The old man comes to the Golden Gloves Gym twice a week to remind Charles (Doc) Broadus that he, Eddie Simms, fought Joe Louis on Dec. 14, 1936, in Cleveland, Ohio, and lost on a first-round knockout. The old man says he took a left hook on the temple and couldn't see for five hours. "Put the lights on," he says he told the referee. "Where is everybody? Where are you, Joe?"
Doc Broadus, who runs the gym, walks over to the ring apron and yells at a Latin kid for spitting on the floor. There's a bucket in each corner but the kid has a habit of spitting whenever he throws a right cross.
"Fighters today don't have any discipline," Eddie Simms is saying. "In my prime Gerry Cooney wouldn't have lasted one round with me. The same with David Bey and Michael Dokes and Pinklon Thomas and this other kid, Greg Page. Me and Larry Holmes would have been a good fight, but I'd a' killed him. He can't punch. None of these heavyweights can punch. And their legs are shot. They wobble."
The old man leaves the gym minutes before David Bey arrives and goes four rounds with the same sparring partner he knocked unconscious earlier in the week. Bey, 14-0, will challenge Larry Holmes on Friday at the Riviera Hotel for the International Boxing Federation heavyweight title. Holmes, 35, needs three more wins to tie Rocky Marciano's 49-0 record but says this will be his last fight.
The match has generated little excitement, like most of the heavyweight title fights since Muhammad Ali retired. Most of the excitement in boxing these days is in the lighter divisions, with fighters such as Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns.
"I'm going to make it his last fight, no matter what he wants," Bey, 28, says in a dressing room after his workout.
"I feel like I'm leading a whole new generation of heavyweights now that Larry Holmes is getting out. And I like it. You remember Ali had a bunch come up with him, people like Joe Frazier and George Foreman, and then it turned over. Holmes came and went and it's all our turn now."
Holmes' decision to retire hasupset few fans of the ring. His torpid seven-year reign shakes down to one continuous soliloquy on how much money he's made ("My greatest personal accomplishment is money") and 17 defenses, the last against James (Bonecrusher) Smith, an ex-GI who lost the TKO in the 12th round shortly after splitting the bridge over Holmes' left eye and producing a heavy flow of blood.
"Larry Holmes is shot city," Hank Kaplan, a boxing historian who lives in Miami, said on the phone the other day. "He was a disaster against Smith. He looked all used up. There was no resiliency in his legs and he was getting hit easily with the right hand. I personally like the guy, he was an excellent fighter . . . past tense."
Larry Holmes, the merry capitalist from Easton, Pa., is not the only problem with the heavyweight division, mainly because he is not the only world champion. One must not forget that there are three worlds in boxing, not one. Page, the World Boxing Association champion, and Thomas, the World Boxing Council champion, both consider themselves the best of the division. While they scramble for big paydays and speak boorishly of their place in American and world history, little effort is made to unify the title. As a result, boxing fans have become indifferent to the riot of alphabet soup champs.
"Just a generation ago," Kaplan said, "when two great heavyweights met in the ring, such as Ali and Frazier, it was recognized by every boxing federation on earth. You couldn't believe the drama and excitement of a fight like that. The whole world seemed to stop before the opening bell, but now the attention has thinned out. All these different federations have lost respect for the title.
"But in the old days, the heavyweight champion ruled the world. Gene Tunney was king. Rocky Marciano was king. Ali was king. They walked into the ring and your heart either stopped or beat out of your chest. It was an incredible show, and it hurts to think all that is gone."
"Another big problem," trainer Angelo Dundee said, "continues to be Ali. A lot of guys tried to be like him, namely Larry Holmes, and it just didn't work. Holmes didn't have the charisma and the personality because he's a home-cooking kind of guy and he should have known that. People still won't let go of Ali. He's too big in their memory."
Broadus, the longtime Nevada Golden Gloves coach, says there is also a shortage of big men willing to fight when other sports promise a better future with fewer inherent risks. Almost every member of a professional football team, he points out, would perform as a heavyweight. Even some quarterbacks and wide receivers, weighing well over 190 pounds, would find themselves in the division crowded with enormous men like David Bey, who once weighed 290 pounds. Now at 235, Bey is neither powerfully developed nor very quick on his feet.
Adrian Davis, owner of the Round One Gym in Hyattsville, Md., said he actively recruits big men from some of the area high schools and colleges but finds no takers.
"We think we have one of the most popular gyms going," Davis said, "but we don't have a single heavyweight in our stable, amateur or pro. I pursue heavyweights at the University of Maryland every now and then, looking for someone like a tall, rangy basketball player patient enough to spend time in the gym and let me guide him. But they don't want it."
Davis said he conducted a "personal study" and concluded, "Anytime you're over 200 pounds, it's hard to handle your weight . . . The biggest thing, most men that size don't come in proportion. They're either 200 pounds and short or 200 pounds and tall and clumsy."
Michael Dokes, the former WBA champ booked to fight Randall (Tex) Cobb in a preliminary fight Friday, said, "I'll agree that it's hard to find fast, agile and intelligent men who want to do what we do. But it's especially hard to find them young and gorgeous and free like me. That ain't no motto, man. It's the truth."
Bobby Lewis, Bey's trainer, claims, "The talent pool is filling up. Only Holmes, Bonecrusher Smith and Mike Weaver are over 30. This new group is hungry -- Page and Dokes and Thomas and (Tim) Witherspoon and my fighter, David Bey. They're going to make people sit back and appreciate the heavyweight division again. And it won't take long for them to do it, either."
And Holmes said today, "I've been a great champion because I knew what I was doing. These other guys don't. You can put all their names in a basket and pull out one a week and nobody knows the difference. They're all the same, it doesn't matter who's on top. They all want to walk around with the belt saying, 'I'm the heavyweight champion of the world,' and act like they're better than anybody else in the world. Well, they're not."