All Larry Holmes ever seemed to want was a pocketful of coins. The quest for greatness, for ring immortality, he'd take that, too, but pay him first.
Pay him the $3 million he made Saturday night against Michael Spinks and show him the back door. After all, he did say he never for a minute cared about tying or breaking Rocky Marciano's 49-0 record. "Just give me the money," was how he put it, three days before taking on the world light heavyweight champion before more than 11,000 in a parking lot arena at the Riviera Hotel and Casino.
"The greatest fighters I ever knew lost one way or another," Holmes said after the fight. "It doesn't hurt me to lose. I'm not worried about it."
What should have been a mark on history, a seat under the big lights, turned out to be the ugly end of Holmes' seven-year reign as champion of the heavyweight division. Besides making money, his most important priority was to make history on the night of Sept. 21 -- the 30th anniversary of Marciano's last fight. And he accomplished that, although in a most dubious fashion.
Larry Holmes, who always has yearned for admiration, became the first heavyweight champion ever to lose the title to a light heavyweight. He lost the close but unanimous 15-round decision to Spinks and lost what little respect he hadn't already forfeited in the years leading up to this one, which he says is his last as a fighting man. He ends his career, at 35, with a 48-1 record.
Spinks stalked Holmes early, then dominated the middle rounds. Holmes said he coasted the 10th, 11th and 12th rounds to conserve his energy, but the fight ended with Spinks landing good rights that weakened Holmes, who let his gloves fall at his side as the fight ended while Spinks raised his high and looked beyond the glare of ring lights and into the heavens.
Now that it's over, there are questions about the behavior of the new ex-champion in the news conference after the fight. Surely he was disappointed, hurt, wounded. But does that serve as a sufficient excuse for defaming the Marciano legend and family? Holmes pointed to Peter Marciano, the younger brother of Rocky who was standing in the back of the room, and said, "You are freeloading off your dead brother."
When Marciano tried to say something, Holmes raised a finger in warning and said, "This is my press conference, you can just shut up."
Then he said, "You can go back to Boston or wherever you came from and shove it . . . You can never do what I've done!"
The abuse didn't end there. Holmes called Massachusetts "a racist state," and excoriated a Boston reporter for writing an article three years ago "saying I'm a racist. I ain't no racist. What do I have to do to prove myself as a champion? What do you have against me? I want to know why I'm a racist."
Holmes, surrounded by his entourage, wore a pair of prescription glasses that turned chocolate-brown under the glare of chandelier lights and hid the puffiness around his eyes. He said, "There will never be a white champion as long as black champions are fighting the way they are."
Even after the tirade, when he managed to apologize "if I hurt anybody's feelings," Holmes' remarks lingered, cutting the bright air like a knife.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I just wanted to give my people something to remember in my lifetime."
Larry Holmes probably will be remembered for his failure to overcome the Marciano record, and not his days as a great fighter, which he once was. He won 20 title defenses. He beat Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton and Gerry Cooney. And he beat Leon Spinks, the brother of Michael and a former heavyweight champion.
But that's all behind him now, and what remains is a dim shadow of his former greatness. What remains is the new picture he's painted of himself: the flabby hull of a man who once owned something, but who lost it and was angry and down-hearted to see it go.
For what it's worth, he might have hung onto his title. Although judge Larry Wallace had Spinks well ahead, winning 10 of the possible 15 rounds, the other two judges, Dave Moretti and Harold Lederman, had the fight dead even going into the final round. Had Holmes done more than maintain a stationary posture and send lame left jabs at Spinks, he probably would have won on a split decision. As it turned out, both Moretti and Lederman gave the last round to Spinks, who joins his brother Leon in becoming the first siblings to win the heavyweight title.
"All I was doing," Michael Spinks said, "was performing. I knew I was hitting him more than he was hitting me."
"He wasn't that strong," Holmes said. "He was awkward, though. Styles make fights, and his was just too awkward. I couldn't get my right hand going, I couldn't get a shot. He kept pulling away and turning and I couldn't get one in."
Holmes, once an engaging, affable, spirited fighter who worked hard to earn fans' love, and earned enormous respect as a result, had become a "boxing executive, an entrepreneur," as he described himself last week. He'd allowed himself to become more a businessman who owned a hotel by an interstate in a busy New Jersey town than a boxing champion.
"I don't need no more boxing," he said Saturday night. "I made me 60-something million . . . And I got 99 million in the bank."
In losing what was his, Holmes also freed the ghost and memory of Rocky Marciano, who died almost 20 years ago but who seemed very much alive in the months leading up to this fight. It now becomes evident that Holmes knew more about Marciano than he had let on since finding himself in line for breaking the undefeated record three years ago. But Holmes failed to see that Marciano would have been in his corner, urging him on.
Holmes came to view his threat of conquering Marciano's title as a black-white issue, and not a feat that transcended race. The most poignant confession to come out of his misery was lost to the post-fight crowd. "I wish I could have met Rocky Marciano," Holmes said.
He was holding his last news conference. The lights never would shine like this for him again.
"Just the last year or two," he said, "I started finding out about Rocky Marciano. I think he went a long way . . . I didn't want Rocky Marciano to be forgotten. If I didn't think he was great, I wouldn't have hung his pictures on the wall of my hotel."