They could call the world heavyweight championship bout here Friday night the Holmescoming. World Boxing Council titleholder Larry Holmes couldn't be much more relaxed and confident if he were on his back porch in Easton, Pa., waiting for the mail.
At the weigh-in today for his title defense against Renaldo Snipes of Yonkers, N.Y., the champion said he feels like a hometown favorite. "It's just like the governor says, 'You have a friend in Pennsylvania.' Except Snipes don't have a friend."
Holmes moved easily through the final days before his 11th defense in three years. On Tuesday he had a party to celebrate his 32nd birthday. That night he visited campaign headquarters to help Mayor Richard Caliguiri celebrate re-election. On Wednesday he entertained the press in his suite and today he verbally pummeled the nervous challenger at the weigh-in.
"When Snipes comes out (to the ring) everybody be saying, 'Holmes, Hoooolmes,' " said the champion, laughing from the podium, where he was recording a fit 213 1/4 pounds. "Snipes will be shivering in his corner."
Snipes, the No. 7 WBC contender, mostly glared at his tormentor during this exercise in excess, which eventually degenerated into name-calling. But signs of worry and confusion clouded his glare.
"You got your flunkies laughing," Snipes sniped, "but we're gonna see tonight." Unfortunately, the fight was still 36 hours away.
Few give Snipes, who weighed 215 3/4, much chance in this nationally televised bout (WJLA-TV-7, 9 p.m.). Holmes has never looked fitter, he has the best left jab in the business, he's coming off a convincing third-round knockout of Leon Spinks in June and is looking forward to a huge payday against Gerry Cooney in March, assuming he beats Snipes and Cooney beats Joe Bugner next month.
Trainer Eddie Futch said Holmes has been training three months and "my biggest concern was slowing him down. He wanted to do too much."
Futch concurred that Holmes seems mellower than ever. "It comes from his complete confidence in being able to get the job done," Futch said. He said films of Snipes' two most recent fights against Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and Gerry Coetzee revealed weaknesses the champion intends to exploit.
Futch said Snipes sometimes fights from an exaggerated crouch. "He's all over the floor looking for a quarter," said the veteran trainer. "But down there he can't punch either. He has to come up to punch, and when he does . . . "
Holmes acknowledged that Snipes' awkwardness could slow the champion until Holmes figures out a pattern. But he said if Snipes tries to run it won't work.
"I saw him try to run from Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. He's going to have to run harder from me because I'm a real heavyweight. He'll get tired. I'll be chasing him. If ABC (television) needs time, tough luck. I'll go out and get him in two seconds. Then I'll throw kisses to my family, my baby."
Asked what he stands to gain from this fight against a relative unknown with a fight record as mediocre as 22-0 can be, Holmes, undefeated in 38 pro fights, said: "More than $1 million, and it keeps me in shape."
It also provides Pittsburgh with its first heavyweight title fight since Jersey Joe Walcott knocked out champion Ezzard Charles in 1951. Ticket sales languished at first but have picked up in the last few days, according to Murray Goodman, a spokesman for promoter Don King. He said about 11,000 tickets, scaled from $20 to $200, have been sold. The Civic Arena holds 17,000.
If the championship bout falls flat, the preliminary scheduled to precede it on television might save the show. It matches undefeated Michael (Dynamite) Dokes, a quick-handed 217-pound heavyweight with a playboy reputation, against sobersided George Chaplin.
The dimple-cheeked Dokes tosses long-stemmed roses to the women at ringside before he fights. Chaplin couldn't be more unlike him. The son of a lawyer, he is an orthopedic technician at Baltimore's Lutheran Hospital and a quiet student of the boxing science.