Most lists you come across, practically all top-10 greatest heavyweight champions lists, have Larry Holmes in there somewhere. Whether the former champ is in at the lower end of the ten or closer to the very top, Holmes is there and of course he has every right to be placed.
But is Holmes perhaps deserving of being ranked amongst the top-5 greatest ever heavyweight champions?
Consider Holmes’ achievements:
Heavyweight ruler from 1978 to 1985. Twenty successful title defences, second in number only to the immortal Joe Louis. His reign only ended as the result of a most controversial and debatable decision loss. Quality opposition beaten throughout – including: Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers (twice), Mike Weaver, Gerry Cooney, Tim Witherspoon, James “Bonecrusher” Smith, Carl Williams and Renaldo Snipes. Came back as an old man and came within a whisker of regaining a world title (dropping a thisclose decision to Oliver McCall). Defeated Ray Mercer when old and a big underdog. Was stopped just once when, rusty, out of shape and given very little time to prepare, he was KO’d by a peak Mike Tyson at age 38.
That is some career, and there is absolutely no doubting Holmes’ excellence as a fighter and as a champion. Blessed with arguably the finest left jab in heavyweight history, Holmes also had seemingly superhuman recuperative powers (see his you-cannot-get-hit-any-harder knockdown at the hands of the murderous-hitting Shavers in their second fight – would any other heavyweight have survived that brutal blow?)
Added to these qualities is the fact that, as world champion, Holmes was always in good to magnificent shape (he was still getting over the effects of a virus in the tougher than expected Weaver fight of 1979) and he ducked pretty much nobody (a stickler may bring up the names Greg Page and Gerrie Coetzee, two men Holmes might have faced; but surely no-one will claim either fighter would have beaten Holmes).
Champ for over seven years. 20 title retentions. Never beaten in his prime. Could so easily have tied, even beaten, Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 record had six other guys been judges. Yes, Holmes is Top-Five greatest ever material.
1- Muhammad Ali.
2- Joe Louis.
3- Jack Johnson.
4- Rocky Marciano.
5- Larry Holmes.
6- Jack Dempsey.
7- George Foreman.
8- Joe Frazier.
9- Lennox Lewis.
10- Sonny Liston.