Saturday, July 10, 2010

Larry Holmes was, is and always will be a champion


Does being a champion once, equate to be considered a champion your entire life? I believe it depends on the individual themselves. O.J. Simpson was a Heisman trophy winner, yet his trophy is not on display with the others at USC. Mark McGwire, one-time holder of the single season home run record and a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame, has not yet been voted in during his first few years of eligibility. These former sports champions are no longer looked upon in that same breath because of judgements on their character.

When it comes to sports, I'm a fan plain and simple. Yet, while I love all sports, combat sports are my favorite. I've been a fan of Mixed Martial Arts from the beginning. However, before MMA came on the scene I was a life-long boxing fan.

This love for the sport came without influence. There was no adult male figure in my household when I was growing up, yet as far back as I can remember, I was just drawn to it on my own. A lot of it probably has to do with growing up in the '60's and '70's when boxing was dominated by the most charismatic figure in its history Muhammad Ali.

As a teenager I moved to Pennsylvania from New York and another young fighter came on the scene. One who had local ties and also had ties to the aforementioned Ali. This fighter's name was Larry Holmes and with him being from the Lehigh Valley, Easton, PA, my love for boxing got even greater. Now I wasn't just a fan of the sport, but I had a local fighter I could root for, one that would go on to become heavyweight champion of the world and one of the greatest fighters of all-time.

The '70's was a time most boxing experts consider the golden era for the heavyweight division. Holmes rose to become the best of that era. A guy from very humble beginnings, he took his God-given talents as an athlete and worked himself into perfection as he climbed his way up the ladder to eventually earn a title shot against one of the most feared fighters of the era Ken Norton. In an epic battle that lasted 15 grueling rounds, Holmes showed his will and courage as he outlasted the legendary Norton to win the heavyweight championship of the world.

As somewhat of a boxing historian, I consider what Holmes did after that unheard of in boxing annals. He won his title in 1978 and through 1985 he defended it successfully 20 times. In today's era where there are multiple champions recognized within a division due to the various organizations that claim to have the "world champion," you do not have that many title defenses. Holmes defended it three times a year.

He fought the best the division had to offer and beat them all, including a dominating performance against his own idol Ali and a brutal bout against the universally recognized hardest hitting heavyweight of the era, Earnie Shavers. He also fought in one of the greatest fights in boxing history 28 years ago this past month when he knocked out the previously undefeated Gerry Cooney; this fight went beyond the realm of sports and into the social climate of racial barriers. He was undefeated in 48 fights before a controversial decision loss against Michael Spinks denied him a chance of breaking Rocky Marciano's record of 49 fights without a loss and boxing immortality.

Holmes finished his boxing career winning 69 of 75 fights. All of his losses were due to either extremely controversial decisions, or because he fought well past his prime against the greatest of the next era such as Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield.

Holmes has gone on to become a successful businessman in his hometown, where the city recognized his achievements by naming a street after him. Larry Holmes Drive, which runs along the scenic Delaware River, is also the address to his beautiful sports bar/restaurant/nightclub Larry Holmes Ringside. For eight years from 2000-2008, I was fortunate enough to work as a DJ there. This opportunity gave me the chance to get to know this great champion on a personal level.

In today's era when superstar rich athletes are all about themselves and could care less about their fans, Holmes is anything but. Many times, new fans would come into the Ringside and I never once seen him turn down an autograph or photo opportunity. Even on days when I knew he was not feeling well, I saw him make the effort to acknowledge his fans. I've also witnessed him share his wealth on holidays, summer or winter, with picnics and parties where he would invite numerous relatives, friends and even acquaintances and all he ever asked you to bring was yourself.

In the rich and long tradition of boxing Homes easily ranks in the top five heavyweights of all-time. On ring achievement alone the only names that can possibly be placed ahead of him are those of Ali, Joe Louis and Jack Johnson. Louis and Johnson deserve recognition because they fought at a time when they had to endure numerous obstacles as African Americans.

Larry Holmes held the single greatest title in individual sports for 7 1/2 years; Other than Bernard Hopkins, no fighter today, regardless of weight class, does that. Outside of the ring, the man is still a champion, which is why I always refer to him as "champ" and always will be a champion.

1 comment:

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