Larry Holmes - A Top-Five Heavyweight Champion Of All-Time?
20.11.07 - By James Slater: Whenever the subject of who was the greatest ever heavyweight champion of all-time comes up, it is usual for the names of Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey, Jack Johnson and Rocky Marciano to appear uppermost on most experts' lists. And rightly so. But though the name of Larry Holmes usually gets a position at or around the bottom half of any top-ten, "The Easton Assassin" is rarely, if ever, anyone's pick for the best, or second best, or third best, or even fourth or fifth best big man in boxing history. But is Holmes, who had the second highest number of successful world title defences ever at heavyweight, being done a general disservice?
Article posted on 21.11.2007
Holmes himself, on the fabulous Champions Forever video of 20 years back, claims that he was the best heavyweight of all.. "The only guy I'd have had trouble with was Jack Johnson," Holmes boasted. Who knows, maybe a peak Larry Holmes would have been too much for a peak Ali, Louis or Dempsey? And we all know what Larry thought about the greatness of Rocky Marciano, whose famous 49-0 record he came so close to beating, don't we? Undeniably, with his great chin, awesome left jab (heavyweight boxing's best ever?) and underrated punch power, Holmes has to be seen as one of the true legends of the sport. But was he as great as he himself claims?
Let's take another look at Holmes' fine career in this article and assess what position his name should occupy in a list of the ten finest heavyweight kings of the ring.
It took many years of sweat and toil for Larry, who turned pro with a points win over four rounds against a guy named Rodell Dupree in early 1973, to get the credit he always knew he deserved. Even after winning the WBC heavyweight crown, in a thriller of a fight with Ken Norton in 1978, the unbeaten Holmes was very much in his predecessor and former employee’s shadow. Larry had the misfortune to follow the phenomenal Muhammad Ali, who had hired the still pretty much unheard of prospect as his sparring partner, and due to this he had a hard time getting attention from both fans and experts alike. Even his promoter, Don King, was moved to blurt out one of his better lines, when he said, “People would rather watch Muhammad Ali watch a Larry Holmes fight, than watch a Larry Holmes fight!” It may have been unfair, but it was also true. Fans loved Ali and wanted him back. Unfortunately, “The Greatest” obliged them - in the process causing Holmes more regret.
Larry didn’t want to fight the ageing Ali. But as champion he had no choice but to accept the challenge of the thirty-eight year old former king. A sad fight followed, one that did neither Ali or Holmes any good. Sympathy was felt from everyone for Ali after the ten round drubbing he‘d taken, while Holmes was still in his shadow. Eventually Larry would total twenty successful defences of his world title, a number second only to the superb Joe Louis’ record of twenty-five. Yet only in recent years have the talents of the man from Easton, Pennsylvania been fully appreciated. So he was no Ali. Who was? Larry had assets that few other heavyweights possessed.
Firstly, his left jab was probably the very best in history. And secondly, his recuperative powers were extraordinary. This was proven on a few occasions, the greatest example of which was when Larry fought his second fight with the huge punching Earnie Shavers. Decked by Shaver’s trademark over hand right in round seven, Holmes looked to be all gone. Yet somehow he beat the count and fought back - well enough to stop Earnie four rounds later. This feat, along with his large number of title defences, most of which came against fine fighters, goes to show how good a fighter Larry Holmes was.
Men like Tim Witherspoon, Gerry Cooney, Renaldo Snipes (who also floored him, only to be paid back in kind) Norton and Shavers were beaten by Larry. If that isn’t deserving of respect then what is?
There is little doubt these days, the career of Larry Holmes - which started all those years ago against the unknown Dupree - was one of the greatest of all-time. Even as a veteran, when boxing while aged over fifty, Larry was still good enough to have his hand raised in fights. Quite astonishingly his fighting days actually lasted from 1973 until his final bout in 2002 - a win over the novelty act known as Butterbean. That's almost three decades of professional boxing - and without any overly long layoff to speak of at that! Who else among great heavyweight champions remained active, and at such a high level, for so long?
Larry’s final record reads an amazing 69-6 (44 KO’s). He is without a doubt a fighter deserving to be placed in anyone's top-ten of greatest ever heavyweight champions. For this writer's money, Holmes deserves to be placed no lower than 5th in such a poll. Larry may not have had trouble "only with Jack Johnson," but he sure would have beaten the Foremans, Listons, Marcianos and Dempseys of history, along with a few of the other top names that are so revered by the average expert.
Larry Holmes, a great who never really gets his just due!
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