One of the all-time great heavyweight champs, Holmes will be forever denied his due because, as a champion, he is alleged to have piggybacked on the fame, skill and charisma of Muhammad Ali. As a middle-age-crazy comebacker, he is alleged to have ridden the coattails of George Foreman. Larry's accomplishments (15 heavyweight title defenses, seven uninterrupted years as generally-recognized heavyweight champ -- a string we may never see again in our lifetimes) speak loudly and eloquently for Larry's greatness. Yet even here, on this last day of his career, a career that spanned nearly a quarter of a century, a certain dignity seems to have eluded the Easton Assassin. How many of us wish he had called it quits after his gallant losing stand against the relentless Evander Holyfield in 1992, rather than hang around to bang out a journeyman who would hardly have been a good sparring partner for the old man a decade ago? And nobody wants to make a bow on one of CBS' wacky Sunday afternoon sports broadcasts, where boxing always seems to share the spotlight with soap box derby, professional tetherball, yak milking or some other wiggy sport no one could possibly watch. Worst of all, the aging Holmes was forced to fight in Biloxi under the watchful eye of Athletic Commissioner Billy "Bell Curve" Lyons, a man whose racist comments on Roy Jones would have gotten his narrow cracker behind bounced in any state that didn't still proudly fly the confederate flag. Dignity? Sorry, Lar, dignity will just have to wait in the car on this Father's Day. At least you got the "W."
Larry did not seem to take today's contest with a huge amount of gravity, although his bulk certainly generated a bunch. As CBS commentator Tim Ryan so tellingly let slip, Holmes trained "as much as he thought he had to," coming in at a jiggly 240 pounds to fight St. Louis trial horse Anthony "Big Hands" Willis, a former light-heavy whose only bouts against credible big men (Zolkin, Nicholson) ended in defeat. Clearly, the Holmes camp (including trainer Saoul Mamby, a former jr. welter champ who also fought expertly into his 40s) was looking for a safety-first finale. At 240, Larry looked the part of a fighter who had reached the end. A house may not always be a home, but this Holmes was certainly a house.
As for the contest itself (once Ed Darien managed to finish the two dozen "Murad Muhammad" mentions that must have been written into the contract), it was a fairly mundane affair, a bout that anyone familiar with Holmes' later bouts could almost have described from memory. It will surprise no one to know that Holmes controlled the game, but strategically-limited and too-respectful opponent with a stiff left jab, and worked to set him up for the following overhand right. In each of the first two rounds, Holmes landed the right hand, almost as if to foreshadow the brutal eighth round climax.
Holmes had a tendency to mar the simplicity of his performance with occasional clowning, trying to goad the younger man into the corner (a la his title eliminator with Ray Mercer), holding the ropes, and jawing with the Willis cornermen. What we had hoped would be a textbook exhibition of scientific boxing at several points threatened to unravel into showboating and head games. Willis did not take the bait (to his credit), but neither was he able to impose his will on the dominant Holmes. Willis' good moments, mostly in the form of some hard hooks and decent body work in rounds 3-5, were only spurts. More often, he sat out at the end of Larry's slower-but-still-effective jab, catching leather. Holmes, whose plodding movement still managed to unbalance Willis, probably had to extend himself more than he wished, but he was never troubled by the younger fighter, and when he closed the sparring session at 1:04 of the eighth with a crashing right hand behind (surprise surprise!) a left jab, Willis fell back as though his truck had backed over him. Anthony hails from the "Show Me" state, and he can have no complaints on that score because "show him" Larry certainly did.
Thankfully, Holmes, he of the infamous "jock strap" comment, claims his association with boxing has not left him bitter and that his financial security has been assured by shrewd business investments. Still, he holds out the decidedly unappetizing possibility of a Metamucil Mill with fellow AARP poster boy George Foreman. We can only hope that this is Holmes' being tongue-in-cheek and not fist-in-glove. No one wants to see either of these two venerable, but aging, icons busted up in that particular fistic filibuster. For my part, I would be more than happy to see the Assassin blend into the sporting landscape as a merry pitchman, a la Foreman/Frazier. Someone please get this guy a product! He's never been easily "muffled" by anyone, so Meineke may not be interested...He's too late for the "Do you know me?" Amex ads, but maybe one of our more enterprising readers can find a campaign that suits him. (HOLMES poses in front of picture of Marciano: "Just because I never got to have a piece of the Rock, doesn't mean you can't have one...[PRUDENTIAL logo flashes]) One more comeback fight and Larry may find himself inadvertently auditioning to be the next senior who's fallen and can't get up...
Thanks to Larry Holmes for a wonderful career, and best wishes on a happy (and permanent) retirement.
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