|Two "Wins" That Still Haunt Larry Holmes
By Ken Hissner (April 26, 2008) Doghouse Boxing
WBC heavyweight champion Larry Holmes had a personal goal. He was destined to break Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 record. On the way, he had told promoter Don King, “I do not want anymore of these young lions.”
The stage was set for the young, inexperienced, Philly-born 'Terrible' Tim Witherspoon to challenge for the WBC crown against the champion Holmes; who had 42 wins without defeat. Holmes would be making his 15th defense; matching Witherspoon’s 15 fights without a loss.
I was able to sit down with the two-time, 49-year old former world champion at Shuler’s gym in Philly after he had just sparred with young unbeaten contender Eddie Chambers. Witherspoon is staying active training fighters in the US (Kassim Ouma was the then-IBF junior middleweight champion) and the United Kingdom (developing Clinton Woods who would eventually become IBF light heavyweight champion ) where his popularity in a successful defense over their popular Frank Bruno in 1986 still has him as a fan favorite there.
Holmes would belittle Witherspoon and his family leading up to the fight in Las Vegas in May of 1983. Witherspoon said “I was given the meager amount of $150,000.00 as the challenger compared to the $850,000.00 Marvis Frazier would receive two fights later in challenging for the title (having but ten fights).” Holmes claimed Witherspoon was a 'nobody, no star.' The CBS network's '60 Minutes' was filming Holmes as they walked through the lobby of the hotel. When Holmes spotted Witherspoon and his people coming from a workout and threw a towel in Witherspoon’s face, Witherspoon’s brother Bernard picked it up and threw it back at Holmes. Holmes proclaimed, “I’ll put you and your family on welfare and take your girlfriend.” Witherspoon stated that “this was the start of the degrading of me and my family by Holmes.”
In another incident, Holmes thought he had the entire 14th floor of the hotel. One of his members discovered Witherspoon’s family (including his grandmother and young daughter) were also rooming on that floor. The Holmes party stormed the room and made threats for them to leave the floor. Witherspoon’s young daughter was hiding under the bed in fright. Word got down to Witherspoon (who was with fellow heavyweights David Bey, Mitch 'Blood' Green and his brother Anthony) in the lobby. “We rushed up to the floor and I called out Holmes to come to the lobby; just the two of us. Holmes turned and walked away.” He had been confronted with his own bullying tactics. Holmes was known for always trying to emulate Muhammad Ali; though his arrogance would never allow success.
The fight was a vicious battle with Holmes absorbing many lumps on his face by the end of the 15th round. Maybe he had underestimated the young Philadelphian.
Knowing that he was an unknown in the heavyweight picture, Witherspoon said, “I never felt I would get the decision that I deserved even when the announcer said, “We have a split decision.” The third judge gave it to Holmes by two points allowing him to retain his WBC title for his 15th defense and 43rd win.
The WBC was trying to force Holmes to give Witherspoon a rematch or fight another young contender in Greg Page. In the meantime, Holmes came back with quick victories over over-matched Scott Frank in September and Marvis Frazier in November of 1983 as a means of avoiding Witherspoon or Page. Witherspoon claimed, “about to get stripped of his title, Holmes went to Bob Lee of the New Jersey commission and they began forming the IBF organization. A year without fighting and being stripped of his WBC title, Holmes would stop James 'Bonecrusher' Smith on November of 1984 for the IBF’s heavyweight title.
During that time Witherspoon and Page would fight each other in May of 1983 for the WBC crown with Witherspoon winning a split decision. Witherspoon said, “I would become the first Philadelphia-born heavyweight champion (Philadelphia-based Joe Frazier was born in South Carolina) making me feel like the real 'Rocky'.” Adding “though Holmes and I get along today, though never publicized, I would fight him tomorrow.”
Holmes, after stopping the heavy-handed and slow-moving Smith in November of 1984, who himself only had 15 fights for the newly formed IBF title, followed up with a last-round stoppage of young David Bey in March of 1985; who had but 14 fights.
I reviewed the Holmes-Williams fight several weeks ago and contacted the White Plains, NY native Carl 'The Truth' Williams in New York City about the circumstances of his May 1985 bout with Holmes.
Williams was signed by promoter Murad Muhammad, “though word was Holmes was putting up the money for the fight”, said Williams. This, Holmes thought, would be the last of the young lions before meeting the light heavyweight champion Michael Spinks and equaling Marciano’s 49-0 record.
The fight started with an exchanging of jabs. It was evident that Williams could not only match Holmes, jab for jab, but as Williams would say, “I out-jabbed the jabber.”
With Holmes having a battle on his hands throughout the early part of the fight, the TV commentator said “Williams has been thumbed.” Referee Mills Lane, would examine Williams eye. Williams claimed, “yes, he thumbed me and the ref came over and touched my eye (no latex gloves then). The eye would become infected after the fight and I considered suing the ref but didn’t.”
Later in the fight, with Holmes' title possibly in jeopardy, Holmes would 'cuff' Williams with his glove; per the commentator at ringside. Williams added, “he cut me with the bottom of his glove.” and “the ref never took away any points; just kept warning him.”
It was a brutal battle throughout the fight with Williams holding the upper hand primarily due to his solid jab; beating Holmes to the punch. As the final bell ended in this 15-round battle, Williams' handlers put him up on their shoulders; feeling he did more than enough to win the IBF title while the fans went wild.
The battered and bleeding Holmes hung his head as the decision was being announced. Though one judge only had it by one point for Holmes, the other two gave it to him by a wide margin. With the announcement, the boos rang throughout the audience and Holmes, though gaining the unpopular decision, still hung his head.
I had judged the fight 9-6 in rounds for Williams after viewing it. Williams said, “even his (Holmes') wife at ringside was seen crying over the beating he took.”
"Any chance for a rematch?" I asked. “The (Michael) Spinks fight was already signed for.”, Williams added, “I took on unbeaten Jesse Ferguson three months later; stopping him in the 10th. Even though I needed to work on my defense with left hookers, they put me in with Mike Weaver who stopped me (in February of 1986).” Though five wins later, he would get a fight with Mike Tyson, he was stopped prematurely in the first round when referee Randy Neumann waved it off as soon as Williams landed on his butt. “We all know what that was about”, said Williams (who apparently was fine and luid after the bout). “That’s a story in itself for another time.”
Holmes and Spinks would tie up the IBF title for almost a year in their two fights, after the Williams fight, with Holmes losing by a close decision that The Ring Magazine voted 1985's 'Upset of the Year.' Now-'unofficial' HBO judge Harold Lederman among the three judges in this fight voted 145-142 for Spinks making him the new IBF champion. This caused Holmes to make the racial statement “Marciano couldn’t wear my jock strap.”, referring to the deceased, ex-heavyweight champion whose 49-0 record still stands today!
Holmes would lose a controversial decision in the April 1986 rematch. This was followed by the four-round beating Mike Tyson would deal him in his next bout in January of 1988. Holmes would later get two more shots at world titles against then-undefeated, then-undisputed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield in 1992 and Oliver McCall in 1995 for his old WBC title; both resulting in losses. His 12-round, split-decision loss in Denmark to Brian Nielsen in 1997 and his last win (though suffering a last-minute knockdown in the tenth and final round when Holmes was wobbled into a corner) over 'four-round champ' Eric 'Butterbean' Esch in 2002, kind of summed up the end of his career.
To this day Holmes still, at the age of 57, continues to call out the name of George Foreman; the 58-year old, popular former champion; seemingly to keep his name in the limelight. To this, Foreman just smiles and shakes his head all the way to the bank. But two names Holmes never called out again are Tim Witherspoon and Carl Williams!
e-mail Ken at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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