'The man up there got me up': Larry Holmes interview
At the launch of a new Muhammad Ali-inspired TAG Heuer Carrera watch, Paul Zanon speaks to heavyweight great Larry Holmes about his glorious career and his astonishing recovery against Earnie Shavers in 1979...
The venue – The swanky BXR gym, Central London.
The guest list – Geri Halliwell, Gabby Logan, etc, etc. Anyone who was anyone was here. Including Boxing Monthly, of course!
The event – The launch of the TAG Heuer Carrera, Muhammad Ali Limited Edition 43mm, Calibre 5 Automatic (to cite its full description!)
The principal spokesperson – None other than the former heavyweight champion of the world, 'The Easton Assassin', Mr Larry Holmes...
The former heavyweight king, who reigned as WBC champion from 1978-1983 and lineal champ from 1980-1985, was quick to start our interview by paying homage to his old mentor, sparring partner and good friend - the one and only Muhammad Ali.
“What an honour to be able to be associated with this [watch]. It’s great,” Holmes tells me, before calling out to one of the TAG representatives and saying, “Can I get one for my wife too?”
Everyone laughs, before Holmes then turns and offers me a cheeseburger from the array of complimentary food in front of him. Gladly accepting, the interview continues with Holmes reflecting on the first time he met 'The Greatest'.
“That was at Deer Lake Pennsylvania. At the time, there was nothing there but land, and rows and rows of trees. We were staying nearby at a hotel called the Country Square Hotel, which has probably been torn down now. I was only about 20 at the time and was still an amateur.
"We started to box, travel, box, travel and he liked me, because I would put pressure on him in sparring, but I wouldn’t try to hurt him, or make him look bad. We exchanged our shots and I have to say, the man was alright. A good man.”
Renowned as a technically gifted fighter who systematically broke down his opponents, Holmes has perhaps not been given enough credit for his defensive skills, as well as what could only be described as a granite chin.
Case in point? When he came up against ‘The Acorn,’ aka Earnie Shavers - the heavyweight rated by many he crossed paths with as having perhaps the most destructive single punch power in heavyweight history. Shavers caught Holmes with a counter right hand in the seventh round of their second fight in 1979 which left the champion on the canvas and motionless for a couple of seconds.
Somehow Holmes made it up before the count of ten and, with virtually no defence, managed to see out the rest of the round. When I ask him about this dramatic moment, Holmes smiles then points to the ceiling.
“The man up there [referring to God], got me up. He picked me up. Before that punch, I was thinking, ‘Earnie – don’t take no more of this sh*t. Your nose is bleeding, your heads bleeding, I’m gonna knock you out.’
"I kept throwing out the jab, one after the other and breaking him up bad. Then BAM! Earnie hit me here [Holmes points to a spot on the left hand side of his forehead near his temple]. I had a ringing noise in my head and couldn’t shake it. I got up by pulling myself up on the ropes and he came at me.
"I ducked under him. That’s what fighters do. They come at you when you’re hurt and I knew he’d do that. I ducked down and grabbed his leg and next thing the bell went, ‘ding.’
"That saved me. I was just about able to walk back to my corner and the next round I just ran around the ring, until my head cleared. Then I started banging him with the jab. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Then in with the right hand, then bang with the jab, bang, until I took him out.”
Without a doubt, it was a great comeback. Had it not been for Holmes' legendary jab, who knows how the fight might have panned out.
Referring to this formidable tool, be under no illusions that the famed Holmes jab didn’t come by accident.
“I worked on that punch like you don’t believe. I got it to perfection,” he smiles, before adding. “How good was that jab!”
Of all the accolades and all the great memories he has to reflect on from his boxing career, only one moment makes Holmes look back with a heavy heart.
“I never wanted to fight Muhammad Ali," he admits. "It wasn’t good at all. I was beating him up [on the] side [of] the head and I kept saying to him: ‘Don’t take no more, quit. Come on Ali, don’t take no more shots. I’m gonna knock you out.’ He replied back by saying ‘F*ck you!"
Holmes casts his mind back to the night then briefly laughs before adding: “Listen man. I’d never heard Ali swear so much in his life as he did in that fight! He called me every name in the book. Mother this, F that and everything else! It shocked me to hear him say that.”
Looking forwards, rather than to the past, and considering the possibility of the USA clashing with the UK on the heavyweight platform, by way of the potential Anthony Joshua vs Deontay Wilder clash, The Easton Assassin gives me his take on the potential outcome.
Replying in a deep singing voice, “Ammmeeeeeeerica!", he then adds: "I’m backing my man from America, because that’s the way it is. It would be a hell of a fight, because they’re both good boxers. It will be jab for jab, right hands for right hands. But I don’t see it going the distance. I’d see it finishing after about six or seven rounds.”
With a long line of media waiting to interview Holmes, our time is up.
What a magical man. Endearing, funny and let’s not forget he could fight! Holmes racked up a glittering 75-fight career (69-6), including 48 consecutive victories from his pro debut in 1973, putting him within spitting distance of Rocky Marciano’s fabled 49-0 ledger. If it wasn’t for meeting a hungry Michael Spinks in 1985, he may well have surpassed past that figure.
As for the TAG Heuer event, if you’re an ardent watch collector or perhaps looking for a canny investment, perhaps take time to look at their Muhammad Ali watch.
It’s a beautifully crafted piece with some delicate features crafted intentionally for the boxing aficionados out there. In addition to Ali's signature at the 6 o'clock mark, on the reverse the caseback is engraved with an image of The Greatest.
On the facing dial, you’ll notice two sets of pattern colours. A red marking on the outer circumference and a white marking below it. The red marking represents 15 rounds and the white, amateur boxing rounds of two minutes, with black markers to signify the one-minute breaks. With only 1,000 units in production and a price tag of £2,350 for the leather strap edition and £2,500 for the metal version, it’s well worth a look…