Well, one thing led to another and soon enough Larry Holmes was talking about his children.
By virtue of a split decision over Ken Norton, Holmes became one of this world's two heavyweight champions. The first thing he'll do is go home to Easton, Pa., for a birthday party for his daughter Lisa who'll be 9 tomorrow.
Someone asked if Holmes were married, and the fighter said, "I'm not married . . . I was 17 when my first baby came."
He wanted a son, Holmes said to a room filled with newspaper people taking notes. And there was this older woman in Easton. She was 23.
"I was young, and she was willing," Holmes said.
The first baby was a girl, Misty, now 10.
"We missed on the boy, so I said, 'Let's try again,'" Holmes said.
"We got another girl. So we quit."
The daughters still live with their mother, Holmes said, and he visits them often. The last eight years, he said, he lived with another woman who only last December moved out on him.
"She said she couldn't take it anymore," Holmes said.
Couldn't take him fighting?
"That, or she couldn't take my mess. You know how us men are. None of us are perfect. I said to her, 'Girl, you are crazy to leave me. I'm just starting to get rich.'"
For 15 rounds against Norton two nights ago, Larry Holmes was paid something near $500,000. He is undefeated in 28 fights and that purse will be the smallest he'll collect over the next few years. Save for Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazler, who decorated the mean game early in this decade no recent heavyweight is the match of Larry Holmes.
Holmes is a big man, 6-foot-3 and 209, with quick hands and feet. If he is not a devastating puncher, he has demonstrated an ability to take the bombs of strong men.Earnie Shavers couldn't hurt him and neither did Ken Norton Friday night.
So the journalists assembled yesterday morning wanted to know more about Holmes. He told his story with (See KINDRED, D16, COL. 1) (KINDRED, From D1) no apologies. He laughed at himself and he spoke softly of his mother. He believes his story can help poor kids make something of themselves. If Larry Holmes can do it, he said, anybody can.
Born in Cuthbert, Ga., one of 11 children of an itinerant laborer who ran out on the family, Holmes quit school after the seventh grade. He worked in a car wash, a rug mill and a foundry. Always strong and athletic, he turned to boxing when Flossie Holmes moved her brood to Easton - where her wandering husband had found a job.
His amateur coach. Ernie Butler, arranged a job for Holmes. For five years, he drove a truck.
"I got $3.25 an hour," Holmes said. A smile.
"That's with a raise. I started at $2."
But he was happy, he said, because the job enabled him to fight. After 22 amateur fights, 19 of them victories, he turned professional in 1973. In November of that year, in Cleveland for his eighth pro fight, Holmes met Don King who then was a fight manager handling Shavers.
"Meeting Don King was a blessing," Holmes said.
King today is a big-time promoter. He staged the Holmes-Shavers bout in March of this years and put on the Norton-Holmes fight. In 1973, a hustling manager, King hired Holmes to fight for him. King says he now has no contractual connection with Holmes. Even so, the boxing world considers Holmes King's fighter."
Under King's guidance, Holmes became a full-time fighter, polishing his skills as sparring partner for Ali, Frazier and Shavers. As early as 1973, Ali would announce to visitors at his training camp that "this kid, Larry Holmes, will be the heavyweight champion when I'm gone."
Until the Shavers bout, though, no heavyweight of stature was bold enough to try Holmes. Over 12 rounds with Shavers, Holmes won at leat 11 on every judge's scorecard. That earned him the shot at Norton, and the World Boxing Council's championship belt and said, "It is true."
Holmes said he won the fight with an injured arm. His left bicep was bruised in a sparring session five days before the bout. He sparred no more and even shadow boxing caused him pain. But he wanted the championship more than he cared about pain. A doctor said to go ahead, it was nothing serious. So Holmes did.
"If you want to be a good fighter, you fight with pain," he said. "You fight with courage and determination.
"I'm starting school all over again and try to get my diploma," Holmes said. He is studying with a special education teacher, a man who works with retarded children in Easton. "Every year for the last three years, I go and speak to the retarded kids at his camp."
Holmes said his father cannot read or write. "But at the local community colleges, I make speeches on psychology?
A seventh-grade dropout who says he watches Popeye cartoons every morning - he gives speeches on psychology?
"People want to know what makes me tick," Holmes said. His quick smile was born of pride. "How a guy like me gets where he is."
Holmes is free of pretense. He has another girl friend now, but he won't talk about her because this is getting to be "too much like the National Enquirer." He likes "gangster movies, lots of killing, cowboys, Jesse James."
Favorite food? "The Burger King. That's where I live in Easton."
He plays the piano, plunking around until something sounds like a tune, and he's going to Newark soon to walk the streets to show that you can make something of yourself.
Someone wondered if Holmes, now that he has money, would, say, build a house for his mother.
"If I told you, you'd put it in the paper," he said. His voice softened. "Whatever Ido for my mom, I want it to be a surprise."