Born 70 years ago today in Cuthbert, Georgia, heavyweight legend Larry Holmes saw a long pro career begin with a points win over a guy named Rodell Dupree in March of 1973 and end with a points win over a guy known as Butterbean in July of 2002. That’s a span of 29 years, with a few layoffs in-between – whichever way you cut it, a heck of a display of durability.
Holmes, who ruled as heavyweight king from June of 1978 to September of 1985, and finished with a most impressive 69-6(44) ledger, is fond of saying how, when he was an emerging contender, no-one gave him much of a chance of amounting to anything. Holmes sure amounted to plenty, and during his eventful career the man known as “The Easton Assassin” gave us fans plenty of thrills, plenty of great fights, some memorable KO’s, a few seemingly impossible comebacks, and some controversy thrown in.
Holmes gave us the last great 15 round heavyweight battle with his title-winning war with Ken Norton in ’78. He gave us one of the biggest promotions of its time with his heavily hyped showdown with “Great White Hope” Gerry Cooney in 1982. Holmes left us awestruck as he somehow managed to scrape himself upright after being decked by monster shots thrown by Earnie Shavers and Renaldo Snipes, winning both fights, in 1979 and 1981, by stoppage. And Holmes came within a whisker of equaling the immortal 49-0 record set by Rocky Marciano.
It was after failing to equal Rocky’s numbers that the controversial element of Larry’s career came into full swing. Understandably upset at losing to former light-heavyweight champ Michael Spinks via close, debatable decision, Holmes let loose with a torrent of bad words at the post fight presser (that was shown live on TV, to make matters even worse). The soon to be infamous “Rocky couldn’t carry my jockstrap” comment got Holmes into some hot water.
Now an ex-champ, Holmes cut an even angrier figure after losing the rematch with Spinks; by even closer and more controversial decision. But none of this should detract from how great a fighter, how great and consistent a champion Holmes really was. Wins over all the top contenders came and Holmes proved his greatness many times. A comeback launched in 1991 – this after an out of shape Holmes had been stopped for the only time in his career by Mike Tyson in an earlier comeback, in 1988 – saw Holmes go on to upset Ray Mercer and then come pretty close to regaining a portion of the heavyweight crown in a tough fight with Oliver McCall, in 1995.
In his prime, though, Holmes might have been unbeatable. His left jab was awesome, Holmes’ recuperative powers even more so. Yeah, Holmes was special. The greatest living heavyweight champion? Very possibly.
Happy birthday, champ!