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Holmes Is Ideal Foil for Tyson

November 16, 1987|SHIRLEY POVICH | Washington Post

Larry Holmes, exactly as was feared, has announced unretirement, seduced by the prospect of a $3 million payday for a short night's work in the same ring with Mike Tyson.

Any chance of beating Tyson scarcely exists, given Holmes' age (38), weight (overweight) and his sleepy reflexes--the same conditions that led him to retire 18 months ago after experiencing two lickings by Michael Spinks, hitherto a career light heavyweight.

The contest will take place Jan. 22 in Atlantic City at the Trump Plaza, owned by Donald Trump, who has a passion for naming things after himself. He has successfully challenged Las Vegas in the glitzy gambling casino competition and now Trump is playing another card. He aims to upstage Vegas as the locale of the big fights.

The Tyson-Holmes match, if not epic, is at least rated an eye-catcher. And for poster purposes the credits are there--young, rough, unbeaten knocker-out heavyweight and claimant of three versions of the world title in there against the one-time famous champion, winner of 48 straight bouts at one point in his notable career.

But as a classic confrontation, Tyson-Holmes comes up very short. To begin with, Tyson, although unbeaten and for all the claims of greatness made for him and by him, is still very much of a flawed fighter. Compared to those who have held the title he claims--Gene Tunney, Muhammad Ali, Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles and, yes, Holmes and Spinks--Tyson is a crudity, unlettered in boxing's arts, who moves only in straight lines, can be hit with anything and is wholly dependent on his good wallop in both fists. This he has practiced mostly against as carefully chosen an array of stiffs as was ever arranged by cozy managers.

Holmes may be best described by the double positive over the hill over the hill. When last seen, against Spinks, he was slow, fat and reluctant, in no way resembling the sharp hitter who dominated the heavyweights for so long; the one who had learned all the lessons in the gymnasium as the long-time sparring partner of Ali, the master; the one who could take charge of the ring at the opening bell, a splendid defensive boxer, as well, who could snap off a punch and finish off a guy in trouble.

That Larry Holmes disappeared long before he retired early in 1986. He was having trouble with other opponents before finding himself totally unable to deal with the dancing feet and surprising angle punches of Spinks, a blown-up light-heavyweight who took his title in 1986 and stuffed him again when Holmes asked for, and got, a rematch.

Holmes is the perfect foil for Tyson; he's big and slow and covered with rust. If Tyson's handlers were to script the ideal recipe for Tyson's next victory they could not have come up with better specifics than Holmes offers.

Time was when Holmes had a big punch, but that punch now has the added burden of time as a passenger. As Bobo Newsom used to explain when it was noted that he wasn't throwing his pitches as hard as in previous years: "I'm throwing 'em just as hard, but they're not going as fast."

Scheduling Tyson-Holmes for 15 rounds is a mockery. Holmes barely staggered through 15 rounds against Spinks 19 months ago. Against the dynamite punches of Tyson, Holmes, in one of the early rounds, could be wishing to be elsewhere.

Holmes' size--he probably was the biggest heavyweight champion with the exception of mastodonic Primo Carnera--offers the body-punching zealot, Tyson, the most inviting target, a situation reminiscent of what Whitey Ford said, when, with an appraising eye, he first glimpsed the gargantuan Frank Howard in the batter's box: "Jeez, what a strike zone."

There will be boasts, of course, by Holmes about how he will take the fight to Tyson and lick him without too much exertion. Tyrell Biggs, Tyson's last opponent, also decribed how he would be unafraid of Tyson, and beat him. Biggs proved typical of the caliber of most all of Tyson's opponents. After round one he ran out of gas, and dedication to the project.

Interested parties, including Tyson's managers, promoter Don King and Home Box Office, as well as various compliant boxing groups, have endowed the undefeated Tyson with a spurious world heavyweight title. There is a valid title but it belongs to Spinks, who twice knocked out Holmes, whose clear right to the title was never disputed.

Tyson isn't a fraud, but his title is. He got it by beating various nobodies certified as challengers by self-serving, promoter-loving groups calling themselves the World Boxing Council, the World Boxing Assn. and International Boxing Federation.

Want a world champion? Think up an acronym that hasn't been used and create your own boxing association and your own champion. It's been done. The WBC, WBA and IBF didn't exist in the days when everybody knew who the champ was and titles weren't fragmented.

Spinks' title is the one held by Dempsey, Tunney, Marciano, Ali, Frazier and Holmes and now belongs, legitimately, to Spinks. It is fair to say the jury is still out on Tyson as a fighter, but not in the person of Michael Spinks, who, when the time comes, will box Tyson's ears off, a prophecy of which I am reasonably certain.

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