Champion Larry Holmes' camp apparently has succeeded in getting the Nevada State Athletic Commission to replace one of the three judges tentatively selected for Holmes' heavyweight title defense Friday night at 11 (EDT) against Gerry Cooney.
Holmes' aides were known to be distressed by two judges tentatively picked Wednesday night.
Trainer Eddie Futch said judge Herb Santos "hasn't had enough experience with championship matches." Of judge Dave Moretti, he said, "there is a matter of some inconsistency in the scoring."
Futch said before the prefight rules committee meeting tonight that he would protest the selection of both. After the meeting Futch said the commission had agreed to replace one of the two, but he would not say which or by whom he would be replaced.
"It's enough that we got one changed. That makes it fairer," Futch said. Veteran Nevada referee Dave Pearl said he expected Santos to be replaced. Pearl said that in all his years in Nevada boxing he had never met Santos and was shocked by the selection. The third judge, Duane Ford, and referee Mills Lane were not opposed by either camp.
The news of the switch came as a surprise to Cooney's camp.
"I'm going to have to meet with the commission," said comanager Dennis Rappaport. "We're putting our faith in them."
Added comanager Mike Jones, "So they change a judge. Gerry Cooney's left hand will be the judge."
Holmes, who has frequently ridiculed the challenger, has predicted he will knock out Cooney in seven rounds or less in his 12th title defense.
"I'm going to box Gerry Cooney," Holmes said. "I'm going to pop away at him with left jabs like he's never seen before--pop, pop, pop!!! I'm going to Everlast him to death. And when he's waiting for the left jab, I'm going to lay some big right hands upside his head."
Cooney, who has only 86 rounds of professional boxing experience and hasn't fought in 13 months, says he will knock out Holmes "the first chance I get."
The odds are going up against Cooney. Today, gamblers' money began swinging away from the challenger.
"The early money was on Cooney," said Vic Salerno, who runs Leroy's Horse and Sports betting parlor, where many serious sports gamblers take their business. "We started at 9 1/2 to 5 (Holmes favored) but they bet it down to 8 1/2 to 5. Now it's going back up to 9-5 and we expect it to go higher, possibly 2-1 by fight time."
The disaffection with the challenger was not unexpected, said Salerno. "Usually in title fights the late money is on the champion."
Salerno and other betting parlor operators said gambling on the fight has been moderate, with less interest so far than the Sugar Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns welterweight title fight generated.
It is expected to be warm, still and clear in this desert valley between red rock mountains. Only a few hundred of the 32,500 seats in a makeshift outdoor arena at Caesars Palace remained available today, according to the hotel. There is no network television or live radio play-by play.
Someone asked Cooney after his final workout whether it would feel strange to fight in a ring set up in a parking lot. The challenger shook his vaunted left fist, grinned and said no. "I've been in parking lots before, pardner."
Holmes, the 32-year-old champion with a 39-0 record that includes 29 knockouts, will have been in seclusion three days by fight time. He abandoned his workouts after Tuesday's sparring session. Cooney, 25-0 with 21 knockouts, spent one more day in the gym before retiring to his suite.
Jerry Quarry, who lost his only heavyweight title fight to Jimmy Ellis in 1968, said he likes Cooney's chances because "he hits harder than anyone I ever saw." But Quarry, Cooney's predecessor as the heavyweight Great White Hope, said he would have trouble "betting against an undefeated champion."
At the official weigh-in today Holmes registered 212 1/2 and Cooney weighed in at 225 1/2.
Both fighters are in excellent shape. Holmes has a barely discernible softness about the middle, perhaps a quarter-inch of fat he did not carry when he defeated Reynaldo Snipes seven months ago in his 11th successful title defense. But in sparring and workouts he seemed as strong, agile and quick-handed as ever.
Trainer Victor Valle, who has been in the fight game for more than 40 years, will share the corner with Cooney's comanagers, Rappaport and Jones.
They have never seen their fighter in trouble and the scene in the corner may be interesting if Holmes scores some damaging blows. The 25-year-old challenger is a hard hitter but virtually all of his damage has been done with his left hand.
Holmes will have his veteran trainer, Eddie Futch, in the corner, assisted by 82-year-old Ray Arcel, who has trained 19 world champions. Holmes' brother and manager, Jake, also assists.
The fighters are expecting purses of about $8 million but could get as much as $10 million apiece from the fight, depending on sales of closed-circuit theater tickets. The tickets sold slowly at first but this week "started moving like crazy," said Tommy Kenville of Madison Square Garden in New York, where a near-sellout crowd of about 18,000 is now expected.
In Washington, the D.C. Armory reported it has 7,000 seats still available. The Washington Hilton said it expected to be sold out by this morning. Charles Town Turf Club also has tickets.