One evening a few weeks ago, I was sitting in my home office, going over my guest list for the following day’s “At the Fights” on SiriusXM Radio, when I heard the ringtone on my phone (“Going the Distance” from “Rocky”).
I looked at the screen to see who was calling.
At this time of year, with local elections closing in, I get more annoying calls from the camps of candidates than you can possibly imagine. They want my money. They want my vote. I want them to leave me alone!
The call wasn’t from a politician or from one of a thousand charities looking for donations. The screen said “LARRY HOLMES.”
I smiled and picked up the phone.
“Gerry Cooney for President in 2020 Headquarters,” I answered.
Holmes knows my sense of humor and played along with me.
“I just called to say he’s got my vote,” began the former heavyweight champ.
We broke into laughter.
“LARREEEE” I yelled. “What’s going on, champ?”
“Same ‘ol stuff,” replied one of history’s greatest heavyweight champions. “Quiet, peaceful days here in Easton.”
As he spoke, I realized a special day was approaching. When you’ve been a person’s friend for decades, you know about special days. This weekend, Holmes will celebrate a special day.
On Sunday, Larry Holmes will turn 70.
“Larry, you’ve got a big birthday coming up in around two weeks,” I said. “You ready for the big SEVEN OH?”
“Not really,” he said. “But it beats the alternative.”
Then he remarked, “You’ve always remembered my birthday. You’re good.”
I reminded him that besides him, two other people he knows were born in 1949.
“Who’s that?” He asked.
“George Foreman is one of them,” I told him. “Who’s the other?”
There was silence for a moment.
“Come on,” I prodded. “You and Big George are 1949 babies. Who else?”
He thought for a moment. Then, it hit him, like an Earnie Shavers’ right.
“Right, champ,” I said. “George turned 70 in January. I followed in March. Now, it’s your turn.”
“That’s why I’m calling,” said the man known throughout his career as the ‘Easton Assassin.’ “I am having a small get-together of my friends for my 70th at my home, and I was hoping you and your wife would come.”
Although I already had an appointment on my calendar, which included watching the Sergey Kovalev-Canelo Alvarez light heavyweight title bout, I knew it meant a lot to Holmes to have me, as well as some of his longtime friends, join him in a celebration of his turning 70, so I accepted.
When I told him I’d see him Saturday, he added, “I’ll be getting the Canelo fight. It should be a good one.”
“I’ll be there, Larry,” I said. “I can’t wait to see you.”
“Bring your appetite,” he said. “There’s going to be lots of food!”
After I hung up, I started thinking of the first time I met Holmes.
It was in March 1973. The 21st, to be exact. I drove by myself—in my 1963 Rambler using roadmaps—to the Catholic Youth Center in Scranton, PA, to watch the virtually unknown Larry Holmes make his professional debut. Why did I make the trip? It was a birthday present to myself, having celebrated my 24th birthday 10 days earlier. I had seen Holmes lose by disqualification to Duane Bobick in the U.S. Olympic Trials the previous year, while I was a senior in college, and was impressed with him, even in defeat. I was one of the few whom he impressed. When I asked my circle of friends if they wanted to take a drive with me to see Holmes make his pro debut, they all asked me the same question:
“Who is Larry Holmes?”
“He’s the guy we saw lose to Duane Bobick in the Olympic Trials,” I told them. “Remember, the guy who lost by DQ.”
“You mean the human octopus?” said my friend, Butch.
“The guy who was given the thumb for wrestling?” asked Dan.
“The guy who refused to fight?” inquired Tom.
“Yes, that guy,” I said. “I really believe he has talent. I want to see him in his pro debut.”
My friends all looked at me in bewilderment.
“Have you lost your marbles, Randy?” asked Brian. “You’re going to drive to Scranton from Long Island to see this guy Holmes? You’re crazy!”
“If you want to see an octopus, go to the New York Aquarium! said Butch. “Why drive all the way to Scranton?”
I heard them and understood where they were coming from. But I knew I had to see this Larry Holmes in person. When I asked all of my friends if they wanted to join me on the ride and got nothing but “No thank you” from all of them, I knew I’d be making the trip alone.
I had been told of Holmes’ debut by journalist Bob Waters, who was Long Island Newsday’s boxing writer. I had called him up following Holmes’ DQ loss to Bobick to ask if he knew anything about Holmes. Waters graciously spoke with me, telling me he knew a little bit about Holmes. Waters took my home number, and promised he’d contact me if and when he ever heard of Holmes making his debut. Waters kept his promise, and called a few days before the fight to tell me of Holmes’ debut in Scranton. He told me that Long Island light heavyweight Bobby Cassidy would be featured in the main event that night against Jersey City’s Jimmy Dupree. Waters said “I’d love to join you, but I am on assignment that night and it’s not a small club show in Scranton I’m writing about.”
“If I’m not being too forward,” I asked, “what kind of assignment did Newsday give you?”
“It’s a heavyweight fight next week in San Diego,” he said. “I’m writing features on both of the guys. The fight is being televised on ABC.
It was the first fight in a trilogy. The participants were Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton.
So, I rode alone to Scranton. With no WAZE or Google Maps to help me, I relied on my torn and crinkled maps. They helped, but I continued to pull over constantly to check my course. The normal 2 1/2-hour drive took me an additional 90 minutes. But I made it.
I got to the CYC early enough, just as the doors opened. As this wasn’t Madison Square Garden, the Barclays Center, the MGM Grand Garden Arena or another major arena, there was no security—no real security. I told the “guard” posted outside the dressing room area I was with the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission. Looking clean cut and in a suit, I was allowed to head back to the dressing rooms. I stopped when I came to a door with names written on white paper in marker attached to the door. I didn’t see “HOLMES.” I walked a few doors further down the hall. I looked at the names on the paper. There is was. The name I had taken what my friends considered to be a ridiculous drive for: “HOLMES.”
When I walked in, all heads turned to look at me. They were in sweatsuits and in T-shirts. I was in a suit.
“I’m looking for Larry Holmes,” I announced. “Is he around?”
I turned my head to the right when I heard the answer.
“I’m Larry Holmes,” he said. “You with the commission?”
“No, I’m not,” I said. “I’m just a fan from Long Island who came to see your debut,” I replied.
“You’re from where?” he asked, unsure of where Long Island was in relation to where we were. He was a newcomer to this area, having moved from Cuthbert, Georgia.
“I’m from Long Island,” I said.
“Isn’t one of the guys in the main event from Long Island?” Holmes asked the men around him. One of them shook his head and said, “Yeah, Bobby Cassidy.”
“Oh, you’re here with Cassidy?” asked Holmes.
“No, I’m not. I came to see you in your debut.”
Holmes gave me a puzzled look.
“You a rich guy or something? You came from Long Island to see me? You looking to buy my contract?” Holmes and his crew laughed.
As we talked, Holmes joked, “Maybe you should consider buying my contract. I’m going to be Heavyweight Champion of the world some day.”
He believed it. So did I.
I went out and headed my seat. I watched as he took the first step on his Hall of Fame career, winning a four-round unanimous decision over Rodell Dupree.
While I didn’t become Holmes’ manager, I did become his friend. I covered him during my years at World & International Boxing Magazine and during his years as champ when I was editor of Ring Magazine. I assisted him in training for Gerry Cooney, (never knowing Cooney would become a close friend of both of us, and my future radio partner, as well) and I was with him in his lowest moment, when he was controversially outpointed by Michael Spinks on September 21, 1985. That was the night Holmes lost his first fight, as he attempted to tie Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 record, and ripped into Marciano, saying, “He couldn’t carry my jockstrap.”
It pained me to call the radio blow-by-blow of his knockout loss to Mike Tyson in 1988. We then stayed in touch during my years as NY’s commissioner and the job which followed, as director of boxing for the Foxwoods Casino.
As I returned to my journalism roots in 1997, Holmes and I stayed in touch. Holmes also stayed active. Well, sort of. In the five-year span between July 1997 and July 2002, Holmes fought five times. He was out-and-out robbed of a decision in Denmark against Brian Nielsen. Then, he won four in a row, with two being against 46-year-old James “Bonecrusher” Smith and another against 49-year-old Mike Weaver. Another victory was against tough trial horse Maurice Harris. The victory against Harris was by split decision.
When Holmes told me in July 2002 that he’d soon be fighting Eric “Butterbean” Esch.
He told me the fight would be his last. He said he was hanging up the gloves for good. I wished him the best.
The fight was in The Scope, in Norfolk, VA. I couldn’t bring myself to attend. The “Easton Assassin” did not belong fighting “Butterbean,” the 325-pound self-proclaimed “King of the Four Rounders,” who would be fighting in his first 10-rounder. I didn’t go and I didn’t watch it.
Oh, Larry won a decision, but I didn’t need to see my friend fight a comical, cartoon-like Toughman winner. Holmes, in his prime, was arguably the best heavyweight ever to step into the ring. Against “Butterbean,” Holmes was 52,and sadly out of shape. I’m glad I wasn’t there.
Over the years, we have kept our special friendship. It has been extra-special to me to watch the incredible bond which has developed between Holmes and Cooney. It’s one of the beautiful things in life. It’s one of the many happy stories you hear which come out of this head-bashing, bone-shattering sport.
So, when Larry called me and invited me to his birthday party on Saturday, I didn’t have to think about it.
Easton, PA, here I come.
Happy Birthday in health and happiness, Larry! And many more!
As long as my mind is on a great heavyweight—and topic—the great Larry Holmes—I’ll tell you that I’m heading to the bright lights and smoke-filled casinos of Las Vegas for the WBC Heavyweight Title bout between Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz on November 23.
Speaking of Wilder, he really has to knock it off in his bashing of referee Jack Reiss.
Wilder, the 41-0-1 WBC Heavyweight Champion—and the world’s best heavyweight IMHO—has been bashing and trashing the job Reiss did as the third man in the ring during Wilder’s less-than-perfect outing against Tyson Fury last December 1 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. As you well-remember (unless you just started watching and following boxing in the last few months), Wilder knocked Fury down midway through the 12th and final round with a booming left hook. Fury crashed to the canvas with a thud and looked unconscious.
While some other referees may have prematurely stopped the fight, Reiss gave Fury every opportunity to continue, just as he had told both fighters he would in the pre-fight instructions in their respective dressing rooms (where I was in attendance to witness this!).
As Reiss picked up the count from the knockdown timekeeper, Fury opened his eyes at the count of five. He then rolled over onto his knees and pushed himself to his feet, just beating Reiss’ count. After Reiss checked Fury out by making him step to the side and then to the other side, he allowed the fight to go on.
Not only did Fury continue, but fought back well, even nailing Wilder with a few hard shots to produce one of the most exciting rounds of the year.
Two days after the fight, Gerry Cooney and I sat down with several producers from SiriusXM and went over the tape in both real time and frame by frame. The producers, all authorities in both audio tape and video tape editing, put time clocks on the knockdown sequence and on Reiss’ count. They found the referee executed his job perfectly…that Tyson Fury had pulled a rabbit out of the hat and not only beat the count, but came back to give Wilder a tough time.
In recent weeks, Wilder has taken to saying that Reiss gave Fury a slow count…that Fury was actually down for more than 10 seconds. No he wasn’t.
Wilder even produced a video clip which puts a timeclock on the knockdown. It’s a doctored video.
Wilder should not blame Jack Reiss for his failure to have won the fight by knockout. Wilder has only himself to blame, for his inability to put Fury away. Wilder is known as a powerful finisher. On that night, he wasn’t. I have long been one of Wilder’s biggest supporters and continue to be. Only not in this case! This time, he is wrong!
Next week, we will take a look at the aftermath of Sergei Kovalev v Canelo Alvarez, and take a look at the upcoming WBSS bantamweight championship matching Nanoya Inoue against Nonito Donaire.
Enjoy the weekend.
PUBLISHER NOTE: I recommend Randy Gordon's book which touches on his rich history as the man who has worn more hats in the boxing realm than any other. Buy it here.