By Juan C. Ayllon
DeMotte, Indiana, March 30, 2012 - It’s 11:45 AM, the morning of his last professional fight, and Jimmy “The Fighting School Teacher” Holmes sounds unusually at ease as he fields my questions. Normally fighters are edgy the final days preceding a fight, but not Jimmy. At 34, he is articulate and speaks with the energy of someone juggling boxing, family, teaching, gym ownership and rock band commitments.
Tonight, he faces Eric Draper (4-6, 1 KO) at the Radisson Hotel in Merrillville, Indiana, where he has been a large draw for the locals, who come out in droves to support their everyday hero. Chances are, he won’t disappoint.
Holmes lost his last two fights – one by unanimous decision to Jimmy Lange a year ago, and another by knockout to George Tahdooahnippah for the vacant World Boxing Council’s Continental Americas middleweight title in July. After nearly 10 years and a record of 19-3-2 with 10 knockouts as a professional boxer, it’s time to call it a career.
In the Beginning
Jimmy was born James Edward Holmes to Diane and Howard Holmes in Valparaiso, Indiana, who together run a septic business that they’ve had since he was born.
Holmes was drawn to boxing as a kid, when he watched Sylvester Stallone as “Rocky.” “The Rocky movies were always playing continually at my house,” he says. “My brothers and I knew all the words to the movies.”
Inspired, he got together with friends and engaged in makeshift boxing matches in high school. “We had no idea what we were doing,” he notes with a laugh.
Then, as a senior, he met a teacher, Jeff Mengel, who had boxed at the Crown Point YMCA when they held a boxing club. Seeing that Holmes was interested in boxing, he began training him. Several weeks later, he entered the Chicago Golden Gloves tournament.
“Not good!” he says, reflecting on the experience. “It was the first time I’d boxed in a ring. I ended up losing the fight and I didn’t do very good at all, but I was determined to do it again. I fought in the Chicago Golden Gloves several more times. I ended up winning the Novice Division 165 lb. in 1998.”
He adds, “I was playing baseball in college at the same time. I could never focus on boxing.”
Graduating in 1996 from Kankakee Valley High School in Wheatfield, Indiana, where he played baseball and played guitar in a band called “Killing Time,” he attended Morton College in Cicero, Illinois and played baseball. He transferred to Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, where he got his bachelors in elementary teaching with a concentration in social studies. Playing baseball there, a childhood heel injury flared up and sidelined him from sports. “For two to three years, I couldn’t do anything,” he says.
Healed up in 2002, he decided to give boxing another try. He was living in Muncie at Ball State at the time, so he entered and subsequently won the open division of the Indiana Golden Gloves tournament. From there, he participated in the Nationals competition in Denver, Colorado. “I didn’t win there, but it was a great experience,” he says. “So, it kind of gave me a jump start – maybe I can fight after all!”
Shortly after he started teaching, he met Jack Callahan, a former Indiana boxer of local acclaim with a record of 29-3 with 13 knockouts whom Holmes had watched as a kid. It turned out Jack’s wife worked with him. It wasn’t long before the Callahans had Jimmy over for dinner. “He started working with me,” Holmes says. “He felt I had the ability to fight professionally.”
A lanky middleweight at 6′ 1″, Holmes kicked off his pro career with a three round stoppage of Wayne Bogard (1-3-0) at McBride Hall in Gary, Indiana on August 22, 2003. Then two months later, he won there again, this time against debuting Sacey Fuller, Jr. via first round stoppage. Another notch in the win column, to be sure, but more significantly it ignited his relationship with Renee Zwinkles, who is now his wife.
“Actually my wife was a friend of my sister’s – she came to my second pro fight,” he says with a smile I can hear over the phone. “That one was on ESPN. I went up to everyone [afterwards], thanking them for coming. I gave her a hug and she told my sister that it was the most exhilarating moment of life, and we ended up hanging out after that.”
“This is my second marriage,” he continues. “She was actually invited to my first wedding. I had known her for years.” Separated at the time, Holmes began dating Renee after his divorce went through. They have been married some seven years, according to close friend, Chris Guzman. Holmes has a daughter and a stepdaughter who is 16.
It wasn’t long before Jimmy signed on with One in a Million Boxing, a promotional firm that included such fighters as Derrick “Superman” Findley, Michael “The Midnight Stalker” Walker, Jemaine White, Ruben Galvan and “Merciless” Mary McGee.
His popularity grew with each fight. Prior to his 2005 bout versus Nathan Wilkes (a fight he won by disqualification), friends were hawking gray Jimmy Holmes T-shirts. “There are people coming all the way from California to support Jimmy,” said one salesperson. True or not, ring announcer Joe York said later, “When I introduced Jimmy Holmes, I looked and I saw all these gray shirts! This is one of the best crowds I’ve seen.”
He ran up a tally of 13 wins and one draw (five knockouts) before his rugged battle against Canadian Brooke Welby on August 16, 2006. “That was a war,” he says. “I’m still wondering if I can get a tape of that.” Viewing that fight from ringside, I had written the following summary:
Indiana’s middleweight Jimmy “The Fighting School Teacher” Holmes (14-0-1, 7 KO’s) engaged in a terrific back and forth battle with Winnepeg, Canada’s Brooke Welby (32-16-4, 10 KO’s). Appearing close to being stopped once or twice, Holmes regrouped and fought bitterly until the final bell. Judges scored the bout a majority draw with scores of 77-75 for Holmes and 76-76 twice.
Two fights and almost seven months later, he ran smack into Frankfort, Indiana’s hard-punching Travis Loveless. “That was a fight that shouldn’t have taken place. I wasn’t supposed to fight on the show;I was supposed to be on vacation,” he says. “They called and guaranteed TV time. I knew I wasn’t in shape for the fight.” However, the promise of television exposure proved irresistible.
Waiting to go on proved excruciating. Of the experience, he says, “You warm up, [then you're] not going on, warm up, not going on. After the TV time had expired, I wasn’t even wanting to be there.”
Disgusted because they didn’t come through with the promised airtime, he says, “I came out and I didn’t’ have anything. My corner threw in the towel because they thought I was more hurt than I was.”
Rebuilding, he went on a four-win streak beginning with a one round blowout of Chad Taylor (1-8) and culminating in a one round demolition of Joseph Harden (10-21-2) in December 2010.
And then came his fight versus Jimmy Lange (34-4-2, 24 KO’s), a first season participant of The Contender TV series, on March 12, 2011.
“It was a great fight, probably the best fight I fought,” he muses. “I kept pressure on him. Halfway through the fight, I thought I was winning.” However, according to Holmes, Lange changed his style and boxed – and fouled a bit, too.
“I got hit with six or seven low blows,” he says. “I got hit with a low blow and I got a point taken away for hitting him with my head!” Ever the sportsman, he concludes, “I take nothing away from him. He’s a good fighter. But I knew I needed a knockout to win in his hometown.”
Four months later, the result was less ambiguous. According to www.boxrec.com, George Tahdooahnippah (27-0-1, 22 KO’s) blew him out in one round at the Comanche Nation Casino in Lawton, Oklahoma.
Marveling, he struggles with George’s last name in his candid admission: “It was probably the hardest I was ever hit. He can crack!”
His metabolism didn’t help matters, either. Used to making weight with relative ease, Holmes’s body wasn’t cooperating. “I was drained, but I couldn’t make weight,” he sighed. “For four to five days, I hardly ate or drank anything to make weight.”
He suffered cold sweats leading up to the bout. “I woke up just drenched,” he says. “I’m not sure I was 100 percent. He can definitely crack, though!”
Putting on his teacher hat, he adds dryly, “Boxrec said [the fight lasted] one round, but it was two.” They stand corrected.
The Final Fight
Looking forward to tonight’s fight versus Eric Draper, he says, “I really don’t know much about him. I’ve seen a little bit on him on Youtube. He’s tall, decently quick. I know he beat Ochoa, I know he comes to fight and he’s a tough kid.”
Training has been good, working at his DeMotte Boxing Club with Callahan and Jeff Mengel, his original trainer.
”We have several guys at the club here and Jack brought in several pro fighters,” he volunteers. “I don’t even know their names. A lot of amateur prospects, They’re tough, guys that are bigger and smaller, just a wide variety because I didn’t even know who I would be fighting.”
His training consisted of running mornings before going to work and heading off to the gym after work for sparring, mitt work and hitting the bags.
Highs and Lows
In a few hours, he will have fought the last battle in a boxing career that has spanned 17 years, with the last 10 as a professional. It has brought him both joy and sorrow.
Of the highlights, he cites several. First, there was the Jimmy Lange fight. “Going the distance with him and doing well,” he says was a high point. “A lot of people in the crowd thought I won it – a lot said I should have gotten a draw.”
Second, Holmes gushes about his experience training at this year’s Bare Knuckle Hall of Fame: “I got to train for one week as [all-time heavyweight great] John L. Sullivan trained. We stayed in the barns that he stayed in, ate what he ate, slept out there, everything!”
He adds, “The guy who ran that is actually coming out [to tonight's fight]. The town of Belfast, New York supported me – that’s where the training barns are located.” In fact, he says, “Today, March 30, 2012 was proclaimed “Jimmy Holmes Day” there!”
Third, Holmes looks back at his fights at the Radisson Star Plaza with fondness. “People came out and supported me,” he says with appreciation. “Just having that much community support that was really cool.”
On the lows, he says, “Probably the loss to Travis Lawless. Probably fights getting cancelled.”
Holmes brings up a fight against Michael Oliveira (16-0, 12 KO’s) that was scrapped. It stands out in my mind because after we posted a press release on the event earlier this year, I received an email from former Indiana boxing commissioner Jake Hall. He pointed out that the PR piece incorrectly referred to Holmes as a former Indiana State champion. He asserted that the state of Indiana does not have any state champions in boxing. “I think the press release was written by Oliveira’s dad and he was trying to make Holmes sound better,” Hall wrote. “Oliveira’s has been fighting opponents picked and paid for by his dad.”
“I was supposed to fight Michael Oliveira, [but] somehow he pulled out three times,” Holmes grouses. “I don’t think he really wanted to fight.”
In all fairness, Oliviera’s website reported that he ”has withdrawn due to illness from his scheduled fight this Saturday night (Dec. 17) against veteran Jimmy “The Fightin’ School Teacher” Holmes (19-3-2, 10 KOs) at Pepsi Coliseum in Quebec City.” Who knows.
Win, lose or draw tonight, Holmes has a lot to do after retirement. “My schedule has been packed so full,” he says. “Hopefully it will give me more time to hang out with my daughter. I want to spend a little more time with her.”
Then, there’s guitar playing in the band, “Double Vision.” He laughs, saying, “There’s two guys and girls in it. It’s like The Partridge Family gone crazy. My wife’s a bass player and my sister is the lead singer!”
There’s also the DeMotte Boxing Club, which cuts into his volunteer time at church. “Since I opened up the Demotte Club, my schedule has been too crazy,” he sighs. “I want to get back to playing guitar with the church, and I love going on mission trips.”
When it comes down to it, things are looking bright for Jimmy Holmes post-retirement. Good luck, Champ!
- ”Playing in my band is fun. We go out and make a few dollars, but it’s more of a hobby. I LOVE playing guitar. If I could do one thing it would be playing guitar.”
- “ The local boxing [scene] is making it difficult [for boxing to thrive]. Indiana has gone from 75 shows a few yeas ago to six last year. The shift to the new boxing commission has made it more expensive. Local boxing is suffering.”
- “I think it starts at the local and goes up to National. I think there’s too many weight divisions and champions; it doesn’t help the sport. I think people these days don’t know who the heavyweight champion is. It’s rare to have a unified champion – that definitely hurts the sport.”