25 Years Ago: When Old Man Larry Holmes Almost Edged Oliver McCall To Regain The WBC Title

It was a darn good thing for Oliver McCall he wasn’t fighting the Larry Holmes who defeated Ken Norton to win the WBC heavyweight championship. That version of Holmes, the 1978 version; the peak version of “The Easton Assassin,” had long since gone by the time ol’ Larry challenged McCall in an effort at regaining the crown he had won in that superb battle.

Now it was 1995 and McCall, making his first defence having shocked Lennox Lewis to win the green belt the previous September, had too much youth, aggression, stamina and youth (repeat) for the 45 year old all-time great who had last reigned as a world champion in 1985. 29 year old McCall still found out, however, how crafty, how knowledgeable and how clever Holmes was.

Dubbed “Burden Of Proof,” the fight took place on April 8, in Las Vegas. McCall, 25-5 was making the first defence of his belt and he had turned down an offer to fight Lewis in an immediate rematch, instead opting to face Holmes, 64-4. It almost turned out to be a bad mistake. Holmes, only ever stopped by Mike Tyson, who “The Atomic Bull” had sparred frequently, did the rope-a-dope against McCall, countering the defending champ’s shots with rights to the head. Holmes still had a fine jab, and McCall’s lead was no match for arguably the best in heavyweight history.

For almost nine rounds, Holmes was very much in the fight, picking up points courtesy of his stiff counters and nice jabs. But then youth was served. McCall sent Holmes reeling in the ninth, the ropes holding the old guy up. The last three rounds saw McCall bull Holmes, cutting him across the cheekbone also. Still Holmes believed. For a man who still claims he was never given a break by the judges, Holmes felt he would perhaps get the nod here. He didn’t but it sure was close – 115-114 twice and 115-112 on the third card.

Again, how much of a mismatch would this fight have been had McCall been in there with the prime Larry Holmes? Holmes didn’t win on this day a quarter of a century ago, but he made it clear for all to see how much better the best heavyweights of the 1970s really were compared to the best big men of the 1990s.