By James Slater – Today, long since retired, former WBA heavyweight champ Weaver says Larry Holmes was the best fighter he ever met. Weaver and Holmes had a great action fight in 1979 (as well as a rematch many years later, when both were coming towards the end) and it was during this losing battle that Weaver, a former Marine, made his name. Later on, in a real career turnaround, the man Ken Norton called Hercules stunned John Tate and the boxing world to become champ.
But as great as Holmes was and as special as the win over Tate was, the name Bernardo Mercado sticks uppermost in 61-year-old Weaver’s mind – as I discovered when speaking with the Texan recently.
“Bernardo Mercado, oh, he was the hardest puncher I ever faced. I tell that to everyone who asks me,” Weaver says in a steady, but clear voice, a laugh never too far away.
“That (5th-round TKO) win earned me a shot at Holmes. Mercardo put me down in the fight, and he did it to me in sparring, too (laughs). But I wasn’t scared of Holmes at all. I told everyone that even if I didn’t beat him, I’d give him the hardest fight of his life. They all just laughed. But I pushed him real hard, I even scored a knockdown but they [the ref] called it a slip (in the 4th-round, when Holmes was under pressure along the ropes). Holmes was great, the best I ever fought. It was an honour to fight him.”
The father of four grown up daughters enjoys talking about his boxing career, yet he is not so keen on recalling his days in Vietnam. Weaver was there in 1969 and ‘70, and he has tried hard to forget the experiences he had during the bloody conflict.
“Vietnam was a major part of my life, and I did get into boxing while serving, but I don’t ever want to talk about that time – not even to my family. I just want to forget all about those days. But I found boxing whilst in the Corp, I was naturally big at 6’1” and around 200-pounds when in my late teens, and my family has a sporting background. My father and my brothers competed in track and in football and of course my brothers also boxed. I myself happened to get into boxing due to having a fight with another marine over a song I wanted on the juke box. I knocked him out, and I later found out he was the boxing champ of the Marine Corp!”
Weaver, who today works at a construction company owned by a friend in California, came back from the 12th-round TKO he’d suffered at the hands of Holmes, and soon gave the sport one of the most amazing come-from-behind wins in its history.
“Early on, I never really took boxing seriously. I’d think, ‘So I lost a fight, big deal.’ But I got serious eventually and for the fight with John Tate (in March of ‘80), that was me at my best. I trained my hardest ever for the Tate fight.”
Hopelessly behind on points in the 15th and final round, Weaver suddenly stunned Tate and the entire boxing world with a vicious left hand KO that left the unbeaten Tate flat on his face.
“I knocked him out with just 45-seconds left in the fight. My team told me, ‘What are you waiting for? Go out and KO him now, otherwise don’t bother coming back to the corner!’ And that’s what I did! It meant so much to me to become champ. My whole career, I was just an opponent, with no-one really building me up. In fact, it was odd that I ever made it, even to me! But Ken Norton had recently given me my Hercules nickname – a genuine compliment coming from him – and I was a determined man.”
Two retentions followed: a 13th-round TKO of Gerrie Coetzee in South Africa (“Jesse Jackson told me not to take that fight. He said it was prejudiced over there and I couldn’t win even if I won the actual fight”) and a wide decision win over James Tillis – before Weaver was controversially stopped in just over a minute by Mike Dokes in December of 1982.
“Dokes never hurt me. In fact, I was told by some friends of mine that they’d [the officials in Las Vegas] find every reason they could to stop the fight on me. I even heard that the ref, Joey Curtis, bet on Tate to win in the 1st-round! I was very suspicious of Don King and everyone. I don’t think they wanted me to be champion. I never again trusted the powers that be in boxing; not after that loss and then the drawn verdict in the rematch. My heart was never really in the sport any more, even though I carried on for a long time (17 years). I was just in it for the money by then. I know I beat Dokes in the second fight, though. They robbed me and I knew I couldn‘t beat the system.”
(note: Dokes is seriously ill with cancer today, on death’s door. Mike says he is praying for his one-time ring rival)
Weaver is in good shape today, mentally and physically, and his memory is sharp.
“I’m around 260-pounds right now. I joke with my buddies that I could get back down to 220 if I wanted to (laughs). I never lifted weights in my prime, but I did a lot of squats and a whole lot of push-ups; around 500 a day. I try and keep in shape today, I walk a lot and I watch what I eat.”
Weaver, who retired with a deceiving 41-18-1(28) record after a 2000 return loss with Holmes (“We were both old guys by then, seeing if we could still do it”) enjoys watching the Klitschko brothers today and he watches as much boxing as he can. He is also learning to play the piano.
“I was playing the piano earlier today, well I was trying (laughs). I watch as much boxing as I can. I enjoy seeing the Klitschkos work. I can’t compare these guys today with the guys from my era – they’re just so much bigger today. The Klitschkos seem really dedicated and powerful. More power to them, I say. Myself, I’m happy with how my career went. I fought a lot of great fighters in Holmes, Tate, Pinklon Thomas and Lennox Lewis; who I later worked with in sparring for his fight with Razor Ruddock. I still feel blessed today, with no health problems. I had over twenty years in the ring and that’s a long time. I got out with my heath intact. I Can’t believe how long it’s been since my last fight!”