Larry Holmes turned 70 on Nov. 3, and he was happy to celebrate a day that celebrates him.
“I got up, ate some food, talked shit, danced a little bit, I was happy,” he said.
But a few days later, Holmes, one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, who defended his title a whopping 20 times, was in a less celebratory mood.
It didn’t matter that Canelo Alvarez had just knocked out Sergey Kovalev the night before his birthday or that two of the more significant heavyweight bouts will take place in the next month with Deontay Wilder and Andy Ruiz defending their titles. The sport is suddenly on the upswing but that didn’t matter to the “Easton Assassin.”
No, Holmes, a good guy with a mean streak who once jumped off the hood of a car and drop-kicked Trevor Berbick, didn’t feel like discussing the current slate of big fights.
And that includes what could be described as the "anti-Holmes fight" between the YouTube stars Logan Paul and KSI at the Staples Center, a bout that seemed to represent everything that Holmes rejected during his Hall of Fame career - the preening, the hyping, the emphasis on the personalities rather than the actual fight (which actually turned out to be pretty good between the reality stars).
Instead, Holmes wanted to talk about the state of Holmes, and his address was high on resentment.
“Lately I have not been interested in the fights,” Holmes told BoxingScene in a phone interview. “What I hate – they talk about everyone in the heavyweight division, they talk about the lighter fighters, they talk about everyone…but me.”
Holmes told a story that was a little hard to believe. He said he was at a pro boxing show recently when the ring announcer started introducing celebrities from the crowd. According to Holmes, the announcer refused to acknowledge him. Holmes wouldn’t identify the card but he said it happened.
“I said, ‘Hey, do you want to introduce me?’ Guess what? He never did. I don’t lie. I tell it like it is.”
While Ali and Tyson had larger-than-life personalities, Holmes was a highly skilled hardhat who went about his business in and out of the ring as if he was punching a clock.
Though he was prone to quotable statements, Holmes never quite crossed over into the pop culture star system. He was ornery, sensitive, decent, once claiming he was semi-retired after beating up Marvis Frazier because he felt bad picking on Joe Frazier’s son. He cried after he pummeled Muhammad Ali.
The late, great trainer Emanuel Steward once called Holmes “probably the most underappreciated heavyweight champion in history,” to ESPN.com. “He should be right there with Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis, an all-around fighter. He would have been a major problem for any heavyweight champion of any era.”
The perceived lack of respect has taken its toll, souring him on the sport.
“They show the replays of the Alis, the Fraziers, Foreman, all them guys, and they don’t show me,” Holmes said over the phone. “So, I’m a little bitter but I learn to live with it. I deal with it. Because I know I was one of the great fighters but they don’t want to give me my credit.”
He’s not lying when it comes to his greatness.
Holmes (69-6, 44 knockouts) had a left jab that was the boxing equivalent of the Kareem sky-hook, just unstoppable.
He held the WBC title from 1978 to 1983, and his 20 defenses put him third all-time behind only Joe Louis and Wladimir Klitschko. Holmes won his first 48 bouts, beating the likes of Ken Norton, Ernie Shavers, Mike Weaver, Gerry Cooney, Tim Witherspoon, and the list goes on (Ali at the end of his career).
He failed to tie Rocky Marciano’s record of 49-0 when he lost to Michael Spinks in 1985 and then again in 1986, depriving him of career-defining wins that would have elevated his star even higher.
In the end, Holmes felt he was misunderstood, referencing the time he said the iconic Rocky Marciano “couldn’t carry my jockstrap” following his loss to Spinks. Holmes has claimed the jab against the beloved Marciano damaged his reputation, cost him endorsements and tarnished his career.
“They don’t know that was just slang and that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a great fighter,” he said of Marciano. “As far as I’m concerned, he was a great fighter. Was he greater than me? I don’t think so. That goes for everybody. Was Ali greater than me? I don’t think so.”
He said the same thing of Tyson, who is still adored for his cartoon-like knockouts, larger-than-life persona. Holmes pointed to Tyson’s aura of invincibility and hangman-like demeanor as reasons why he’s still a curiosity all these years later.
“Mike Tyson, he’s ok, you can introduce him as one of the great fighters," said Holmes, "but he wasn’t the greatest. Buster Douglas knocked him out. Buster Douglas would never be able to knock me out, in my opinion. A lot of guys knocked Mike Tyson out, that couldn’t fight. But every time they see Mike Tyson, they stand up and they cheer him like he’s the greatest thing that ever happened.”
And don’t even get him started on the fighters today.
Holmes said he once gave Anthony Joshua a tutorial on the jab.
“Those guys don’t know how to jab,” he said of the current crop of heavies.
For Holmes, the jab is like riding a bike.
“I’m 70 years old, man, and I still can throw it. Seventy-years old and I could stay around with any of them today. Believe what I’m telling you. With all of them.”