Unfortunately, and as was feared, Larry Holmes is planning to return to the heavyweight scene. This violates the retirement vow he made after being stripped of his title by Michael Spinks in September. With some people, oaths are but words, as some ancient philosopher couched it.

No public demand for a Holmes-Spinks rematch had been noted, not even a ripple. After his reluctant-warrior performance against Spinks, capping Holmes' irksome seven-year career as champion, there was the happy prospect that boxing was well rid of him. Even as a champion with a 48-fight winning streak, he still could bring no glamor to the title.

In his latter days as the reigning champ, Holmes was as much an escape artist as titleholder. Before Spinks came along to pull the plug on him, Holmes was already ripe to be licked. Both Tim Witherspoon and Carl (The Truth) Williams had battered him good but were denied decisions over Holmes by aberrant judges dedicated to the droll belief that a champion still standing is still the champion.

To give Holmes his due, he did have certain moderate skills that he used profitably against a cast of mostly hand-picked opponents. And he did retire as the richest of all boxing champions. But that was a fame diminished by his incessant bragging about his great wealth.

The accumulation of money is no sin, and it can be pleasant, but it is not convertible into class, the lack of which Holmes once more displayed after missing Rocky Marciano's 49-for-49 record. "Rocky Marciano couldn't carry my jockstrap," Holmes said.

When the record on Holmes is finally written, it will be noted that his reach was shorter than his grasp. His lofty aim of exceeding Marciano's streak was not only derailed by Spinks, but Holmes now goes into the books with the galling distinction of being the only heavyweight champ ever to blow the title to a light heavyweight.

The plot now is to bring Holmes back against Spinks in a multifight deal being arranged by promoters Don King and Butch Lewis for Home Box Office cable, which would put up the necessary funds.

Seven or eight bouts are envisioned, feasible because there are now three fighters more or less recognized as heavyweight champions of the world. Some available challengers complete the cast of characters who will be dealt in on the HBO deal constructed by Lewis, who represents Spinks, and by King, who represents almost everybody else.

Spinks, by virtue of beating Holmes, is the reigning IBF champion. That means International Boxing Federation, a come-lately outfit concocted for use by Holmes when he jumped the World Boxing Council after some argument or other.

There is a current WBC champion. He is Pinklon Thomas, a one-handed fighter (left jab) of indistinct achievements, and there is a World Boxing Association champion, Witherspoon, who defeated Tony Tubbs on Friday night. The alphabet can be expanded to accommodate more such champions.

With a meld of these champions, and some other operating heavyweights, including Gerry Cooney and Trevor Berbick, promoters King and Lewis will be proffering HBO some kind of tournament that will boil down to the ultimate aim: a unified champion for whom the world is supposed to be waiting.

A tournament was tried once before back in 1977 when the ABC network was party to something called the United States Boxing Championships. Scandal erupted. Spurious rankings were arranged, it was charged, and there were also allegations of payoffs, kickbacks and other hanky-panky. ABC threw up its hands and called the whole thing off in midtournament.

It is remembered that boxing has not always been an honorable business and has developed its own values. One of its characters of long ago was called Honest Charley, a fight manager who had previously been a railroad brakeman. Why was he called Honest Charley? Because, they said, he never stole a freight car.

Spinks and Holmes, as befits their station, after their rematch probably will have no part of the projected elimination bouts, which are strictly for lesser lights. But as planned, the survivor of Spinks vs. Holmes will meet the winner dished up by the many eliminations, and thus the boxing world will have its desired unified titleholder and peace in our time. He would be known simply as the IBFWBCWBA champion of the world. A title that rolls off the tongue.