We're told how Larry Holmes is intent on bettering Rocky Marciano's perfect 49-0 record, and how he won't retire until he does. We're also told how Holmes, who now has won 48, prefers not to fight any more big, strong men -- an original, if slightly self-incriminating position for a heavyweight champion to take.
So who's next for Holmes? Eddie Arcaro?
And then who? Candice Bergen?
It doesn't matter how many successive victories he ultimately racks up, in the court of public opinion Larry Holmes is not, was not and will not ever be compared favorably to Marciano. All the Rockys -- from Colavito to Aoki to Road to Raccoon -- are within his reach, except Marciano.
Holmes is a man under a shadow chasing a ghost.
Carl Williams may not have been The Truth.
But that is.
There are a lot of reasons -- most of them irrelevant to skill -- why Holmes will never sit in his rightful chair on the boxing dais, but chief among them is the name of the man who preceded Holmes to the title, the most glamorous man in the sport for nearly two decades: Muhammad Ali. Even after he beat Ali in Las Vegas in 1980, Holmes remained trapped in the larger man's wake. As worthy a boxer as Holmes was, and he was surely as fast and nearly as rough as the greats, Holmes never had the full cosmetic package for achieving parity with his contemporary, Ali, let alone with such historical legends as Marciano or Joe Louis. Comparing him only to dominant heavyweights of the last 25 years, Holmes hasn't the heart of Joe Frazier, the strength of George Foreman, the forebodingness of Sonny Liston or, certainly, the tongue of Ali.
And the camera never flattered him. With his soft-sided build, Holmes never looked like a heavyweight champion, and, perhaps sensing that, the public never truly loved him. In turn, his tenure has been characterized by statements that invariably reflect a defensiveness toward a public that, he feels, has maligned him, either by ignoring him, or by casting him as simply the best of an inferior bunch.
"Whatever people want to say about Larry Holmes -- that's their hard luck," he said on television just before his fight with Williams.
In continuing, at 35 now, to fight long after his skills began to erode, in trying to add to the number of consecutive victories so as to claim a certified greatness by achievement that he might not be awarded by acclamation, Holmes is not unlike the misguided Ozymandias, building monuments to himself that he assumes will stand forever.
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair.
But the cause, however doomed, is particularly disserved by fights such as Monday's tea dance ad nauseum in Reno.
Who the hell is Carl (The Truth) Williams?
And why, excepting greed and obsession, was Holmes fighting him?
(For similar indignation, see commentary on previous Holmes bouts with such wind-up toys as Bonecrusher Smith, Tex Cobb, Scott Frank, David Bey and Marvis Frazier.)
Williams, who came in with fewer fights (16) than Holmes had title defenses (18), was so unknown he couldn't even sell advertising space on his trunks the way recognizeable fighters do. Holmes was in there pumping the MGM Grand. Poor Williams had all that room to rent. He should have had something, anything, if only a phone number to call in case of emergency.
That the bout lasted the full 15 rounds said more about Holmes' inabilities than about Williams' skills. Ferdie Pacheco repeatedly told the TV audience how "CarlTheTruthWilliams" (We can all be grateful that Luis Firpo The Wild Bull of the Pampas never fought on NBC) ought not stand so directly in front of Holmes. "You can't do that," Pacheco warned. "Not with Larry Holmes' right. He'll hurt you." Well, Williams stood there for 15 rounds, and if Holmes was half as good as Pacheco promised, Williams would have been knocked down 20 times. Only once did Holmes clearly hurt Williams: with a gizzards-imploding body shot very late in the ninth round. Had the round lasted 10 seconds more, Williams would've come apart in sections. Other than that, what both men did a lot of, especially after round 10, was rest in place like oxen. Often, and for substantial periods, they would stand in the middle of the ring, saluting each other with gloves touching as if posing for a sculpture of a high-five.
Although Holmes took the fight by winning most of the final five rounds, he won them by doing little while Williams was doing nothing. Holmes finished with no last-minute flurry, no crunching right like Marciano threw in the 13th round of the Jersey Joe Walcott bout. When it was over, the best that could be said of both men was that they'd gone the distance, and the worst that they had kept us up until almost midnight.
Had you closed your eyes and listened only to Ferdie (Won't somebody please tell the fighters to stop calling him "Freddie") Pacheco's comments, you'd have been shocked that two of the three judges scored the fight for Holmes, 146-139. As late as the 13th round Pacheco said he had Williams leading by three points, and implied that Holmes would be lucky to escape with a draw. Then, during the 15th, Pacheco had an abrupt change of heart and talked excitedly about how Holmes, who by now seemed less mobile than office furniture, was coming on like a champion. Pacheco has more than a slight rooting interest in the competitiveness of NBC's fights since he is paid not only to announce them, but also to arrange them. If that seems like a potential conflict of interest to you, it does to me, too.
In any event, Holmes marches on inexorably toward Marciano's numbers if not his grandeur. Holmes' fate, I suspect, is to be the Roger Maris of boxing, with an asterisk as prominent as his record beside it.