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The Best Heavyweight Champion of the Last 28 Years

BY Luca De Franco ON October 30, 2006
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In most all-time rankings you won’t find Larry Holmes, but he surely was one of the greatest heavyweight champions ever. From 1978 to 1985, The Easton Assassin dominated the scene winning the WBC and IBF titles, making 20 successful defenses, became involved in the most publicized fight of his era (the one against Gerry Cooney who lost by TKO 13) and came close to equalling Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 record losing on points to Michael Spinks in what Ring Magazine called the Upset of the Year.

If numbers aren’t enough to convince you that Larry was really dominant, just look at the list of boxers that he defeated: top-rated contenders Mike Weaver (TKO 12), Earnie Shavers (TKO 11), Renaldo Snipes (TKO 11) and Carl Williams (on points); past and future heavyweight champions Ken Norton (split decision), Trevor Berbick (on points), Leon Spinks (TKO 3), Tim Witherspoon (split decision), James Bonecrusher Smith (TKO 12) and the legendary Muhammad Ali. Now, it’s true that Ali was on his way down when he challenged Holmes, but that’s no excuse for a one-sided loss. On October 2, 1980 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Holmes hit Ali at will and forced him to remain on his stool at the end of the tenth stanza. The scorecards were 100-90, 100-89 and 100-90 for The Easton Assassin.

Of course, Holmes also made some easy defenses against soft opponents like Alfredo Evangelista (KO 7), Ossie Ocasio (TKO 7), Lorenzo Zanon (KO 6), Leroy Jones (TKO 8), Scott LeDoux (TKO 7), Randall Tex Cobb (on points), Lucien Rodriguez (on points), Scott Frank (TKO 5), Marvis Frazier (TKO 1) and David Bey (TKO 10). It has to be noticed that even the underdogs had good records and every champion alternates a tough fight with an easy one.

No champion, as far as I know, ever did what Homes did against Marvis Frazier. It was one of THE emotional moments in the history of boxing and should be broadcast often to make it known to the detractors of the noble art. On November 25, 1983 at Caesars in Vegas, Larry knocked down Frazier, who wasn’t smart enough to stay down, with a perfect right to the jaw. Holmes understood that his opponent was easy prey and punched him around the ring like a heavy bag. At one point, the Eastern Assassin turned toward the referee and moved his right arm to suggest that he should stop the fight. Mills Lane didn’t do anything. Holmes hit Frazier and again turned toward the referee asking for the massacre to be stopped. Again, Lane let the fight continue. At this point, the champion delivered a big right hand which made Frazier spit out his mouthpiece. Then Holmes hit Frazier with an impressive series of right hands to the face and a big left to the body which convinced Lane to declare the TKO. Could you imagine any prizefighter showing mercy? Larry Holmes did. He kept hitting Frazier because it was his profession, but he showed great humanity asking the referee to stop the massacre because he didn’t want to kill his opponent. I interviewed Holmes for a major Italian newspaper, Il Corriere della Sera, which published it on October 14, 2004 (on that occasion they printed 1,148,913 issues) and asked him about the Frazier fight. This is what he said:

“Marvis Frazier took the fight because the promoter offered him $1,000,000, but he didn’t belong in the same ring with me. I took the fight for the same reason. Making money is the name of the game. Don’t believe the boxers who say they do it for passion, it’s always a matter of money. I asked Mills Lane to stop the massacre because I never wanted to hurt anybody. Today, I hear too many bullies saying that they want to kill their opponent.”

If I learned something in 16 years of journalism, is that the guys who talk too much never do anything while the ones who don’t talk build something. It’s like a business deal; top businessmen always do what they are supposed to, wimps and crooks find every excuse and never get the job done. Same thing in boxing. Larry Holmes didn’t need to threaten anybody because he let his punches do the talking for him. He just looked Frazier in the eyes while they were in the middle of the ring and that was enough to understand who would have won. Officially, no title was on the line. But everybody knew that if Holmes lost, the WBC would have stripped him of the belt. That’s enough, for me to consider it a title defense.

Among today’s champions, nobody can throw combinations like The Easton Assassin used to do: with power and elegance. Holmes dismantled his opponents apparently without effort making the public believe that throwing ten consecutive punches was easy. Holmes was also brave enough to rise after knockdowns and win the fight. On September 28, 1979, Holmes was sent down by Ernie Shavers (in the 7th round), but The Easton Assassin got revenge and won by TKO 11. It has to be pointed out that Homes had beaten Shavers on points on March 25, 1978. Ernie Shavers is considered by many experts the hardest hitter ever, but Holmes is the only one who beat him twice. From 1969 to 1983, Ernie Shavers built a record of 72 wins (67 KOs), 13 losses and 1 draw. He faced the most dangerous contenders of his time and lost to WBA/WBC champion Muhammad Ali on points. Shavers fought again in 1987 and 1995 – winning twice and losing once – before retiring for good.

Going back to Larry Holmes, on November 6, 1981 history repeated itself: he was put down by Renaldo Snipes in the 7th round, but Holmes put him to sleep in the 11th. On September 21, 1985 at Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Larry Holmes defended the heavyweight belt for the 21st time against light heavyweight champion Michael Spinks. You notice that I don’t mention what belts they wore. No need to do it: both were the legitimate champions in their division. Holmes had a perfect record of 48-0 and beating Spinks (27-0) would make him equal to Rocky Marciano. After 15 rounds, Spinks got a unanimous decision: 145-142 (twice) and 143-142. The rematch took place on April 19, 1986 and Spinks got two cards in his favor: 144-142, 144-141. The other judge scored it 144-141 for Holmes. That was the end of Larry’s prime.

The Easton Assassin fought another 25 bouts, with a record of 21 wins and 4 losses. The most important win took place on February 7, 1992 against Ray Mercer (UD). The losses were in title fights. On January 22, 1988 Holmes was TKOed in four rounds by Mike Tyson. The problem was that Holmes didn’t throw a combination in the entire fight; that’s why I wrote that The Easton Assassin wasn’t the same after the second loss to Spinks. On June 19, 1992 WBA/WBC/IBF champion Evander Holyfield got a large decision against Holmes. But let’s get one thing straight: I don’t think that the Real Deal could have lasted more than six rounds against a young Holmes. On April 8, 1995, WBC king Oliver McCall got a close unanimous decision (one point in two scorecards) against Holmes. On January 24, 1997 Holmes lost another close decision to IBO champion Brian Nielsen. It has to be noticed that the fight took place in Denmark and one judge scored it 116-115 for Holmes. Considering that partisan verdicts are the norm everywhere, probably Holmes was the real winner.

On July 27, 2002 the Easton Assassin fought for the last time against Butterbean Eric Esch. After ten rounds, Holmes won easily on points. When I asked him about that mismatch, he said: “I had 74 fights in my record and I wanted to make it 75. That’s the only reason why I accepted to fight Butterbean. I have to admit that he hurt when he hit me.”

Today, Larry Holmes keeps living in Easton where he built a mall and makes money renting the spaces to various companies. Inside the mall, he opened the Ringside Restaurant and Lounge where he displays more than 100 photos, three championship belts and many trophies. Holmes also opened a gym, at 228 Canal Street, to train future champions. At least, that was his intention. That’s what he told me: “Today’s youngsters want to fight a few times on HBO, because they think that will be enough to become famous and make money. It never worked that way and never will. Boxing is a tough sport for tough kids, who can make sacrifices for ten years before getting a big opportunity. The toughest of them become champions and keep the belt for a long time. Defending the belt is as tough as winning it. People who don’t realize that boxing is not easy, will never make it.”

Larry Holmes
Born on March 11, 1949 in Cuthbert (Georgia).
Nickname: The Easton Assassin because he is a resident of Easton (Pennsylvania) since 1957.
Record: 69 wins (44 KOs) and 6 losses.
On March 21, 1973 he had his pro debut, winning on points against Rodell Dupree.
On June 9, 1978 he won the WBC title from Ken Norton (on points) and officially defended it 16 times. The win over Marvis Frazier wasn’t a title defense, but Holmes would have been stripped of the WBC belt if he had lost.
On December 11, 1983 Holmes vacated the WBC title and signed with the IBF becoming its first heavyweight champion. He successfully defended the IBF title three times.
Larry Holmes reigned as heavyweight champion from June 9, 1978 to September 21, 1985. That makes 7 years, 3 months and 12 days. It is the second-longest reign in history after Joe Louis who was on top from 1937 to 1948. It has to be noticed that Louis didn’t fight from 1942 to 1946 because of the Second World War.

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