Larry Holmes likes to joke and say his wife has been working late in the kitchen of their home in Easton, Pa., conjuring up a magic potion to keep him in the ring another 10 years. The more you fight, he'll tell you, the more of that pretty green stuff you make.
Holmes may sometimes come across as being one-dimensional, but he only talks about money so much because it is a proud and happy obsession of his, something to occupy his thinking hours away from the ring.
He's a pro in that ring, you know. At least he said so the other day. Sitting on a little dinette chair in a hotel sweat room, the heavyweight champion of the world told a reporter, "You can put your girlfriend in the corner to wipe my face and put water in my mouth and I'll be all right. I'm a pro."
This was an informal time for Holmes, this session with reporters after working out in a large, unadorned room at the Riviera Hotel and Casino, where Holmes will attempt to tie Rocky Marciano's 49-0 record Saturday night with a victory over Michael Spinks, the undisputed light heavyweight champion. Somebody wanted to know if Holmes, who has held the heavyweight title for more than seven years, enjoyed the recognition that accompanied his success, and he said, "I don't like it all the time . . . But sometimes I like it."
Then he laughed at an adoring public only he could see: fans begging autographs and smiles for the camera. In a joking sort of way, he told them, "Go jump in the river. Go get hit by a car." And he laughed some more, laughed until you thought his belly would bust. Larry Holmes was having a fine time, thinking about how he'd tell people off if only he could.
There is an adage you hear whenever folks start on the subject of Larry Holmes. It goes something like, "A prophet is never loved in his own country," the argument being that Holmes is unappreciated where he comes from. Those who think Holmes is deserving of nothing but a fat lip wonder at the heart of the prophet who knows no love for his country, and who says things like, "Easton, I don't like Easton, and you can write that . . . The only time I'm good for the people there is when they bring people from out of town. 'Larry Holmes is the heavyweight champ from Easton, let's go to his (night)club.' They come over and say, 'Hey, Larry, this is so-and-so and so-and-so and so-and-so,' and I don't even know 'em."
Holmes is not totally unlikable, although it sometimes seems he's making a terrific effort to make you think so. One day this week, he suddenly felt compelled to perform a previously unrehearsed soliloquy before his entourage and a number of media representatives. He wore a bright white robe and white shoes, laced high above the ankle, and spoke with a voice that reminded one of a down-and-out Mister Rogers addressing a neighborhood of rogues. Holmes said, "I'm a boxing executive, an entrepreneur. I fight who I get paid for, not who's the toughest fight. I don't care about publicity or recognition or being one of the greatest fighters of all time. All I care about is getting out of the ring with sense and money in the bank. Because if you don't get out of boxing with two dollars in your pocket, who knows you?"
Holmes was sitting next to his wife Diane and their young daughter Kandy Larie, who seemed unable to control her giggles. Holmes really got them laughing when he said, "Larry Holmes is a tight sucker. He took every nickel that he made and saved it."
Holmes continued, "When a fighter's out partying, I'm at home sleeping. When a fighter's in the bed, I'm doing roadwork. When a fighter's drinking wine, I'm drinking milk. And when a fighter's having sex, I'm thinking about it. This is what makes me better than everybody else."
Promoter Don King once said Holmes "was born in Cuthbert, Ga., at a very early age." Now at age 35, Holmes likes to say his greatest accomplishment in life was the big money he made in his seven years as champ, but he'll also flag a fist in your face, bite his lower lip and say he hasn't made enough. He doesn't "care for a damned minute," he said, about matching Marciano's record, which will earn him about $3 million, because "it's the money I want . . . I ain't in it for the record."
He later contradicted himself, but made some sense when he said, "Because the record is there, the money's there. It all adds up to one."
When Holmes, the merry capitalist, is not talking about how to make money, he's talking about how to spend it, or about how he's been cheated out of making more of it through commercial endorsements because he's "a black man playing at a white man's game," as he often puts it.
Even after breaking Marciano's record, he said advertisers probably will not seek him to promote their products "unless I changed my color."
He said Ford Motor Co. once "used him" in a television commercial but is now "going with Doug Flutie. I'm more recognized than Doug Flutie but I don't have the right complexion."
He also said Pony "put me down and I'd been dealing with them for eight years. You know why they put me down? Because they got Mary Lou Retton instead."
He would prefer to talk about the New York real estate agent who recently offered him $9 million for the Larry Holmes Commodore Hotel, which he says he bought for $1.5 million after fighting Randall (Tex) Cobb in November 1982. But when he does settle on the subject of Michael Spinks, his attention span short-circuits and he grows quickly bored. Holmes said Spinks is "full of dreams, stupid dreams. It's only a dream when you're fighting a guy that's real."
In the summer of 1983, Holmes fought Leon Spinks, Michael's older brother and a former heavyweight champ, in Detroit and won on a third-round knockout that, Holmes said, "should make Mike a little fearful of me, because he was there at ringside jumping up and down trying to stop it."
Michael Spinks says he and his brother are "totally separated" and that Leon went into the fight with "only two rounds of gym work under his belt. You could beat anybody that way." Spinks also said he "didn't get hit one time when Leon lost to Larry."
For all his talk and bravado, Holmes has enjoyed better days as a fighter. In May, he decisioned Carl (The Truth) Williams in a controversial 15-round bout that demonstated his declining skills and lack of authority in the ring. Williams dominated the early rounds but lagged in the second half when Holmes fought desperately to prevent himself from being embarrassed before a national television audience.
David Bey, a muffin heavyweight with a big mouth, landed several good right hands against Holmes in March 1985, though he tired quickly and was stopped by the champion in the 10th. Before that, Holmes struggled against James (Bonecrusher) Smith, who endured through 12 rounds of the scheduled 15-round bout.
Richie Giachetti, Holmes' trainer, said his fighter's main problem in "the last three or four bouts was that he'd lost his rhythm. He was sitting back and waiting for the big punch rather than going out and doing what he does best . . . You should never be completely stationary. You should move from side to side. That's what he wasn't doing and it made him an ordinary fighter."
Giachetti first worked with Holmes in 1973 but broke off the alliance after the Trevor Berbick fight in April 1981. Holmes said he listens to Giachetti's advice but still does what he wants to do. "I'm 35 years old," he said, "I'm a man, you know. When I sign the check, that means I'm the boss.
"After all these years, if I don't know how to fight, I ain't ever gonna learn . . . Now that I'm older, I'm smarter. I don't have to throw 99 punches in a round to get by. I might throw as many as 150 or 160 punches in the first four rounds. Imagine that many punches landing on a body that many times. Something's bound to happen. If I hit Michael with a jab, it'll be like one of those light heavyweights hitting him with a right hand."
Holmes said the reasons he and Spinks fight are not that different. Spinks, he said, "is out there for two reasons: he's hoping that he'll get lucky and he wants the money. If he says he's not fighting for the money, then he's an ass. Money's what it's all about."