During the riot of activity that followed Larry Holmes' successful International Boxing Federation title defense Friday night against David Bey, a fighter with blind ambition entered the ring mob, discovered an unattended microphone and shouted, "I want you, Larry Holmes! I want you!"
Why did Greg Page, the World Boxing Association heavyweight champion, act in such ludicrous desperation? Was he, after all, deaf to Holmes' insistence that this would be his last fight? And how many times does anyone have to say it's over before it's really over?
"Greg Page just wants a big payday," Holmes said. "He and all those other young fighters are screaming for Larry Holmes but he can't make me come out of retirement. It doesn't matter. This is it."
Holmes, 35, has never lost as a professional fighter. Only Rocky Marciano, who was 49-0, retired with a better career record. Although Holmes needs only three more victories to surpass Marciano's mark, he insists Bey was his last fight "unless somebody comes up with a lot of money."
Holmes said a fight against Michael Spinks, the light heavyweight champion, fell through when promoters Don King and Butch Lewis, who handles Spinks, could not come to an agreement. But Holmes' retirement is conditional in the way all fighters' retirements are conditional. Unless offered a tremendous amount of money to fight Spinks -- he wants $4 million -- Holmes will probably make his retirement official June 9, seven years after winning the World Boxing Council title against Ken Norton.
"I would like to see him retire because he's got so many business interests," Eddie Futch, Holmes' trainer, said this morning at a news conference. "A man his age, though he has the style to continue and perform well against some of these young fighters, I think he's doing the right thing. With the division of attention between his boxing and business careers, he's walking on dangerous ground . . . And besides, he has nothing left to prove."
Fight fans hoping for a rematch with Gerry Cooney, who has fought and won only two bouts since losing to Holmes on a 13th-round TKO in June 1982, "should forget about it," Holmes said. "I've priced myself out of sight for Cooney. Somebody would have to pay me $25 million to make me do it . . . (Cooney) is not worth all the hatred and racial discrimination I have to put up with. You don't know how sick it makes me thinking about going through all that hell again."
Against Bey, Holmes put his head above his heart and let the game challenger expend his arsenal in the early rounds. Rather than burn himself out, Holmes waited until the middle rounds to throw his best stuff. He let go a continuous flow of left jabs before throwing the fabulous right that sent Bey sprawling to the canvas in the eighth.
By round 10, Bey no longer could keep his hands up. There was a mousy swelling under Bey's left eye and Holmes attacked this spot of vulnerability, hoping to cut it open. When that failed, Holmes issued a number of combinations to his opponent's body. He further deadened Bey's punching power by slamming hooks into Bey's upper arms. Whenever Bey tried to land a punch, Holmes blocked it with a glove or an elbow. Then, after sending Bey reeling across the ring, Holmes unloaded with his most impressive assault. Bey's expression changed from one of recklessness to animal fear. Referee Carlos Padilla stopped the fight with two seconds remaining in the 10th.
"I did pretty good for an old man," Holmes said. "My prime comes and goes. It all depends on how I feel, how I like what I'm doing."
But what about the Marciano record? It would seem pride alone would motivate Holmes to endure three more bouts with less-than-formidable opponents from the ranks of muffin heavyweights and retire forever to his hotel and bar in Easton, Pa. After all, one can't help but recall the voice of Larry Holmes crying for the love and respect denied his efforts in the wake of Muhammad Ali's career.
"He's been saying for a long time that the Marciano record means nothing to him," Futch said. "Records are made to be broken. He always knew that if he broke it, someone else would come along in time and break what he risked his good health for. Considering how little it means to him, it's just not worth it."
Futch said he doesn't believe the money for a Spinks or Cooney fight "will be forthcoming. It would have to be there within the next month, at least by June 9. That's the deadline."
King seems prepared to let Holmes' memory fade and get on with the business of promoting some of the division's younger, more promising stars. Page, for example, will defend his title against Tony (TNT) Tubbs in Buffalo on April 29. That bout will begin what King calls "the highway to unification," meaning he hopes to put on shows that will pit the alphabet (WBC, WBA, IBF) champs together and let the best man reign.
Page, talking to a small huddle of reporters, said, "I really wanted to fight Larry Holmes. You ask the public who the champ is and they'll say him. But you ask Larry Holmes who the champ is and he'll say . . . "
Page bit his lower lip and shook his head. "Like I said, you ask Larry Holmes who the best heavyweight in the world is right now and he'll tell you Larry Holmes. But there's nothing I can do about it."