Larry Holmes flew home today with his World Boxing Council heavyweight title intact while the challenger who nearly dethroned him nursed a bruised face, a slashed arm and the conviction he'd been cheated.
Renaldo Snipes threw a chill through a crowd of 14,000 at the Civic Arena Friday night with a looping right that sent the champion sprawling in the seventh round. Holmes got up reeling, but survived the round. Today, Snipes' manager said that blow hurt Holmes worse than Holmes' punches were hurting Snipes when the title fight was stopped four rounds later.
"I believe Larry Holmes was in more danger in the seventh round than Snipes was in the 11th," said Nick Rattenni. He wired a protest to the World Boxing Council demanding that Holmes' title be declared vacant until Snipes got a rematch.
Referee Rudy Ortega, a veteran of 25 title fights, saw it differently. He felt Snipes was defenseless and in danger of severe injury when Holmes landed at least four unanswered right hands. The champion was measuring Snipes, lining up each blow, when Ortega stopped it.
Snipes' trainer, the Rev. Jimmy Williams, said, "I've seen Renaldo respond from worse conditions than that. This isn't a patty-cake game. He's supposed to get hit. He trained to sustain those blows."
But officials from the WBC and the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission backed the referee. "All the knowledgeable boxing people I know applauded the decision," said James J. Binns, Pennsylvania commission chairman.
Snipes was trailing on all three scorecards when Ortega declared the technical knockout. But fans booed the decision and advanced on the ring. Scuffles broke out, including one between the two fighters' camps, that left Snipes bleeding from a deep cut on his left forearm.
Rattenni said he was shoved and bumped into Williams, who was trying to cut the gloves off Snipes. The scissors dug about two inches into Snipes' arm. The wound required more than 25 stitches to close.
Holmes admitted today that he had underestimated Snipes. "He was awkward at first, but then he got cagey," said the champion.
"I let him off the hook and then the fight got very, very tough," said Holmes. He said he should have tried to finish Snipes off in the fifth round after he opened a cut over the challenger's eye that later required five stitches to close. "But I stopped using my jab."
In the seventh Snipes tapped the champion with two light left jabs and followed with the overhand right that caught Holmes behind the ear and sent him sprawling. Ortega never appeared to count over Holmes, though some at ringside said he picked up the count at 6.
The referee also never checked Holmes' gloves or looked him over to see if he could continue. Holmes explained that away, saying that when Ortega came to him, he was already moving away.
"When I get knocked down the referee has to catch me to count me," Holmes said. "I'm moving, man, trying to clear my head."
The champion said the fight was stopped at an appropriate time. "He was hurt. He wouldn't have gotten out of that corner unless they carried him out.
"This is going to make the (Gerry) Cooney fight much more interesting," he said. "Cooney will be easier to fight. He's a straight-up fighter. He won't be ducking and weaving."
Holmes said he wants to fight World Boxing Association champion Mike Weaver after the Cooney fight and then would offer a rematch to Snipes. At one point he said he'd fight Snipes again in 30 days, but promoter Don King, sitting at his side, voiced disapproval. King stands to make a fortune off Holmes-Cooney, but not if someone knocks off Holmes first.