Larry Holmes – The Champ Speaks
Charles Jay has a chat with the “Easton Assassin”
“Though he may have never gained the kind of universal admiration he deserved for his monumental ring exploits, there is no question that LARRY HOLMES will go down in history in the minds of boxing experts as one of the greatest heavyweight champions ever. His is a story of a man who paid his dues, waited his turn, and reaped the benefits which were a product of his talent and his industriousness, in what is a great American success saga.”
I remember writing that as part of a Larry Holmes bio when I was a boxing consultant at Casino Magic in Mississippi, and Holmes came to fight the first of many fights on the casino property. And it pretty much tells the story in a nutshell. Holmes, who was roundly criticized for his performance in the 1972 Olympic Trials against Duane Bobick, had to overcome skeptics for much of his boxing career. And he never took short cuts, plying his trade for years until, at the age of 28, he received his world title opportunity against WBC champion Ken Norton. In a great fight which featured a final three-round stretch that ranks with any in heavyweight history, Holmes captured the 15-round decision and the WBC heavyweight crown.
The rest, obviously, is history. Holmes, first with the WBC title and subsequently with the IBF crown, made twenty successful defenses and came to within one victory of tying Rocky Marciano’s record of 49 straight wins for a heavyweight champion, until he was beaten in a pair of disputed decisions by Michael Spinks. Holmes has made a few comebacks since then, including title defeats against Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, and Oliver McCall.
At age 54, Holmes is retired. Or is he? With George Foreman’s recent admission that he would be interested in launching a ring comeback, one has to wonder whether Holmes, who has been pining for the opportunity to fight Foreman for years, isn’t still harboring thoughts of continuing his career as well, with the hopes of luring Big George into a “Golden Oldies” pay-per-view matchup.
Even if that doesn’t happen, Holmes is going to continue marching to the beat of his own drummer. He seems to be a man very much at peace with himself, at ease with his place in history, and very much in control of his own destiny.
Larry Holmes is not a phony. He’s someone who puts his money where his mouth is, gives back to his community without fanfare, and has always exuded a brand of professionalism that is all too rare in boxing. He knows the value of the fan – if you see him out in public, you will notice him stopping, without fail, to fulfill every autograph request put in front of him. His is an unusual case of a superstar athlete with the proper PERSPECTIVE.
Active as a businessman in his hometown of Easton, Pa., Holmes looks after a number of interests, including real estate holdings, various commercial enterprises, charitable concerns, and a new business – an internet casino, Betwiththechamp.com. And he’s still as feisty as ever.
Charles Jay: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE HEAVYWEIGHT DIVISION THESE DAYS?
Larry Holmes: Slim. Very slim. These guys are not good fighters anymore. That’s why you’ve got Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson dominating, and neither one of those guys are really great fighters. Lennox Lewis doesn’t have the big heart – he’s a big guy and should have a big heart but I guess someone left that heart at home. Mike Tyson always had a big heart, but one of his problems is that he’s short. And he’s got kind of a personal attitude. But that don’t make him a great fighter.
Charles Jay: SO THE HEAVYWEIGHT DIVISION ISN’T AS GOOD NOW AS IT WAS WHEN YOU WERE CHAMPION?
Larry Holmes: No. When I was fighting, you had the Ken Nortons, the George Foremans, the Muhammad Alis, the Ron Lyles. You would’ve never heard of these guys that are around now. These guys would have made sparring partners only. And they probably wouldn’t have been good sparring partners.
Charles Jay: HOW WOULD YOU RATE LEWIS AMONG SOME OF THE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONS OF THE PAST?
Larry Holmes: Well, I don’t get into that ratings business. I don’t even rate myself. I let the media, the so-called experts, do it. But I can’t rate Lennox Lewis in the top one hundred as of yet because I’ve seen him get knocked out by someone, I’ve seen him quit – that was with Oliver McCall. So I can’t really rate him as a great champion yet. He’s just a guy that’s been lucky enough to fight guys that are not really qualified enough to be fighting for the title.
Charles Jay: DOES HE DO ANYTHING IN THE RING THAT YOU LIKE?
Larry Holmes: I haven’t seen anything he does that I really like. The only thing he’s got going for him is that he punches pretty good. As far as jabbing, somebody says, “He’s got a great jab”. Well, they haven’t seen a jab. They must have forgotten about MY jab. Even when I was just fighting Mike Weaver, I was using more jabs than all these guys.
Charles Jay: WHAT KIND OF STRATEGY WOULD YOU HAVE USED TO BEAT LEWIS?
Larry Holmes: I would’ve pushed him. I would have backed him up. I would have used the jab, and the right hand – straight right hands to the body. And when he started falling in, I would use the uppercut and hit him with more straight right hands. Look, I didn’t just have the jab to the body. I’m tall enough that I could jab to the head, and then jab to the body – make him come down – and that would probably throw him off. I must admit that at one time I wanted to fight Lennox Lewis, but he said, ‘no – you’ve got a good jab Larry and I can’t fight anybody with a good jab’. And I said, ‘well, I’m an old man’ and he said ‘you still got the tools’. So there’ll never be a fight. But that showed me right there that he’s afraid of fighting anybody who can fight.
Charles Jay: WHAT ABOUT THE PEOPLE WHO SAY TYSON SHOULD BE BANNED FROM FIGHTING?
Larry Holmes: What he does out of the ring shouldn’t have anything to do with boxing. Only what he does in the ring. And you know, sometimes that streak gets into you where you want to win, you want to WIN. And Mike Tyson does a lot of things that shows he wants to win. He might hit you after the bell, he might hit you a little low, but he wants to win the fight. I think if he controls himself, he’s okay. I don’t think Mike Tyson’s a bad guy. I think the people, the media, makes him out to be a bad guy.
Charles Jay: YOU’VE FOUGHT A LOT IN MISSISSIPPI. HOW WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE THIS LAST TIME FIGHTING THERE?
Larry Holmes: I always enjoy myself fighting in Mississippi. I enjoy myself fighting anywhere. To give a guy like Mike Weaver a second chance to kick my butt – the first time we fought, a lot of people thought he had me, but they didn’t know I was sick before the fight, and he did beat up on me a little bit, but you know what – I wound up knocking him out. This time, there was nothing wrong with me. I hadn’t fought in a year, but that was because a lot of fighters don’t want to fight me. And I’ve been holding back because I want to get that guy named George Foreman into the ring. But I’m saying to hell with George. I’m not going to worry about him. If he comes, he comes. If he don’t, he don’t. I wanted to do what I wanted to do. And I did it. I went out there and I used my jab, and my right hand, and my left hook, and I knocked Mike Weaver out in the sixth round.
Charles Jay: YOU HAD A FIGHT SET WITH GEORGE FOREMAN THAT FELL THROUGH. HAVE YOU RECENTLY TALKED TO FOREMAN ABOUT FIGHTING YOU?
Larry Holmes: Well, you know, George is a little afraid of me. I haven’t talked to George about fighting. He said he didn’t want to fight. He says he’s got all this money selling those grills. But I don’t think that’s true. The thing he wants to get excited about is getting into the ring. He definitely doesn’t want to go around the world saying that he ducked Larry Holmes. Therefore, I think George would like to fight me. I know he would. Somebody’s just got to make it interesting for George. Put up the money and say, ‘C’mon George’, because I think the public will want to see it, and I think they’ll support it.
Charles Jay: DO YOU THINK THE KEN NORTON FIGHT WAS THE BEST FIGHT YOU WERE EVER IN?
Larry Holmes: No. I don’t think that was the best fight I was ever in, because for that fight I had one arm. I pulled a muscle in my arm – that was my jabbing arm. But with motivation and determination I was able to use that arm. I was feeling good, but I wasn’t in good PHYSICAL shape. But I’d have to say that was a good fight for me because it made me heavyweight champion of the world.
Charles Jay: WHO WAS THE TOUGHEST OPPONENT FOR YOU IN YOUR CAREER?
Larry Holmes: That was it. Kenny Norton was the toughest fight because I only had that one arm, and he brought a lot of pressure; it was a lot of hitting, a lot of back-and-forth.
Charles Jay: WAS EARNIE SHAVERS THE BEST PUNCHER YOU EVER FOUGHT?
Larry Holmes: Earnie Shavers was indeed the hardest puncher I ever fought, because he hit me with a right hand that jarred my ancestors in Africa, if you want to take a page from Ali’s book.
Charles Jay: WAS HE A MUCH HARDER HITTER THAN TYSON?
Larry Holmes: Tyson is a sharp puncher. Earnie Shavers was a PUNISHING puncher. There was a difference between the two. Because when Shavers hit you, you feel it all the way through your body.
Charles Jay: ARE YOU STILL BITTER ABOUT THOSE TWO DECISION LOSSES TO MICHAEL SPINKS?
Larry Holmes: I’ll tell you what. I was never bitter. It was the media that was bitter because I said some of the things I said, and felt I won the fights and didn’t get them, and I was upset with the media, for what they were portraying me to be. I was upset, probably, with the commission and the judges, because I thought I won and didn’t get the decision. So yeah, I was upset, but you know what? I looked at that fight the same way 15 years ago that I look at it today – I got paid. I got four-and-a-half, five million dollars for those fights. And that’s what this business is all about. Sometimes people just don’t play fair. You take the Gore and Bush situation. Sometimes people don’t play fair. I accepted those things then. I accept them now. And I just keep going on with my life.
Charles Jay: AS SOMEONE WHO HAS SEEN IT ALL IN BOXING, WHAT DO THINK OF THE IDEA OF SOME SORT OF NATIONAL COMMISSION TO REGULATE THE SPORT?
Larry Holmes: I don’t think boxing needs to be regulated. I think boxing needs to have a complaint board. And I think the complaint board should be able to look into boxing situations – as far as if you’re getting what you should be getting, whether you’re being managed, not being managed, etc. Boxing is already stable, as far as the opportunity to fight, opportunity for fighters to step inside the ring and make some money – I think that’s OK, that’s fairly legit. I just think fighters need to be represented when it comes down to making sure the “i” is dotted and the “t” is crossed.
Charles Jay: DO YOU THINK THERE NEEDS TO BE ANYTHING DONE TO IMPROVE BOXER SAFETY?
Larry Holmes: Well, I think they’re taking steps to do that. The only thing I’d like to see is to give fighters an option to wear a small headguard, a one-ounce headguard. Some fighters might not want that option. But you know – you’re training all the time, you’re boxing all the time, and you’ve got a headguard on, you’re using big gloves, and you’re getting hit. And you observe that your face is better protected that way. Now they’re doing it with ten-ounce gloves and no headguard. I think if they have a one-ounce headguard on to protect some of those brain cells in the head, it would be beneficial to the fighter. I would go along with that. But I would give the option as to whether the fighter wanted to do it.
Charles Jay: LET’S TALK ABOUT TRAINING FOR A MOMENT. YOU HAVE HAD SEVERAL DIFFERENT TRAINERS IN YOUR CAREER. HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK A TRAINER REALLY MEANS TO A FIGHTER?
Larry Holmes I think a trainer is very important at the beginning of a fighter’s career. A fighter needs to know how to throw a left, throw a right, how to duck, how to do certain things. Over time, you don’t really need a trainer. You’ve got to train yourself. You’ve got to motivate yourself. And I don’t think anybody can put that in you. You have to have that all by yourself. When the bell rings, your trainer can’t help you. All he’s gonna say is ‘Jab, jab, get off, get off, you’re waiting too long.’ And anybody can say that. YOU can say that. Your wife can say that. Your girlfriend can say that.
As far as I’m concerned, I don’t need anyone to say that to me. I train myself. I don’t have trainers who want hundreds of thousands of dollars to train me. I hire who I want to put the grease on my face, to rub my neck and rub my back, to take my mouthpiece out and rinse it off and put the mouthpiece back in. And then I go about my business. And if they want to say something, they can give me little reminders. All you need are reminders. You don’t need ‘big-time’ trainers.
Charles Jay: OBVIOUSLY YOU HAD ONE OF THE GREAT JABS IN THE HEAVYWEIGHT DIVISION……………
Larry Holmes: (interrupting): I still do, and you know what? I didn’t mean to interrupt you, but – you should see the tape of my (last) fight with Mike Weaver. Because I still have that. Nobody recognizes it, or talks about it. I hear them talking about Lennox Lewis’ jab, and I hear them talking about all these other guys that CAN’T jab. My jab would probably be the next best or even better than the greatest, Muhammad Ali.
Charles Jay: DO YOU FEEL THAT FIGHTERS REALLY KNOW HOW TO JAB THESE DAYS?
Larry Holmes: Fighters DON’T know how to jab. You take Roy Jones, for instance. He paws his jab. He throws it out, it don’t land. And then he’ll hit you with a left hook, hit you with a right hand. But he doesn’t really know the jab. A guy needs to learn the jab, know the jab, and use the jab. And these guys don’t do it today.
Charles Jay: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF ROY JONES AS A FIGHTER?
Larry Holmes: I think Roy Jones is a great fighter, a great puncher. But you know, he doesn’t use the jab. But he’s got everything else going for him. The problem that hurts Roy Jones in the boxing business, in the celebrity business, is his attitude. Attitude hurts, because you say a lot of things that you probably don’t really mean and you say them because you don’t want to be put down. But you’ve got a lot of people who don’t like what you say, and that hurts. And that’s what Roy Jones has been hurt by. That’s what I have been hurt by. I learned to put the ass on the lip. People ask, ‘Larry, what’s that ass on your lip?’ I say, ‘I’m kissing.’ Not because I HAVE to, but because that’s the way life is. I don’t care if you’ve got a hundred billion dollars in the bank – there’s somebody’s butt you’re going to have to kiss.
Charles Jay: TELL ME A LITTLE ABOUT THE CASINO YOU’RE INVOLVED WITH NOW.
Larry Holmes: “Bet With The Champ” – me and a couple of guys have organized it. One thing we are is legal. We do not take bets here in the United States. Everything is offshore. We do it that way because I don’t want them to set up an example with me and wind up getting into trouble. I want to everything legal. I like the games. I go on my machine and I play blackjack by myself, and I play these games, to break up the monotony. I think a lot of people like to gamble, and they don’t want to go to the casino to gamble. Sometimes they want to do it in the privacy of their home. They can’t concentrate the way they want to in a gambling casino.
Charles Jay: DO YOU THINK THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE PUSHED TO OUTLAW INTERNET GAMING ARE BEING HYPOCRITICAL?
Larry Holmes: I think the world is changing. And it’s changing so fast that people have to change with it. I remember years ago when they didn’t have gambling, especially in Atlantic City, and I was one of the people who broke ground at Caesars down there with a guy named Cliff Perlman (Ed: former chairman of Caesars). Guys like that wanted to have gambling in the casinos, but they never thought about the computers. Now you have the internet. The internet is big – bigger than WE are. It’s worldwide. I think – let people live their lives, as long as they don’t hurt anybody. As long as they don’t destroy their own lives. I think gambling can be a good thing if you don’t take it too seriously. Take it and have fun with it, and don’t lose what you can’t afford to lose.
Charles Jay: ARE YOU A GOOD BLACKJACK PLAYER?
Larry Holmes: I think so. But, you know, I’m not a guy who counts cards. I’m a guy that plays with feeling. Because I feel that if something is going to come up, it comes up; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. And a lot of people get pissed at me because that’s the way I play but that’s the way I learned to play – with my feelings. I’m not a great blackjack player, but I’m certainly not a bad one. Though I’m bad enough to have lost $10,000 when I was in Mississippi last time.
Charles Jay: IS THE CASINO TURNING OUT TO BE A GOOD THING FOR YOU?
Larry Holmes: Yeah, it is. Because I’ll tell you what – whether I make two dollars or no dollars, it’s better than losing. I’ve got enough people playing the games at the casino that I don’t lose any money. So it’s good for me, and it’s fun.
Charles Jay: WHAT ELSE ARE YOU INVOLVED WITH NOW IN TERMS OF BUSINESS?
HOLMES: Well, I’m involved with real estate here. I’ve got a 22,000-spare foot building, which I’m in now, and my nightclub. I’ve got four tenants in this building, besides myself, and I’ve got a 52,000-square foot building, all on the same lot. I have the federal courthouse, and the national bank, and some other big-name tenants. So I do real well, and it’s all paid for. I don’t owe anybody. I’ve got another building right up the street with a massage parlor, I’ve got a nightclub called Latin Heat, which I rent out to the Spanish people. Then I’ve got apartments, and training centers – you name it, I’ve probably got it.
Charles Jay: WHAT ABOUT SOME OF THE THINGS AROUND THE COMMUNITY YOU’RE INVOLVED IN?
Larry Holmes: I’m involved with the youth center here, have been since I was eleven years old. They helped me out. And now I’m helping them out. They’re in the process of building a new youth center for the kids. And I have my own training center for kids, and for people who want to come in – men, women, whoever. I’m involved in the National Boys Club. I got ’em started here and I kept it going. I’m a member of the Jaycees. I’ve been nominated as one of the Top 10 Jaycees in the country. So I’ve been nominated for and received these awards. But you know what – that’s all great, but if you can’t do it all from the heart, you don’t want to do any of it.
Charles Jay: DO YOU THINK NOT ENOUGH ATHLETES THINK ABOUT THEIR COMMUNITY?
Larry Holmes: Not just athletes, but celebrities in general. You know what they do – they make a few dollars, and they leave home. They don’t stay. I’ve stayed here in Easton my whole life. I put my money here. I support this city. My actions speak louder than my words. I have a family; I have kids. And this is a great town for my family to grow up in. We don’t have a whole lot of crime. We don’t have a whole lot of drugs, or shootings. It’s a small city – 27,000 people. It’s a great city, so I stay here.