Why Larry Holmes is Not an All-Time Great
Ok. Before anyone gets mad at me and starts accusing me of dumping on former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes and not giving him his due, hear me out!
I think Larry Holmes was a great fighter. In mythical match-ups with past heavyweight champions, I think Larry Holmes would beat most of them.
He was very good. He had the height, the reach, the speed, and the jab -- one of the best left jabs in heavyweight history.
And he was tough. You don't fight 15 grueling rounds with Ken Norton, get up from a herculean Earnie Shavers right hand, and turn the tables on a young, hungry fighter like Tim Witherspoon if you aren't tough and gritty.
Larry Holmes passed many tests during his reign that any lesser fighter would have succumbed to.
But, and here comes a few of my buts for not ranking Larry Holmes as an all-time great.
1.) He avoided too many of the top and/or mandatory contenders during his reign
From 1978, when Holmes won the heavyweight championship, through 1982, when he defended his title in a mega-bucks showdown with "white hope" Gerry Cooney, Holmes was a great champion.
He fought often and, for the most part, took on all-comers. Even though the competition around then was not spectacular, that was hardly Holmes' fault.
However, after the Cooney fight, Holmes started to coast and take it easy.
He refused to fight number one contender Greg Page, who, by the way, was Holmes' mandatory opponent. Holmes, rather than fight Page as he was mandated to do, gave up his WBC heavyweight championship and accepted recognition from the newly-created IBF organization.
All-time great heavyweight champions don't duck their mandatory contenders, and they sure as heck don't give up a belt in the process.
There were many other fighters who Holmes ducked, such as Pinklon Thomas and Michael Dokes.
Now, the Holmes supporters will say that all the above-mentioned guys were lazy, inconsistent, and more often than not, out of shape.
And that's true. They were part of the so-called "lost generation" of heavyweights, guys with a lot of talent and skill but without the drive and determination to maximize that skill.
But here's the thing: they were all very good fighters when they were prepared.
If Larry Holmes could be pushed to the brink by guys like Tim Witherspoon and Carl Williams, two guys who, at least on paper, were not viewed as major threats, why couldn't Greg Page, Pinklon Thomas, etc. do the same?
And speaking of Tim Witherspoon and Carl Williams, I arrive at my second major point.
2.) Larry Holmes never rematched tough fights
Tim Witherspoon pushed Holmes to the limit in a 1983 title fight, seriously hurting Holmes during a thrilling 9th round, only to have Holmes rally back to stun Witherspoon.
At the end of their 12 round battle, many people thought Witherspoon did enough to win. But the judges disagreed, awarding Holmes a close win.
Why wasn't Witherspoon offered an immediate rematch? Most all-time great champions seek to rematch tough fights. Holmes did not.
And what about Carl Williams? When Holmes fought Carl Williams in 1985, which was Holmes' last win prior to losing to Michael Spinks, Williams was viewed as a skilled but green fighter, a guy with too little seasoning to threaten Holmes.
Well, Williams did what no fighter before that had done: he outjabbed the great Larry Holmes.
At the end of the 15th round, Holmes eye was almost swollen shut.
The decision, in Holmes' favor, was met with more than a few boos.
So, what did Holmes do after barely surviving the challenge of the inexperienced but competitive Williams? Offer him a rematch? Nope!
He agreed to fight the current light heavyweight champion Michael Spinks for big money and what appeared to be low risk.
Heck, even Ken Norton, who gave Holmes hell in their 1978 title fight at Caesar's Palace, was denied and immediate rematch.
Norton was made to fight Earnie Shavers instead in order to "qualify" for a return match with Holmes.
Why wasn't Norton given an immediate rematch? He gave Holmes his shot!
All-time great fighters don't leave "unfinished business" in the ring. If a challenger proves tough, or in many people's eyes beats a champion, then an all-time great champion "must" grant a rematch. That's just something that the great ones do.
Joe Louis did it. Rocky Marciano did it. Muhammad Ali did it (at least sometimes).
Larry Holmes never did it once!
I think Larry Holmes was a great fighter. He would beat most of the champions that came before him and most that came after him. But he avoided too many of the better contenders during his reign and failed to rematch close fights for him to be considered an all-time great. Holmes openly admitted during the latter stages of his reign that he would not fight certain fighters. After fighting James Smith, Holmes said that "he was tired of fighting big, strong fighters" and instead wanted to fight "little people that he could beat up on."