Commentary : Holmes Won't Go Out Washed Up

Associated Press

In the absence of some philanthropic promoter--is that a conflict in terms?--pressing $4 or $5 million in Larry Holmes' fist to fight Michael Spinks, we have seen the end of one of boxing's truly remarkable careers.

Larry Holmes is going out on top, the way a great champion should.

There will be no sordid, second-rate promotions like the melancholy one that marked a sad end for a used-up Muhammad Ali a few years ago. Holmes will not wind up flat on his back the way Joe Louis and Roberto Duran did.

When Willie Mays left baseball, he was circling unsteadily under routine fly balls. Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas were sideline caddies for other quarterbacks in their last days in professional football.

That's not the way a legend should end up. It is not the way Larry Holmes will leave.

Instead, he goes with the memory of an impressive victory over David Bey in his 19th defense of boxing's most glamorous title. He wasn't perfect, Friday night, but he was close enough.

Holmes probably could stay that way for a while longer and cash in on a few more paydays. But why ask for trouble? Why take the chance? Why not leave with the memory of greatness still intact?

Ironically, he is walking away at a time when boxing really could use his stature. His departure leaves Greg Page and Pinklon Thomas, fine fellows but hardly boxing legends, as the remaining heavyweight champions. They hold the World Boxing Assn. and World Boxing Council titles that have been rotated among a variety of fighters such as Michael Dokes, Tim Witherspoon, Gerrie Coetzee and Mike Weaver over the last few years.

Throughout that time, the heavyweight division's cornerstone has been Holmes, undefeated champion for almost seven years. He ranks among the great ones.

"I'd put him third," said his trainer Eddie Futch, who has seen them all. "Joe (Louis), Ali and Larry."

That is fast company but Holmes belongs there. He has beaten everyone he's fought and rarely has he looked better that he did against Bey in defense of his International Boxing Federation title. Futch, often hard to please, was more than satisfied.

"The last time he was this sharp was the Cooney fight," he said.

That was three years ago against Gerry Cooney. It was also the last time Holmes had any real incentive. The Cooney bout produced record purses for both fighters and with them, appropriate hype. There also was, sadly in this day and age of supposed racial enlightenment, the black-white issue.

Since then, Holmes often has seemed uninspired against a variety of so-what opponents. He even found himself in a bit of trouble, his title in jeopardy last November against Bonecrusher Smith, who is hardly headed for boxing's Hall of Fame.

That lackluster show may have fired Holmes up, inspired him to reach back into his reservoir of ability one last time. When he did, it provided a boxing lesson for Bey. It was a textbook demonstration of this often brutal business.

Holmes was a craftsman at work, using the best left jab in boxing to beat a steady tattoo on Bey's face.

Over and over, the jab would jump out at Bey, like the tongue of a snake seeking its prey, striking and then retreating, preparing for its next assault.

In Holmes' corner, Eddie Futch glowed at the show.

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