Larry Holmes had some great nights in Las Vegas. Holmes beat Gerry Cooney in the biggest heavyweight fight of the 1980s in Vegas. Holmes got off the floor, somehow, to come back and stop Earnie Shavers in Vegas. Holmes won the world heavyweight title in Vegas, his classic battle with Ken Norton very much a fan favorite today. But Holmes had a really bad night in Vegas in September of 1985.
In fact, Holmes has two reasons to look back on the night of September 21, 1985 with genuine regret. First, Holmes was beaten, in an upset of monster proportions, by Michael Spinks; the light-heavyweight having moved up to make history. Secondly, Holmes had failed in his bid to make some boxing history of his own – that of matching Rocky Marciano’s much celebrated 49-0 record.
What a tired, frustrated, bitter and somewhat paranoid Holmes did, what he said, when taking to the microphone at The Riviera Hotel became the stuff of legend. Holmes, having lost for the first time as a pro, was not in a good mood. That’s putting it mildly. Marciano’s name was to suffer as a result. You remember some of what Holmes said if you’re old enough; how Larry went well and truly overboard with his public comments at the post-fight press conference. And what made it worse was, Peter Marciano was right there in person to hear his brother take some vicious verbal combinations from Holmes.
“Seven years the heavyweight champion of the world, when most people, like Howard Cosell, Gil Clancy, Cus D’Amato said Larry Holmes would never be world champion,” Holmes began, cordially enough even though the disappointment at having lost was clear in his voice. “I went wrong somewhere and I became heavyweight champion. I went against all odds and became the heavyweight champion of the world. In the last days coming into the (Spinks) fight I got annoyed at some of the things coming from the Marciano family, especially his brother. You never like to take anything away from a fighter, and I think his family owes me a great deal for bringing him back to life the way I did.
“Not trying to put Rocky down, but I could and it’d be so easy for me to do it. I do what I want and this is probably why I lost. I say it like it is and I will continue to say it until the day I die. I’m 35 years old fighting young men and he was 25 years old fighting old men. I could easy put him down. If you really wanna get technical about the whole thing, Rocky couldn’t carry my jockstrap. There will never be a white champion as long as black fighters are fighting the way they are. If I hurt your feelings back there, Peter (Marciano) – so f*****g what! This is my show and you have been invited by Caesars Palace, you are freeloading off your brother, even after he’s dead. If it wasn’t for me you would never have been invited to Caesars Palace where all you’re expenses are paid. Face the truth.”
Nasty stuff indeed from a great fighter who should have known better. Holmes made some attempt to say sorry for the insults he had hurled at the Marcianos, yet the damage was done. To this day, Holmes says he does not get the credit he deserves as a fighter. Agree or disagree? Maybe it was the vicious tirade Holmes came out with back in 1985 that forever turned some fans of his into critics. If so, Holmes got what he deserved.
Holmes was a fine fighter but he never had the overall class and decorum Rocky had. This was evident during this, one of the most infamous post-fight press conferences in boxing. The one during which Holmes gave himself and the sport one helluva black eye.