For those who would like to see beyond Larry Holmes the public person, it can be reported from looking over his shoulder with a few of the "regulars" on the fight beat that he is not on the Scarsdale diet, although an interviewer could not pinch an ounce of fat at his midriff. Holmes permits such an invasion of privacy.
It could be disillusioning to an aspiring youngster to learn that Holmes is training for his World Boxing Council heavyweight title defense against Earnie Shavers here on Friday night by eating heaping plates of plump French-fried onion rings.
He attacked the ritual steak with the vigor of a younster who died without them on the wrong side of the railroad tracks in Easton, Pa., if there is a wrong side there. He poked at the mandatory salad and Brussels sprouts with the lassitude he showed before knocking out Mike Weaver in the 12th round in June.
He wears a T-shirt identifying him as Larry Holmes . . . "Champion of the World." That is not at all redundant here, where he competes with billboards listing the household names of the entertainment world. One could get sizable odds in this gambler's city that not everyone knows Muhammad Ali has retired or who the two guys are who will fight for the World Boxing Association title next month.
At one time a heavyweight champion had instant recognition impliitly, as the guy who could lick any man in the world. Preliminary fighters on Friday night's card have more box office identification, such as Sugar Ray Leonard and Robert Duran.
That is one of the reasons why Holmes expressed a most childlike delight when a visitor to his suite presented him with a medallion on a chain identifying him as the "world champion."
He introduced the local jeweler who designed it and gave it to him, urging the fight writers to patronize him, and took the occasion to show another badge of his status, a ring proclaiming him as the "champion."
Once more he exposed his psyche as extremely sensitive to the Rodney "I don't get no respect" Dangerfield syndrome.
Does it bother him that there will be two heavyweight champions, presumably he and the winner of the WBA bout between Gerrie Coetzee and John Tate?
Does he resent the attention being given to Leonard and Duran on the preliminary card?
"Come on, don't start that again."
He was alluding to his bout with lightly regarded Weaver, when most of the prefight attention was focused on the preliminary bout between Duran and Carlos Palomino.
"Like I say, it didn't bother me until you wrote about it. I'm the heavyweight champion. The pride is when you win. I'm fighting the main event on Friday. I go on last, at 7 o'clock (10 p.m. Washington time)."
Again he was asked if it would not bother him that Coetzee, a South African, or Tate, an American, is going to be recognized as champion by some people around the world (in WBA jurisdictions)?
"They can't beat me."
Does he know Tate, who is from Knoxville, Tenn.?
"No, but I know he's illiterate. I saw him on television and he couldn't even talk; he couldn't express himself. Bob Arum is taking him to South Africa and 'using' him. Then he'll drop him.
"What happens when Tate's own people (blacks) turn from him? Some white people may accept him -- for a while. Arum is programming him like a robot."
Would Holmes fight Coetzee if the South African beats Tate?
"Not under the circumstances."
Is it Tate's opponent he objects to or where the bout is being fought?
"It's the South African government. Coetzee can't help the fact that he was born there, like I was born black. I'd fight him if he came to the United States. Arum is doing it for money."
Holmes noted that Rev. Jesse Jackson of People United to Save Humanity (PUSH) has opposed the fight in South Africa because of the country's apartheid policy. A reporter implied should be allowed to earn some big money. The reporter asked Holmes, "What has Jesse Jackson done for you?"
"Nothing, but he is a representative for black people. Marting Luther King was. Everybody has a representative."
Did Holmes expect Tate to know about international politics?
"Tate knows what one plus one is. He sold his soul."
Was Holmes saying Tate is a traitor to his race?
"No, he just doesn't know what's going on. Jesse Jackson went to Israel to try to help things out. So did Andrew Young. I've got to be behind them; they're for my people.
"Heck, Tate is weighing 245 pounds. That shows nobody cares what may happen to him. Maybe they'll drug him so he can't win. I've heard all kinds of stories. Willie Rodriquez (a welterweight) is a friend of mine. He went there and they treated him badly; he's Hispanic. They didn't want him there."
Holmes was asked afterward if he had any facts to support his suspicions relative to Tate's security. He said he did not.
Someone mentioned that seating for the Coetzee-Tate bout is going to be integrated and he said, "That don't mean anything.
"I liked Arum," he said, with mocking laughter, "until he said about me after my bout with Weaver that I have a heart as big as a mouse."
Later Holmes said he would like to fight Coetzee in New York if the South African beats Tate. "But let's get this bout over first (with Shavers)," he said.
"I'm going to jab Shavers until he is half-drunk and then I'm going to mug him with a right. He doesn't have the punch everybody thinks he has. He didn't faze me (when Holmes decisioned Shavers in 12 rounds in 1978). He can't be better this time, only worse; he has reached his peak. He's trying to psych himself up on the basis of knocking out Ken Norton (in the first round, in March). Norton was finished before Shavers fought him."