BASN Book Excerpts: Boxing In The Shadows

By Tom Donelson
Updated: February 27, 2007

Boxing in the Shadows by Tom DonelsonNOTE: Later this month, boxing contributor Tom Donelson will be releasing a book entitled “Boxing in the Shadows”, a history on the plight of African-American fighters.

During the month of February, BASN has featured several excerpts from Donelson’s book. Today’s final excerpt is Larry Holmes: The Under Appreciated Warrior.

IOWA CITY, Ia. — He was Ali’s sparring partner in the early 70’s, and the early days of his career were marked with small purses and little glory.

Larry Holmes began his career in the golden age of heavyweight boxing. As Holmes made his move to the top, Ali, Frazier and Foreman shared the top spot.

Unfortunately for Holmes, he would never get to fight Frazier or Foreman, and when he fought Ali, he fought a fighter far past his prime, whose skills were totally eroded.

The night Holmes fought Ali was Holmes low point as he humiliated his former mentor. There was no satisfaction in beating Ali, for it was obvious from the very beginning that Ali was an old fighter.

Ali lacked hand and foot speed, plus his power, dependent upon his hand speed, was non-existent. Watching Ali trying to move on his feet was tragic, for he could only move for 30 seconds at a time before ending up on the rope.

Holmes found himself holding back and trying to avoid hurting Ali. Angelo Dundee eventually threw in the towel to save Ali from more pounding, and Holmes did little to enhance his place in boxing history.

Holmes was armed with a piston like jab and hard right that could knock out opponents. He was the complete package and dominated the heavyweight division from the time he upset Ken Norton in 1978 to losing his title to Michael Spinks.

He won 21 straight heavyweight bouts, defeating good fighters such as Ken Norton, Gerry Cooney, Mike Weaver, and hard punching Earnie Shavers.

His two most notable fights were his first championship bout against Ken Norton, and the racially charged fight against Gerry Cooney. The Norton-Holmes fight was one of the better heavyweight bouts as the contest ebbed and flowed.

Holmes began dominating the early rounds with superior boxing skills, but Norton started to come on in the middle rounds. As the 15th round approached, the fight was up for grabs and anyone could have won.

Holmes and Norton flailed at each other, but Holmes took command and won the split decision.

His most impressive performance was against Gerry Cooney. Today. boxing historians disregard Cooney due to his subsequent records. In 1982, Cooney was the number two heavyweight in the world, and at 6-foot-7, was an imposing figure.

Cooney had a powerful left hook and awkward style. At the age of 32, Holmes was fighting a bigger fighter, seven years his junior. On this night, Holmes was at his best.

He boxed and moved as his jab controlled the bigger Cooney, and he landed a beautiful right that sent Cooney sprawling to the canvas in the second round. Cooney got up and actually took the next round.

Again in the sixth, Holmes hurt Cooney, but just as in the third, Cooney came back in the next round. This was a rough fight for Holmes, as Cooney started to nail vicious body shots with a few shots below the belt, which cost Cooney points.

As the 10th ended, two of the three judges actually had Holmes behind! Holmes stepped up the pace in the eleventh and twelfth as he took command. Running out of gas, the exhausted Cooney came out slowly for the 13th round and Holmes ended it with a picture perfect right.

As Cooney got up, his corner threw in the towel. After this fight, Cooney failed to fulfill his potential, and Holmes, in some ways, was robbed of his defining fight.

This fight also had an ugly racial component. Holmes, frustrated by his lack of respect, found the White Cooney winning all the applause. This fight degenerated in some corners as a White-Black affair, and Holmes felt even more spite as some boxing pundits even favored Cooney.

Sports Illustrated predicted a turning of the guard ending in a Cooney victory. Holmes fought the best fight of his career, and prevailed on skills and heart against a bigger and stronger opponent.

After losing to Michael Spinks twice, Holmes retired for two years, before coming back against Mike Tyson. Tyson was a killing machine at his peak, and Holmes jab was ineffectual and inaccurate.

Unfortunately for Holmes, Tyson was not inaccurate, with Tyson becoming the only fighter to stop Holmes inside the distance.

Holmes joined Foreman in the 90’s as part of the old men brigade. He defeated heavyweight contender Ray Mercer, and fought a close fight for the Evander Holyfield title.

At the age of 45, he lost another heavyweight championship bout to Oliver McCall, with McCall squeaking out a victory. Holmes continued to fight past the age of 50.

Holmes, however, did not fight for money but for respect, and even in his 40’s, George Foreman overshadowed him. Foreman became a master promoter and repackaged himself. It did not hurt that Foreman succeeded in winning the Heavyweight championship from Mike Moorer.

Holmes began his career in Ali’s shadow, and even at the end of his career, another fighter from his era would still overshadow him- George Foreman.

Holmes never got the respect during his career that he deserved, but there is no doubt that he was one of boxing’s greats. History is now giving him his due.