in the first round said “that’s for all the whippings your daddy gave me.” Meaning sparring with “Smokin” Joe in Philly he got whipped. Holmes has a real nasty side to him. His chief sparring partner was Philly’s Marvin Stinson for 13 years and not once did he put Marvin on one of his undercards.
I had two people come to me at different times with the same story and both lived in the Easton area. Note this may or may not be true. I confronted Cliff, one of Holmes employees who claimed it wasn’t but it sounds too much like Holmes not to be. Holmes doesn’t “ask” you to do something he “tells” you do something. He had a bucket carrier named RD who assisted in the corner for all of his fights. Well he calls RD over to his house one day and when he arrives Holmes hands over his car keys and tells him “go bring my car up” which was a short distance away. As RD gets to the car he turns around and Holmes is inside the house looking out the window.
RD brings the car up and by now Larry is at the storm door and RD asks “what’s going on Larry?” Holmes replies “someone called and said there was a BOMB in my car.” RD runs up to the storm door trying to open it but its locked and he tells Larry “I’m going to sell that house you sold me and move back to North Carolina.” Seems Larry sold him the house but not the land it was on! Remember “I was told” so don’t kill the messenger. Whether the story is true or not it certainly sounds a lot like Holmes. I could see Holmes asking me to bring the car up but RD?
Holmes would offer all his brothers a home BUT he would keep his name on the mortgage so “you better be nice to Larry!” The only brother not to take one was Floyd “Feety” who was one who didn’t kiss his brothers butt. The year after being inducted into the World Hall of Fame Holmes was called by the PA Hall of Fame people to invite him to their banquet and be inducted but Holmes never returned the call. I had called Stinson up to accept it but the afternoon of the banquet he never showed. I called and said “I didn’t get permission from Holmes and was back on his good side and didn’t want to do anything to mess it up.”
Holmes would have yearly barbecues inviting boxers he fought and BEAT. It seems two that beat Holmes in Mike Tyson and Michael Spinks never made it to the event. Speaking of Tyson he was seen with Holmes last year in Bethlehem when he was part of the promotion to put on a show at the Sands Casino up there. Holmes had made a statement, “I did pretty good against Tyson until the fight ended.” The last time these two were together Holmes feet were up in the air higher than his head. While Holmes ran from Tyson he was given an ass whipping when he stopped running.
I came to a show in Bethlehem at the Sands Casino and gave a Rocky Marciano doll in a plastic case to the ring announcer and co-commentator on local cable, Mike Mittman and asked him to give it to Holmes and tell him what a “real champ” looks like. He asked “are you kidding?” I told him “well I’m not giving it to him!” Holmes accepted it. I wonder if he stuck pins in it or simply punched it like Ali did to the gorilla doll he said looked like Frazier?
Holmes defended against his share of inexperienced boxers with less than 20 fights like Witherspoon (15), Williams (16), Ocasio (13), Leon Spinks (14), Bonecrusher Smith (15) and David Bey (14). In his fight in 1997 he got a gift split decision over Maurice Harris, 9-8-2 who was another boxer with 19 fights.
The topper was in Holmes final fight when he insisted that “Butterbean” had to fight a 10 round bout instead of his usual 4 rounds that he did for 68 of his 70 fights with a pair of 6 round bouts in his second and third fights. Seems the “Bean” dropped Holmes in the tenth and final round putting Holmes into retirement!
At the end of June Holmes was to have his first “one man show” in of all places South Philly where many Italians live. Seems the price of $34 and the not so popular Holmes cancelled the show. Was it due to a lack of ticket sales? He was to debut July 17th at Harrah’s in Chester the same night I covered a fight at the Bethlehem Sands Casino. I couldn’t find anyone that attended for a review. Tyson did his one man show in Bethlehem’s Sands Casino and I hear the place was packed. But then Holmes is not Tyson. He might due a Don Rickles act insulting everyone!
Please send all questions and comments to Ken Hissner at: Kenhissner@gmail.com
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