The consistency that marked Larry Holmes' seven-year reign as heavyweight champion of the world was not lost on David Bey tonight.
Bey, a muffin of a heavyweight who likes reading Popeye comic books and imagining himself a yam-what-I-yam kind of fighting sailor man, came on blessedly strong in the early goings of this scheduled 15-round bout, only to tire and fade under Holmes' patient, pawing attack.
The champion used a load of experience and a hard right hand to successfully defend his International Boxing Federation title before 6,000 at an outdoor arena at the Riviera Hotel and Casino. Holmes knocked Bey down with a brutal assault in the eighth round, then won it when referee Carlos Padilla pulled him away from Bey with only two seconds remaining in the 10th.
For Holmes, now 47-0 with 34 knockouts, it was his 18th title defense in what he said was his last fight. He ends his career as the second undefeated heavyweight champion in history. Rocky Marciano, who was 49-0, was the other. Bey, the U.S. Boxing Association champion, is 14-1.
"Early in the fight, David hit me a couple of times and got my attention," Holmes said. "We ain't in a game where you waltz and dance around . . . He was throwing punches that hit me good. But it didn't bother me. What bothered me was him playing my game on me."
Holmes was referring to Bey's method of waiting for Holmes to throw a right jab before throwing one of his own. Holmes said he was willing to wait until the late rounds, when Bey had discharged his strength and energy, to find the proper moment to unload "the big right hand." That came deep in the eighth, when Bey could no longer keep his gloves up and appeared to be more intent on fighting for survival rather than fighting to win.
"Larry Holmes knows how to stop punches with his elbows and hooks that made my muscles start to ache," Bey said. "I know I could have gone the distance if the ref hadn't stopped it. I've got this habit of dropping my hands. (Muhammad) Ali had the same problem but he had the speed to back it up."
Early in the first round, Bey threw a wild roundhouse right and popped Holmes on the back of the head. Holmes, typically stone-faced, threw a couple of left jabs that missed. "You know what I thought when he hit me?" Holmes said. "I thought, 'Let's start dancing now, brother.' "
In the second, Bey threw a blind right in defense that landed flush on Holmes' cheek, but the champion retaliated with a good right jab. Bey threw a terrific left that stunned Holmes, then followed up with a combination of punches that hurt the champion. It was Bey's round, and at this point, Bey's fight. One could almost feel the strict element of danger Bey brought to the fight, and the desperation.
"I was doing good for having this cold I came down with this morning," Bey said. "I ain't making excuses but I was feeling weaker and weaker as the fight went on. The altitude got to me . . . After a while, I was trying to sucker him into throwing a right hand but it didn't work. It ended up backfiring on me there in the end."
In the middle of the fourth, Holmes and Bey clinched at the center of the ring, and Bey issued a forearm that caused the champion to slip to the canvas. As soon as Holmes picked himself up, Bey threw a terrific right that sent the champion back on his heels. Bey's confidence was apparent when he huddled in a corner and waited for Holmes to throw something, anything. When that right hand came, Bey unloaded to Holmes' body.
The small swelling under Bey's left eye became a target for Holmes in the fifth round. Holmes, ever patient, attacked Bey's spot of vulnerability with left jabs, and Bey began to show signs of fatigue. By dropping his hands and lessening his offensive charge, Bey allowed Holmes to score his best round of the fight.
"I felt his thumb coming closer and closer to the eye," Bey said. "That kind of got to me. It was intimidating."
Holmes continued to connect with the left in the sixth, and the smile that had graced Bey's lips early in the fight quickly fell to an ugly scowl. Holmes' left was little more than a continuous pawing until he let a couple of rockets fire in the middle of the round. The left came out of nowhere and was paired with a right cross to Bey's body.
"I really never knew heads or tails how I was doing out there," Holmes said.
Bey hugged the ropes in the seventh, as though he'd decided to take a break from the brawl. Holmes' answer to his opponent's lack of aggression was surprisingly lame. He pecked and pawed, obviously waiting for Bey to throw a right and give him an open lane to the reddened and swollen face of Bey. "I was taking my time," Holmes said. "I'd have waited all night for the right moment."
Holmes' experience, combined with his patience and superb physical condition, guided him to premature glory in the eighth. A combination dropped Bey to the floor, then Holmes came on with a hunger he had not previously shown in the fight. A hard right sent Bey stumbling across the entire length of the ring. Holmes, throwing everything he could muster, nearly dropped Bey a second time, but the bell sounded ending the round.
"He wasn't easy to hit," Bey said. "I thought he would be but he wasn't. The man's in good shape. To me, he's not that old."
Bey fought merely to protect himself in the ninth. It seemed only a matter of seconds before he dropped again.
When it finally ended in the 10th, Holmes took his beautiful memory and parked it in the record books forever.
"This is my last fight unless somebody comes up with a lot of money for (Gerry) Cooney," Holmes said, then joked, "Either that or a lot of money for the winner of the Hagler-Hearns (middleweight) fight . . . I think I'd have one of my biggest fights ever if I came back from retirement. And that would be with my wife."
Asked how he wanted to be remembered, Holmes said, "I want to be remembered as one of the guys who saved his money."
In a featured undercard bout, Michael Dokes won a bizarre technical decision over Randall (Tex) Cobb tonight to claim the Continental Americas heavyweight title.
With just over one minute elapsed in the fourth round of a scheduled 12-round bout, Cobb accidentally butted Dokes and produced a fat cut over the right eye of the former World Boxing Association champion.
In the case of an accidental head butt after three full rounds, the Nevada State Athletic Commission goes to the scorecard for the decision. Dokes was ahead on points.
In the main preliminary, Tony Tubbs scored a 10-round unanimous decision over James (Bonecrusher) Smith to gain a WBA heavyweight title fight against champion Greg Page April 29 at Buffalo. Tubbs is 21-0 with 15 knockouts; Smith is 14-3 with 12 knockouts.