"The reason I got into this game, I wanted to buy a little house, a little store and be happy . . ." -- Larry Homes

Larry Holmes has his house and his store, but they are not little. He has plenty more: a new Rolls Royce, a bar, an office building and a restaurant. Most of the time he even has his happiness.

"I named my businesses after my kids," Holmes said. "I just wanted to leave something behind for them."

Holmes is the undeafed World Boxing Council heavyweight champion and by almost all assessments that oddest of oddities in big-time sports: a nice guy.

His year-old daughter Kandy came into the dressing room the other day. Her father was talking in his gentle lisp, sweatly after a workout, tired from preparations for his nationally televised title defense Friday against Leon Spinks (WJLA-TV-7, 9 p.m.).

"Hiya, fatty," Holmes said, brightening. "This is my goal," he told the assembled reporters, hoisting the little girl in his huge arms. "This is what I'm working for."

Holmes, a 4-to-1 favorite against Spinks, would be the first to say that he has everything he wants. He will say he entered the fight business for money, that he never expected to make anywhere near as much as he has, that he thinks all the time about retiring, that he is content in his Easton, Pa., home and wishes only to spend more time there.

But Holmes is haunted by his own inability to capture the world's approval, haunted by the fact that even today people occasionally call him Ernie or simply draw a blank when he says, "I'm Larry Holmes."

He has been the champ for three years and this will be his 10th title defense. He is 37-0 as a professional. He has taken on all the appropriate comers, including Muhammand Ali, WBA champion Mike Weaver, Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers and, now, former champion Spinks.

Still, the world remembers him best for the way the washed-up Ali used to roll his name over and over before they fought for the title last October. "I want Hoooooolmes, I want Hoooooolmes," Ali said to the television throngs. "I need Hoooooolmes."

"Is Holmes, 31, trapped? "Sure, I feel trapped," he said. "To some I have proved myself and to some others I didn't. I would hate to go out with them still talking about me.

"If I retired now they would say, 'He ducked Spinks.' And after that they'd say, 'He ducked (Gerry) Cooney.' And if I beat Cooney they'd say I ducked (Michael) Dokes or (Greg) Page," who are the cream of the rising heavyweights.

"I don't need all the money in the world. I need my senses. I'll never be a Howard Hughes or an Elvis or a John Wayne. What I want is what I'm getting."

Of Spinks, he said, "He's made for me.

"He's like a Shavers or a (Joe) Frazier. He's going to come at me. All I have to do is move slow and let him come into the power. When he comes running in there, he'll hit the force of the power."

Holmes' power is a long left jab that packs thunder.

The champion's new trainer is the venerable Eddie Futch, a 69-year-old great-grandfather who trained Frazier and Norton. Futch calls Holmes' left jab "one of the best solid lefts, and very, very quick. Larry once even scored a knockdown with his left jab, against (Osvaldo) Ocasio."

Holmes figures he needs "three punches to take Leon, the left jab, the left hook and the right cross." He hopes to keep the fight in the middle of the ring, avoiding the ropes and corners and keeping Spinks at bay. "Right now," said the champion, "Leon's cornermen are trying to teach him how to box. If he learns I'll have no trouble with him.But he won't learn, because as soon as he gets hit he'll start to fight instead of box."

Both men are in top condition. Holmes weighted in at 212 1/4 pounds, Spinks at 200 1/4. Holmes never had really stopped training after his April 11, 15-round victory over Trevor Berbick, in which he was not impressive.

He maintained that a six-month layoff hurt him in that fight, so he took only a few days off afterward and went right back into training.

Spinks, 27, who has matured dramatically from three years ago when he first won and then immediately lost back the heavyweight title to Ali, stayed in seclusion in the Michigan mountains for six weeks, working out and avoiding the urban distractions that have plagued his career. He returned to Detroit Monday.

He is taking this fight seriously. "Tell Larry Holmes that I'm coming for it," he said. "I can see that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."

Spinks' plan is to weather the barrage of Holmes jabs long enough to get inside, where the champion's weight edge and five-inch reach advantage will have less effect, and to swarm and brawl at close quarters.

To which Holmes replies, "Leon has got to bring it to get it, and when he brings it he's going to catch it."

There is a hyped claim of bad blood between the two. The champion said Spinks "disrespected" Holmes' wife Diane at a tribute to Joe Louis 2 1/2 years ago. Holmes claims Spinks was drunk and took a commemorative boxing glove from his wife's table, refused to give it back and kissed her.

Spinks denies it, saying the glove was taken by one of the men from his camp and no kiss was ever planted.

An interesting irony of this fight, billed as a tribute to Joe Louis in the arena the city named after the Brown Bomber, is that it pits the products of two of Louis' contemporaries.

Futch, the champion's corner man, trained and spared with Louis at the Brewster Athletic Club here in the 1930s. Spinks' trainer, Del Williams, was two years behind Futch at that club. They trained many fighters together and are longtime, outspoken admirers of each other.

Both trainers are native sons of Detroit, the city Spinks lately has adopted as his home. But Spinks has no delusions that the fans will regard him as a hometown kid. "Holmes has his people. I have mine," said the challenger.

Indications are there won't be hordes at the arena anyway, what with economic hard times firmly entrenched in this motor city. Tickets are scaled from $25 to $500 and already one bloc of 1,500 has been reduced from $50 to $25 in an effort to increase sales.

"I think we'll be lucky to get 11,000 to 12,000" in the 21,000-seat arena, Futch said. Holmes reportedly will receive about $1 million for the fight, Spinks about half that.

Holmes figures he can't afford to lose. "I just bought my new Rolls Royce," he said. "If I lose, I'll ride down the street in Easton and people will say, 'There goes Larry Holmes. Leon done whipped him.'"

And at his Easton restaurant, where many entrees bear the names of fighters of the past, Holmes already has a speciality set aside to name after Spinks.

It goes on the menu June 12, Holmes said.

And what will be?

"Whipped potatoes."