Five months after his most rewarding fight, Larry Holmes is back in a business he knows better: Defending his heavyweight title for a modest sum against a fellow everyone agrees he should beat.
In June, Holmes agonized over the hype and hooplah of his heralded 12th title defense, then silenced the noise with a 13th-round knockout of 6-foot-6 Gerry Cooney. It earned him a fortune -- perhaps as much as $10 million -- but the champion did not find it pleasant work.
Tonight he puts his World Boxing Council title on the line against Randall (Tex) Cobb, a relatively inexperienced brawler whom ring experts give little chance of winning. The bout will be carried live, along with a preliminary matchup of heavyweight Greg Page and James (Quick) Tillis, starting at 9 p.m. on the ABC network (WJLA-TV-7).
At the weigh-in yesterday, Holmes was at 217 1/2, Cobb 234 1/4. The champion is 40-0 as a professional, with 30 knockouts; Cobb is 20-2 with 18 knockouts.
Is this a letdown for the undefeated heavyweight champion after the excitement surrounding the Cooney bout?
"No," said Holmes by phone from Houston, where the fight will take place, "because I don't have to put up with the aggravation. I welcome this fight. This is relaxation. We don't have the press, the controversy. All I have to do is get ready to fight.
"In the Cooney fight it was hard to concentrate. I was worried about my family (his first son, Larry Jr., was born three months later), the racial thing (Cooney's handlers called Holmes a racist) and this big guy coming out to knock my head off."
By now the style of Holmes, who has had a number of recent fights on home television, is well-known. In his 12 title defenses over the last four years he's proven himself an accomplished boxer. His left jab is his best weapon, keeping aggressors at bay. Holmes punishes opponents with the snapping jab and finishes them off with short, straight, hard rights.
There won't be any surprises against Cobb, he said. "Just like Cooney, I'll make him drunk with the left and mug him with the right."
For his part, Cobb has been training extra hard with the intention of overwhelming the champion with nonstop flurries of blows -- up to 150 punches a round. That prospect gives Holmes a chuckle.
"No man can throw 150 punches a round for 15 rounds. He'd be dead after four. Anyway, I won't be there for him to hit. I'll be using my lateral movement, I'll be dancing outside. He's never been 15 rounds. I have.
"And he'll be in a different situation, fighting somebody who is punching hard, fast and steady."
Nonetheless, Holmes said that while the fight crowd is taking Cobb lightly, "I'm not." He'll save taking his opponent lightly for his next title defense, Holmes said, when he'll try to convince either Muhammad Ali or Joe Frazier to come out of retirement.
"After this one," said Holmes, "I want somebody easy for a big payday. Then I'd probably retire."