Former world heavyweight king Larry Holmes celebrates his 69th birthday today. Over the years, Holmes’ reputation as one of the absolute greats has grown and grown. There was a time when Holmes, as he often lamented himself, never got his “just due,” his “respect.” Not any more. Fight fans and historians alike fully recognize Holmes – who ruled the world from 1978 to 1985 – as one of the finest big men in history. Top-5? Maybe. Certainly Holmes is Top-10 in any list of the greatest ever heavyweight champions.
Holmes himself, on the fabulous ‘Champions Forever,’ actually claims that he was the best heavyweight of all. Who knows, maybe a peak Larry Holmes would have been too much for a peak Ali, a peak Joe Louis or a peak Jack Dempsey? And we all know what Holmes thought about the greatness of Rocky Marciano, whose famous 49-0 record he came so close to beating! Holmes getting into hot water after coming out with his infamous “Rocky couldn’t carry my jockstrap” quote after his upset loss to Michael Spinks and with it any chance of besting Rocky’s 49-0 ledger.
Undeniably, though, with his great chin, his awesome left jab (heavyweight boxing’s best ever in the opinion of some) and with underrated punch power, Holmes has to be seen as one of the true greats of the sport; a fighter who also had a very long run at elite level.
It took many years of sweat and toil for Holmes – who turned pro with a points win over four rounds against a guy named Rodell Dupree in early 1973 – to get the credit he always knew he deserved. Even after winning the WBC heavyweight crown, in a thriller of a fight with Ken Norton in 1978, the unbeaten Holmes was very much in his predecessor and former employee’s shadow. Holmes had the misfortune of following the one and only Muhammad Ali, and while the fans loved Ali, they were not as taken by the “ordinary” Holmes.
Holmes didn’t want to fight the ageing Ali, but as champion he had no choice but to accept the challenge of the thirty-eight year old former king. A sad fight followed, one that did neither Ali nor Holmes any good. Sympathy was felt from everyone for Ali after the ten round drubbing he’d taken, while Holmes was still in his shadow. Eventually, Holmes would total twenty successful defences of his world title, a number second only to the superb Joe Louis’ record of twenty-five. Yet only in recent years have the talents of the man from Easton, Pennsylvania been fully appreciated. So he was no Ali. But who was?
Homes’ left jab was probably the very best in history, while his recuperative powers were extraordinary. This was proven on a few occasions, the greatest example of which was when Holmes fought his second fight with the huge-punching Earnie Shavers. Decked by Shaver’s trademark overhand right in round-seven, Holmes looked to be all gone. Yet somehow he beat the count and fought back to win. This feat, along with his large number of title defences, most of which came against fine fighters, goes to show how great a fighter Holmes was.
Men like Tim Witherspoon, Gerry Cooney, Renaldo Snipes (who also floored him, only to be paid back in kind) Norton and Shavers were beaten by Holmes. As he said himself many times, Holmes fought the baddest contenders around. And he beat them all. In fact, it could be argued that the Holmes of 1973 to 1986 never really lost a single fight.
Happy birthday to a special heavyweight talent.