By Jersey Jim.
Larry Holmes stepped into the ring in what at least “appeared to be” one final time on July 27, 2002. His opponent, the once colorful Eric “Butterbean” Esch. The result was a ten round decision victory for Holmes. His final record now stands at 69 Wins, 6 Losses, with 44 wins coming by way of knockout.
Without matching up Holmes in computer simulated fights against champions of the past or present, let’s take a look at his overall accomplishments and go from there.
Larry Holmes stood 6’ 3” with an 81” reach (1 inch longer than Muhammad Ali’s). He fought between approximately 210-215 lbs. in his prime. Next to possibly Sonny Liston, Holmes had the one of the best jabs in the history of the division. Holmes jab was a blend of speed, snap and decent power. He used his jab as both an offensive and defensive weapon. Holmes’ strategy in the ring was the make his opponent “drunk before I mug him.” Holmes used the jab to serve up round after round of accumulating punishment.
If body punchers are considered to be “money in the bank,” Holmes jab brought him an equally impressive return on his investment.
Unlike many boxers who rely upon speed and movement, Holmes was also an exceptionally good infighter and possessed an excellent uppercut.
Holmes won the title in a brutal fight against Ken Norton, fighting the last part of the bout with an injured hand.
He held onto the title for 7 ½ years and defended the title an amazing 20 consecutive times – second only to Joe Louis.
Like a lot of fighters, many people remember him for his later, less impressive performances in the ring. Fighters who are considered “pure boxers” who rely upon speed, reflexes, and timing become more flat-footed as time begins to take a tool on their reflexes. When the reflexes begin to wane, so does the snap in their punches as well as their ability to use their legs to move in and out of punching range.
Fighters like Ali and Holmes relied as much on their experience in their later years as they did their skill. Maybe more so. By 1983, Holmes was probably past his physical prime at 34 years of age. What’s impressive about this is the fact that Holmes defended his title past his physical peak an addition 7 times before suffering his first defeat against Michael Spinks.
Some boxing writers and fans point to Holmes’ life and death struggle against Ken Norton in his original title winning effort in questioning his overall ability.
Keep in mind that Ken Norton also fought Muhammad Ali three times with each fight ending by way of split decision. One fight official went his way and many who saw all three, myself included, would argue for at least two in his favor.
Norton was taught by Eddie Futch to upset Ali’s rhythm by jabbing with him. When Ali jabbed, Norton jabbed. He didn’t need a hard, pole-axing jab. All he had to do was put the jab in Ali’s face which threw his rhythm off. He taught the same technique to Joe Frazier. In later years, Ali said that he hating looking across the ring and seeing Eddie Futch standing in his opponent’s corner because he knew right then that he’d be in for “a long night.”
Norton’s weakness was against big punchers. Not boxers. Not boxer punchers… but sluggers.
Like Lennox Lewis years later, once Norton was really hurt, the end came quickly. And like Lewis, it took a big puncher to do him in.
Do the names George Foreman, Ernie Shavers and Gerry Cooney ring any bells? They sure rang Norton’s!
God knows how many punches Ali and Holmes hit him with, however. And he never once hit the floor in 45 rounds against Ali and 15 against Holmes.
Styles make fights.
Larry Holmes’ style was very similar to that of Ali’s. He was a boxer, pure and simple. Boxers win rounds – rounds win fights. Boxers take the knockout if and when it comes. Otherwise, they pile up rounds like money in a vault. That being said, Holmes finished up with 44 knockouts in his 69 wins, registering a knockout percentage of 64%.
This isn’t to say Larry Holmes was invincible or that he should be ranked as the best Heavyweight of all-time. I’m simply trying to take an unbiased look at Holmes – the fighter.
During his career, Holmes was knocked down by Kevin Issac, Ernie Shavers, Renaldo Snipes and Mike Tyson.
Tyson’s stoppage victory over Holmes was due an combination of pressure and power. Like Joe Frazier’s victory over Ali in the “Fight of the Century,” a boxer is stylistically at a disadvantage against a swarming styled, pressure fighter. And in his prime, Tyson was one of the best.
The best way to defuse pressure is with blunt-force power. Without that, a pure boxer has a long night on their hands! When equal or near equal skill levels meet in the ring, fighting styles ultimately tip the scales in favor of one man.
The Frazier who fought and defeated Muhammad Ali in their first meeting and took him to the brink of defeat in their third meeting, that fighter would be a nightmare for Holmes.
While it’s true that Holmes may have had more power than Ali, his chin and ability to soak up punishment were not on the same level. It’s hard to imagine him surviving the pressure of a Frazier or Tyson at their peaks. It’s also hard picturing him surviving the George Foreman who had Ali practically out on his feet in Zaire. Could Holmes absorb Foreman’s head and body punches better than Ali did?
Holmes had a ton of heart, but he wasn’t a George Chuvalo when it came to the ability to soak up punishment.
Against most fighters, this would never be an issue to consider. But against the most elite fighters in the division’s history, it is.
Recent history has brought us larger heavyweights such as Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis and the Klitschko brothers. These fighters aren’t exactly known for their quickness or high punch output. It’s not to difficult imagining Holmes jabbing his way to unanimous decision victories over all of them – especially if the fights were schedule for 15 rounds. For that matter, it’s not difficult envisioning him stopping them in the late rounds, either.
So were does that leave us? Where does Larry Holmes rank overall in the big picture? If we measure him by title defenses, he ranks favorably. Holmes never ducked an opponent and fought the very best of his era. He also performed well against adversity, rising from the canvas to defend his title on two occasions. His stoppage loss to Tyson was followed by many good competitive fights against the likes of Holyfield, Ray Mercer and others.
He simply matched up bad against a young Tyson.
In the end, it’s up to you to decide. In my book, his accomplishments within his era and his subsequent longevity puts him at no lower than #6 or #7 on the all-time list.
Here’s a final look at the a young Larry Holmes, seen in this fight against Leroy Jones.
– The Boxing Magazine: July 2009