Larry Holmes: 26 Years Ago Tonight He Made His Mark

09.06.04 - By Frank Lotierzo - - He supported himself by working in a car wash while learning his craft. He was mocked for having skinny legs. Many observers questioned his heart and punch. To top it off, he was stopped by Duane Bobick in the finals of 1972 Olympic Trials while Muhammad Ali provided color commentary with Howard Cosell for ABC's Wide World of Sports. Yet when his career was finally over, only Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali won more Heavyweight title fights than this all time great. In fact only Louis made more successful defenses of the Heavyweight title than the 20 that Larry Holmes compiled from 1978 through 1985.

It's 26 years ago tonight that Larry Holmes won the WBC Heavyweight title from Ken Norton. The date was June 9th 1978 when Holmes took a 15 round split decision over Norton at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The Holmes-Norton title fight ranks up there with the greatest Heavyweight Championship bouts of all time. In fact the 15th round is one of the best rounds in Heavyweight history.

The pro career of Larry Holmes didn't start with much fan fare. After being stopped by Bobick in the Olympic Trials, Holmes was just about forgotten. On March 21st 1973 without any media attention, Larry Holmes turned pro when he won a four round decision over Rodell Dupree in Scranton Pennsylvania. A fight in which he was paid exactly $150.00. After beating Dupree, Holmes ran off 26 straight victories on his way to becoming the World's top ranked Heavyweight. During the five years between fighting Dupree and Norton, Holmes filled out and developed what many believe would go onto become the best jab in Heavyweight history. Surpassing the legendary status of Louis, Liston, and Ali regarding great jabs.

The thing Holmes was probably best known for before winning the title was being a sparring partner for former Heavyweight Champs "Smokin" Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. Frazier was the first big time fighter that Holmes worked for. Because of Holmes' style being similar to Ali's, Frazier employed him as one of his main sparring partners to help him get ready for his upcoming rematch with Ali. Folk lore has it that after two days of heated sparring, Frazier broke Larry's rib and Holmes was given his walking papers. However, Holmes says he was let go because he was doing to good with Frazier. To the best of my knowledge, Frazier's version has a little more truth to it. At least according to the guys who were in the gym at the time, like trainers Eddie Futch, George Benton, Milt Bailey, and Val Colbert.

Later that year Holmes was hired away from Frazier by Ali. Ali employed Holmes as one of his main sparring partners along with Roy "Tiger" Williams to help him prepare for his upcoming title fight with George Foreman. It is widely known that Ali was not the greatest gym fighter and had more than his hands full with the young Holmes. Holmes would work for Ali for another year and a half. In fact Holmes stopped Duane Bobick's brother Rodney on the under card of "The Thrilla in Manila". After leaving Ali, Holmes worked briefly as a sparring partner for the highly ranked hard punching Earnie Shavers.

Ironically, it was Shavers who Holmes would have to beat in an elimination bout in order to get in position to fight Norton for the title. On March 25th 1978, Holmes put on a Boxing clinic and beat Shavers 12 out of 12 rounds to set up the title fight versus Norton. In the fight with Shavers, Holmes won no less than 34 minutes out of a 36 minute fight. Against Earnie, Holmes' jab was piston like. Larry totally nullified Shavers power with his jab and lateral movement and just took him to school.

Three months later on June 9th 1978, Holmes would enter the ring as the top ranked Heavyweight in the World and challenged Norton who was just appointed Champion by the WBC. Most of the press at that time were big fans of Ken Norton, due to the fact that he gave Ali three tough and close fights from 1973 to 1976. Norton was favored by the press, but many Boxing insiders knew Holmes was really the goods and that he had an excellent chance to take Norton. A couple days before the fight with Norton, a report surfaced that Holmes had suffered a torn left tricep muscle. This really sparked the Norton sentiment and by fight night, most were leaning towards Norton.

When the fight finally started, Holmes never looked better. He was just too fast for Kenny. On top of that, Norton couldn't get past the Holmes' jab in order to try and work his body in the hopes of slowing him down and getting him to come down off his toes. For eight rounds it was all Holmes, Norton just couldn't get close enough to Larry in order to do any real damage. Then in the 8th round Norton finally got through and scored heavily to the Holmes head and body.

Arthur Mercante who was doing the ABC broadcast with Howard Cosell didn't score a single round for Norton until the 8th round. After 10 rounds Mercante said to Cosell that he had the fight 8-2 Holmes, and the only way Norton could retain the title on his card is if he stopped Holmes. For the next 5 rounds Holmes and Norton really went at it and had some tremendous exchanges with both fighters getting the upper hand in brief spots. After 14 rounds the fight was very close on the judges cards, something I disagree with. However, both Holmes and Norton came out and fought the 15th round as if their entire lives depended on it.

We the fans were truly the beneficiaries of that mind set, because Holmes and Norton fought a round for the ages. I suggest if you have a copy of this fight, go re watch the 15th round and try and remember the last time you've seen two Heavyweight's fight like that since then. Other than the 10th round of the first Holyfield-Bowe fight, nothing comes close.

At the bell both fighters staggered back to their corners to await the decision. When the decision was announced, Holmes won a split decision by the scores of 143-142, 143-142, and 142-143 or 8-7 in rounds for Holmes twice, and 8-7 for Norton. This was the crowning moment of Larry Holmes' career. After years of being called a cheap Ali imitation and being told that he wasn't good enough, Larry Holmes showed that he was.

During his title reign of seven plus years, Holmes was never really given his just due as Champion. It was perceived by many that Holmes won more because his opponents weren't any good, than it was because he was an outstanding/great fighter. Maybe there is a little truth to that sentiment, but now we have 26 years to look back and reflect. Now we know that Holmes was really that good.

Looking back over the career of Larry Holmes, it's easy to see that he really was a great fighter. He had possibly the greatest jab in Heavyweight history, along with being a great Boxer with fast hands. On top of that Holmes had a great chin and the will to win equal to just about any fighter I have ever seen. Lastly, one cannot write about Holmes without mentioning his huge Championship heart. Can anyone forget where they were the night Earnie Shavers dropped a right hand on Holmes' jaw that must have been heard around the World? How about how Holmes got up and actually won the last 30 seconds of that fateful 7th round. Even Sharvers kidded after the fight saying that for 8 seconds, he was the Heavyweight Champion of the World.

Who knew 26 years ago tonight that we would be looking back at Larry Holmes and admitting that yes, he is an all-time great and has to be considered one of the six or seven greatest Heavyweight Champions in Boxing history. In my opinion, Larry Holmes is without a doubt the greatest Heavyweight Champion since the end of the Ali era in 1978. As far as I'm concerned, Holmes ranks above Holyfield, Tyson, Lewis, and Bowe without question. Not only does he rank ahead of them in my view, but at his best he would've defeated all four of them at their best. He just had all the tools. The size, strength, and the heart along with the know how. During his title tenure, Holmes would often say that he didn't get any respect. Hey Larry, you got our respect! You are no doubt one of the greatest of the greats!

Writers Note

The Holmes-Norton fight is thought of as being a very close fight. I for one didn't think it was as close as the officials who scored it. My thinking is more in line with that of Arthur Mercante. I too had the fight 8-2 Holmes after 10 rounds. Of the next five rounds, even if you're Norton's parents, he won 3 of the last 5 at best. That makes it 10-5 Holmes. I think that is how the fight went down, 10-5 or 9-6 at the worst, but no way 8-7. Holmes was ahead easily 8-2 after 10, and didn't lose more than 3 of the last 5 rounds making it 10-5. I know I may be in the minority, but I have a beautiful copy of this fight and have watched it several times, and that's how I see it. In fact if you throw a copy of that fight in your VCR or DVD, you'll realize just how bad today's Heavyweights really are.

Article posted on 09.06.2004

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