At the top is a champion unbeaten in all his 41 fights. He has scored as many (seven) consecutive knockouts in defense of his title as Joe Louis. Let it be known that Larry Holmes is a decent, intelligent, God-fearing person and impeccable family man. And boxing's heavyweight division has never been so dull.
They used to be the focus of the entire sport of boxing, the heavyweights, commanding the mass interest. It was once important to dwell on the skills of the ruling heavyweight and from where the next challenge was coming. Fighters in the lesser weights were mere appendages to the boxing scene, having their obscure little wars in the suburbs while the heavyweights claimed center stage.
No more. There has been a pronounced takeover. The heavyweight division is languishing on the back burner. Even with an unbeaten champion at their head the heavyweights provoke only a yawn. The champion himself is, well, a bit of a bore, and the challengers are an undefined, amorphous group of no-names or title seekers of little repute. Do Tim Witherspoon, Pinklon Thomas, Greg Page and Gerrie Coetzee ring a bell? Well, they are up there in the ratings.
It is now the lightweights, welters and middleweights who are spelling excitement for boxing fans. First it was Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran telling the populace there was more drama in the skilled violence of the lighter divisions. They and their successors on the scene have been exposing the current heavyweight crop as a lackluster list.
After Leonard and Duran have come the fiery Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello, and Tommy (Hit Man) Hearns and Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini. Also Marvin Hagler the shaved-head middleweight champ, the willing brawler with the audacity to change his name, legally, to Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
They are the battlers now best known to the boxing public, the new darlings of the networks and pay-TV, who are under strain to come up with a decent opponent for Holmes, who of himself is not much of a draw. Good fighter, no pizazz, no clamor for Holmes to get in there and fight somebody.
Last year when he was matched with Gerry Cooney, the respect for Holmes seemed to be dubious. Although Cooney was unbeaten, he had licked nobody of great importance. Of the record $10 million payday for each that Holmes and Cooney commanded, Muhammad Ali made a comment that put it in perspective. "Me and Cooney," Ali said, "woulda drew $60 million."
Holmes is an excellent boxer, given to wearing an opponent down and knocking him out with good punches. But he is too patient in the ring to generate a fan club. That 41-0 record may speak for itself, but there are some chinks in it. Holmes has visited the canvas a couple of times too many.
The last man to have Holmes down before being himself knocked out was a crudity named Renaldo Snipes who caught a totally surprised Holmes with a right to the chin. It had appeared to be such a mismatch that the bookies were refusing to take bets on the fight, but had the awkward Snipes known how to finish a man off, there would have been a new champion that night.
In an earlier fight, Holmes had to get off the floor to stop Mike Weaver. Another wild puncher, Earnie Shavers, also knocked down Holmes.
Boxing is ruled by two hostile camps, the World Boxing Council and the World Boxing Association, who do the game no favors, announce their own rankings and have an enduring jealousy of each other. Consequently, their rankings are so disparate, so bollixed up, that they present a picture of confusion wrapped in befuddlement.
Michael Dokes is the recognized heavyweight champ in the WBA listing, but he can't make the top 10 in the WBC ratings, although Mike Weaver can. Weaver is the same guy who lasted only 63 seconds of the first round against Dokes last month. But it was invisible to the WBC.
And where does the WBA list Larry Holmes, the WBC champion? Nowhere. To the WBA, Larry Holmes' 41 straight victories are a fiction. Larry Holmes doesn't exist. It's hilarious.
Most of the same names appear on the WBA list with the addition of Gerrie Coetzee, who it was hoped, would retire when he was beaten by John Tate, now unranked, and also Snipes. Most of them have a common trait: they lack the capacity to excite.
When will Larry Holmes, the WBC champion, fight Michael Dokes, the WBA champ? Don't count on it. Holmes fights only for promoter Don King, who also appears to have a very close association with such as Trevor Berbick and John Tate. At least his grinning presence in the ring immediately after they have won a fight seems to say King has more than a sentimental interest in them.
And Michael Dokes is managed by--guess who? By Carl King, son of Don King, and isn't that fascinating? As long as the Kings can be associated with two titles and give the networks twice as many so-called title fights there would be no profit in unifying the title. For their practical purposes, it is a situation where half a crown is better than one. The present situation is fit for Kings.
Holmes has recently announced he won't be around much longer. He wants to retire he says. "After two more easy fights." Two more easy fights? That is hardly hanging 'em up with a flourish, with a final tour de force or coup de grace, whatever is French for going out with style. That's retiring with a whimper. It's symptomatic of the whole sorry heavyweight condition.