Interview: Larry Holmes remains one of best, most underrated heavyweight champions ever
When people talk about the great heavyweight boxers of all time, the names flow off tongues readily.
From Muhammad Ali to Joe Louis. From Rocky Marciano to John L. Sullivan. From Evander Holyfield to Mike Tyson. From Joe Frazier to Jack Johnson. From Lennox Lewis to Jack Dempsey. From George Foreman to Wladimir Klitschko.
One name that deserves to be in the conversation, unquestionably, is Larry Holmes.
The “Easton Assassin” still lives in Easton, Pennsylvania. While he was an assassin in the ring, Holmes is one of the nicest guys you will meet outside of the ring.
At the age of 70, Holmes is apparently ready to climb back into the ring.
This time, he will fight an old combatant, Gerry Cooney, in an exhibition match on a date to be determined, due to the COVID 19 pandemic. Some of the proceeds will benefit Holmes’ Heart of a Legend organization. Cooney (63) resides in Long Island, New York.
Holmes talked about the exhibition and other topics on All Access with me Wednesday night on 106.1 FM NASH ICON.
“I don’t know when the fight will be quite yet,” Holmes said. “My wife (Diane) is handling it. We are doing it for charity. We all feel like we have another fight in us. We are friends so we will try to make sure we don’t hit each other too hard.”
On June 11, 1982, Holmes, the world champion, entered the ring at Caesar’s Palace as the favorite at 38-0 while Cooney was 25-0.
Holmes fought off a determined effort by Cooney, winning by a technical knockout in 13 tough rounds in Las Vegas. Holmes was on all three scorecards when the fight was stopped.
The fight was highly promoted and highly anticipated.
Unfortunately, it was also hyped as black vs. white. Cooney was the latest “Great White Hope.”
“I never looked at it that way and neither did Gerry,” Holmes said. “We were both aware of what people were saying but we were focused on trying to win. We became good friends afterwards and we gained great respect for each other.”
38 years later, Holmes says that there was no racism on either side of the ring that night.
“There can’t be no racists in my family,” Holmes said. “All of my brothers are married to white women. We pay no attention to skin color. We all get along so well, as Gerry and I have. Everyone accepts everybody for who and what they are. If you get out of line, it’s a different story.”
Holmes knocked down Cooney in the second round but Cooney fought back before tiring late. Holmes was controlling the fight when it was stopped in the 13th round when Holmes floored Cooney again. There was never a rematch. Now, there will be one.
There is another reason that Holmes wants to box with Cooney again.
“Because everyone says we are old and we’re not old,” Holmes said. “We’re still doing the same thing. I’m still running three or four miles regularly. Gerry is running every day and then he goes in the gym and hits the bag and stuff like that. He wants to prove that he ain’t over the hill. He can still fight. There’s a lot of guys he fights in exhibitions that he takes out. I keep telling him don’t hit those guys hard. He hits them.”
Holmes has a warning for Cooney.
“I already told Gerry don’t hit me hard,” Holmes said. “I told him if he does, I’ll knock him out. Gerry is a good guy. He is a friend. We’re going to do this thing and we’re going to have fun doing it. We hope people are going to enjoy it. The money is for charity. It’s not for my pocket. I just want to have fun with it. When it’s over, we’ll probably get a drink or something like that.”
Holmes and Cooney are not the only former heavyweight stars planning an exhibition comeback.
Both Mike Tyson (53) and Evander Holyfield (57) have announced that they will do so as well and it will likely be against each other. Holyfield defeated Tyson twice for the WBA heavyweight title in 1996 and 1997. Holmes, then an older fighter, lost to both Tyson (1988) and Holyfield (1992).
“I think Mike Tyson wants to do it,” Holmes said. “He don’t like the way he went out and I don’t blame him. He wants to put on a couple of fights. Same with Holyfield. Those guys are champions. They fight. Most of the fighters today, as you’ve been noticing, they ain’t got nothing. Why not come back? They (today’s heavyweights) don’t have anything. Come back and be champion again.”
Holmes said if all goes well, he can see himself or Cooney fighting once more.
“We want the winner of Tyson and Holyfield to fight the winner of our fight,” Holmes said.
Holmes does not view his situation as a quest to become a champion again.
“I don’t want a career,” Holmes said. “I had that for 20 years. I just want to in there and box a little bit, show people I can block, duck punches. I still can hit. The heavyweights today, I doubt they could get past my left jab.”
Perhaps the most memorable night and victory of Holmes’ brilliant career was when he beat his idol, mentor and former sparring partner, the great Muhammad Ali on Oct. 2, 1980 in Las Vegas.
Ali was a shadow of what “The Greatest” once was and Holmes took him apart with the fight finally stopped after 10 rounds by Angelo Dundee, Ali’s trainer.
“That was a tough night in a lot of ways because I admired the guy,” Holmes said. “I liked the guy, I loved the guy. He gave me a job and he taught me how to box and I learned how to duck the punches and not take the punches. Then, I had to fight him and that was not good. There was a lot of pain I went through.”
In 75 career fight, Holmes, who won his first 48 bouts, finished 69-6 with 44 knockouts. As for the victories in his illustrious career that stand out the most, Holmes started with Ali.
“That was huge because he was my idol,” Holmes said. “The next one was Kenny Norton, a guy that put a lot of pressure on you and would knock your head off. Earnie Shavers was another. When he hit you, good night, Irene! Those guys were tough. They didn’t take no prisoners.”
Holmes won the WBC championship for the first time, beating Norton in a 15-round split decision on June 9, 1978. Holmes defeated Shavers twice, once in 1978 and he defended his title by beating Shavers in 1979. Holmes defended his heavyweight title an amazing 20 times between and 1985, losing the title in his first loss ever, to Michael Spinks, on Sept. 21, 1985.
Holmes made many comebacks in his career and won his last four fights, including his final fight at the age of 52 against Eric “Butterbean” Esch on July 27, 2002.
“My wife hollers at me every time I think about boxing,” Holmes laughed. “I’m not going to let myself get hurt.”
Holmes’ autograph is not worth much on the open market, primarily because Holmes readily and willingly has always signed autographs for nothing while many others only do so for compensation.
“I always wanted to relate and cater to my fans,” Holmes said. “I always wanted to honor kids when they wanted an autograph. People are your greatest assets.”
What does Holmes want to get out of the exhibition with Cooney and how does he want to be remembered?
“I want to remain one of the great fighters of all time,” Holmes said. “I want boxing fans to understand that.”
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…