A triumphant Larry Holmes lifted the gold-and-green heavyweight championship belt over his head.

"I still have it," he said. "I licked him."

Winner by TKO over Gerry Cooney at 2:52 of the 13th round at Caesars Palace tonight, Holmes, 32, seemed to be satisfied that he was able to answer critics whom, he claims, have never given him proper recognition.

This was Holmes' 40th victory and 30th knockout in a 10-year professional career in which he has never lost, yet has had to perform in the shadow of the charismatic Muhammad Ali.

"I might sound angry and I might have an attitude, but who cares?" Holmes asked later. "I want to compliment Gerry Cooney. I think he's a great fighter. I don't think he has anything to be ashamed of. You all should give him a round of applause.

"Once again, I've done it again. It seems like I have to continue to prove myself. A lot of you have the wrong idea of who I have to prove it to. I don't have to prove it to you. I have to prove to myself. I didn't fight this fight for the blacks or the whites or the Spanish. I fought it for my family and for the people who have supported me. We are all God's children. I see no color.

"When I see Gerry Cooney, I see a human being who is trying to take my head off and I'm trying to protect myself. I fought this fight for myself and my family and people. I'm sorry I can't be what you expect. I'm sorry I can't be a Muhammad Ali or a Joe Louis or a Leon Spinks. But I wasn't born to be those people. I was born to be Larry Holmes.

"I shook Gerry Cooney's hand before the fight and I shook it after the fight and I hope he understands what Larry Holmes is all about now. It was all hype.

"If I punished him . . . it's up to the ref to stop it," said the champion. "I think he did the right thing. I hit him with a lot of good punches and he didn't seem to be punching back."

A reporter noted there had been suggestions that, having proved himself the best in the world, he should now become the first black heavyweight champion to retire undefeated.

"I'm not thinking about that," Holmes replied. "All I want to do is be with my wife and family. We will fly home tonight and I will take it easy until after my next child is born in September."

The WBC titleholder sat on a rostrum in the ring at the Caesars Palace Sports Pavilion with the Rev. Jesse Jackson on his right and his trainers, Ray Arcel, 82, and Eddie Futch, 70, on his left.

Holmes seemed to enjoy the opportunity to rub it in on those whom he felt had never considered him a true champion.

"I feel good. I proved the critics wrong. Even some of my best friends didn't think I would win. They felt somebody was going to take my place," he said.

The gloating champion chided Cooney for attracting more attention than he had before the fight. He called attention to cover stories on Cooney in national magazines, in which Holmes wasn't included, and a TV commercial featuring Cooney's mother. The advertisement plugs an electric razor, but Holmes apparently had the product confused with shaving cream.

"Who the hell cares about shaving cream?" he asked. "They don't do magic shaving cream. If it was magic shaving cream, I'd be worried."

Repeatedly insisting that his success mattered only to himself and his family, Holmes said: "My dreams always come true. I dreamed I'd be champion of the world. I have been that and I'm still that."