Friday night's heavyweight championship fight here is being bannered as "Imminent Danger," but unofficially folks are calling it "The Great Snipes Hunt."
Larry Holmes, World Boxing Council champion, is dangling his title in front of Renaldo Snipes, a 25-year-old Yonkers, N.Y., plugger most noted for his contested victory Aug. 9 over South African Gerrie Coetzee. Snipes won that 10-rounder by a decision, despite the fact that Coetzee scored two knockdowns to Snipes' none.
In his final sparring session Tuesday, Snipes was battered for two rounds by a 20-year-old amateur, Tyrell Biggs, and then left the gym without comment, other than to describe it as a good workout. Biggs said he thought Snipes had lost his cool.
Snipes is a sleek, handsome 215-pounder, but in the ring the adjective most often used to describe him is awkward.
At a press conference today that Holmes elected not to attend, the challenger contended that he has learned a little since the Coetzee fight. "I learned two things," he said. "To stay off the canvas, and I learned that I could get up from it."
Asked what he thought of reports that Las Vegas oddsmakers thought so little of a Holmes-Snipes fight that they wouldn't establish a betting line, other than on how long Snipes would last, the challenger said, "I didn't know that, so it didn't bother me."
He said the legacy of the Coetzee fight does not weigh on his mind because "most fighters have gone through controversial decisions."
Nonetheless, the chances of Snipes taking the crown from Holmes seem slim. The champion, with a 38-0 record and 10 straight title defenses, nine by knockout, is widely thought to be using this nationally televised fight as a tuneup for a financially desirable match in the spring with Gerry Cooney, the No. 1 World Boxing Association contender. Holmes reportedly has been guaranteed in excess of $1 million for the Snipes fight, with the challenger getting an estimated $175,000. But the Cooney fight could bring Holmes $10 million.
Snipes is ranked No. 8 by the WBC. His pro record is 22-0, but his only noteworthy triumph besides Coetzee was a 10-round decision over then-light heavyweight champion Mustafa Muhammad in Atlantic City last May. Before that, Snipes had fought guys called Cummings, Boone, Bonds, Dozier and Dupree.
Today Snipes belittled Holmes' record. "Who has he fought? Spinks, Ocasio, Evangelista, Zanon, an out-of-shape Jimmy Young, a 275-pound (Leroy) Jones? Those guys have been beaten by everybody. The statistics don't add up," he said.
According to the wizard of Holmes' camp, veteran trainer Eddie Futch, Snipes has "never seen anything like Larry." Futch said Snipes' strength "is his strength. He's a strong boy, but he doesn't do much. He has an overhand right, but we can handle that, and a decent left hook, but we can score off that, too.
"And he can run," said Futch. "The trouble is, the faster you run, the faster you can get cornered. I don't think Snipes has the ability to run against a fighter like Larry."
Snipes, by contrast, is banking on Holmes being overconfident. "He thinks he's up here and all his opponents are down there," Snipes said, gesturing around his knees with a heavy right hand.
Snipes is the product of a rough upbringing, oldest of seven children of a packing house butcher in Wichita, Kan. In 1976 he moved to Waukegan, Ill., and came under the tutelage of his current trainer, the Rev. Jimmy Williams. The challenger said his youth was "nothing but wild, I didn't know where I was going."
But he blossomed under Williams. Snipes began working with youngsters at the Waukegan YMCA, and says that is where he got his nickname, "Mister," certainly one of the more unusual nicknames in sports. "We tried to get all the kids to call us Mister, as a sign of respect," he said.
Today Snipes maintained that the Holmes fight "was put together by fate. Everybody is talking about Cooney-Holmes. But I said all along I'd be the champion in 1981.
"This is the year of the upset," Snipes said. "Look at the World Series."