The word was spreading that Larry Holmes had hurt his hand badly while retaining his World Boxing Council heavyweight title against Gerry Cooney.
"Little bit," he admitted today.
Any bones broken? as Don King had hinted.
"Wanna see?" said Holmes, smiling and cocking his fist.
Probably, that was a mistake. What I should have done was chant the week's theme, "Hell, yes, I want a piece of you, you racist-to-the-core dunce who couldn't beat cake batter." Then I should have motioned for the Nevada State Athletic Commission to scamper off and bring back those two goofs who were making a fiasco of the Friday fight before Cooney's trainer stopped it eight seconds short of 13 rounds.
With Duane Ford and Dave Moretti watching, but not seeing, I immediately would have sucker-punched Holmes, then swatted him with my tape recorder, kneed him a half-dozen times on the inseam of his blue trousers--and been declared the new heavyweight cham-peeen of the world.
That's how Cooney nearly made it, with comanager Dennis Rappaport's below-the-belt taunts, his own eight or so low blows and two judges who had their eyes on the fight but their minds clicked off.
Duane Ford and Dave Moretti were the evening's only surprise. Given the runaway nature of athletic inflation on the planet, the fight was fine. Cooney, to his lasting regret he would later admit, proved he could take a punch and stay active 10 minutes after the National Anthem; Holmes showed that although he might not have howitzers for hands, he effects the same conclusion with barrage after unerring barrage of accurate grenades.
To just about every neutral eye in the Caesars Palace crowd of almost 32,000, Holmes dominated the fight. Early, middle and late. Before it even began, in fact. That's when Rappaport lugged a huge mockup of a title belt, with a clock where the gold medallion should be, into the ring.
Strutting and, unfortunately, almost crumbling under its weight, Rappaport was carrying that tick . . . tick time-has-passed-you-by stunt to its obnoxious conclusion as Holmes entered the ring.
The champ even had this Cooney move cold, for two handlers each soon were able to bob about the ring with small replicas of the genuine belt. Having won the hype fight after all, Holmes methodically went about teaching this amateurish gamer a thing or two about his business.
Holmes landed more punches, and more harder punches, it says here. But if Cooney had not been penalized a total of three points (two in Round 9 and one in Round 11) he would have been leading going into the fateful 13th round, in the minds of two of the only three who mattered, Ford and Moretti. The other judge, Jerry Roth, had Cooney down six points at the time.
"Don't care if they had me losing 12 rounds," Holmes said at a joint press conference today. "I won the 13th."
He stayed champ with that round, the flurry of punches that had Cooney helpless, his face more oddly angled than usual; the memorable blow, for compassion, came from Cooney's trainer, Victor Valle, who burst through the ropes when he sensed his man should suffer no more from Holmes. The referee, Mills Lane, seemed to try to push Valle away, but the little man would not be stopped.
And it was over. Cooney had stooped to kiss Valle moments before Round 1; now Valle half-carried Cooney back to his corner.
"I would not let my fighter take a beating for all the millions in the world," Valle said. "I love this boy too much. He tried; he showed you all."
What he showed us was class and crass in near-equal measure.
What he showed himself was "very funny," Cooney said. Sort of.
"I was trying to show (in the 13th) that I could take a punch. That never happened before. And I guarantee it'll never happen again." He also said he paced himelf too much, because public prefight concern over his stamina also had made him uncertain.
Nothing intentional, he said of the low blows, one of which doubled Holmes in pain for the 30 seconds or so it took Lane to tell each judge to deduct two points. "Couple of them bounced off his arm. I'm sorry it happened."
Valle said all Cooney's mistakes can be corrected "and he'll be the next heavyweight champion." He added: "I'm gonna treat him rougher." Valle hopes Holmes "uses his head someday" and retires, "but not before giving us a return match."
From 10 yards away, Holmes grabbed a mike and said: "Do you want to fight tomorrow?"
Both of them want rest. King wanted justice.
"Looked like we were playing to a stacked deck," he said. "We were reduced to contender, like we were 9 or 10, the way we were treated (before and during the fight). You'd have thought he was the heralded champion . . . It looked like they were riding a wave of Cooney--and his ship sank."
Only Rappaport could evoke sympathy for King. It was Rappaport, witnesses said, who screamed to Cooney during the fight to win "for your dead father," to "win it for America," to win because "America needs you."
Holmes said today he thought Cooney didn't need Rappaport in his corner on fight night.
Before the press conference, King chirped: "I caught a pickpocket, dead in the act. I grabbed his hand and said: 'You don't do that to me.' "
Holmes said a rematch would be fine, except that he would not be treated equally next time. No more $10 million for you and $10 million for me.
"I get $100 more (and) I'll be happy," he said.