Larry Holmes is fighting again. He's fighting, er, you know, Spinks. Yeah, Michael Spinks. That's right, Michael Spinks. Fought him before, didn't he? Sure, now you remember, lost his title to Spinks last year, wasn't it, or the year before? They're fighting again, you say?
Yes, they're fighting again six nights hence, in Las Vegas, amid a total absence of public demand or even much understanding that a rematch draws nigh. This one is not coming in on cat's feet, but as the ghost of cat's feet, so unobtrusively is it happening.
It used to be that the nearness of a heavyweight title fight would find the nation in high expectancy. Could Gene Tunney lick Jack Dempsey again? Joe Louis back in there with Schmeling? Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, three times. Gawd, what excitement. The country laid aside its other cares.
Spinks vs. Holmes is scarcely intruding on the nation's interests. It is heating up nothing. Holmes recycled is boredom re-summoned, and allows for little anticipation of "Fight Night". The movement toward Saturday night's event has been almost surreptitious.
Last time, last September in Las Vegas, Holmes reached for the glory of equaling unbeaten Rocky Marciano's 49 consecutive heavyweight victories and found, instead, another distinction bordering on boxing infamy: first heavyweight champion to lose his title to a light heavyweight challenger. Spinks took it to him and from him.
For Holmes, the finish was a sad one. In the 15th round, with the fight scored as even, and with yet a chance to save his title, he was an old champ (36) reduced to impotency against challenger Spinks. Too often, Holmes backed off with his hands at his sides, the whole scene suggesting his resignation to the judge's scoring sheets that would be unanimous in Spinks' favor.
Spinks, now the reigning champion, wasn't that great, either, on that night, for which he put on 25 more cultivated pounds. But he had manifest courage. Gave away 21 pounds, befuddled the now-slow Holmes with his weaving crab-like movements, and scored just often enough to win the fight, which was a yawner, except for the title change.
Saturday's fight is a comedown for Holmes in another department. In addition to his new role as challenger, new since winning the WBC title from Ken Norton eight years ago, he is getting the short end of a purse for the first time in his last 21 fights. Last time, he got a $3 million guarantee, with Spinks coming in for $1 million. For this one, reverse those figures, to Holmes' dismay.
Time was when the heavyweights used to dictate the public's interest in boxing. But the middleweights (Marvin Hagler) and the welterweights (Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns and Roberto Duran) moved front and center, with the heavyweight division retreating to sub-status under the dead hand of the unexciting Holmes. For seven years, he handpicked opponents, mostly a collection of dismal culls, and made it plain he was in it for the money only.
He had decent skills, learned mostly in the gym as a sparring partner, especially a strong left jab, but it was strongly suspected lately that he was fighting beyond his time and would lose to the first opponent who could fight a little bit. That man was Spinks, a good light heavyweight who overcame the added artificial pounds he took into the ring and cut Holmes down to size.
Previously, Holmes had extricated decisions over Tim Witherspoon and Carl (The Truth) Williams given by judges who seemed to think that a champion still standing after losing the fight was still a champion. Holmes, who previously had been floored by novice Renaldo Snipes was becoming known as an escape artist.
It is remembered by Angelo Dundee that last time in Las Vegas "Holmes was ripe to be taken. He didn't put two punches together against Spinks. In one of the middle rounds he sank a good right hand into Spinks' ribs and wobbled him, but there was no follow-up. Holmes just stood there looking. We couldn't believe it."
For this fight, Holmes is coming out of one of his numerous retirements, announcing them successively after fighting Witherspoon and Spinks: "I don't need no more boxing. I made 60 something million and I got 99 million in the bank."
That was last September. In January, he was saying things about wanting a rematch with Spinks, "badder than a pig wants slop." He's 37 now, Spinks 29. Last time, Holmes was the favorite at 4 to 1 to keep his title. Now on the theory that he couldn't possibly be as bad as he was that night, Holmes is, whaddyaknow, the favorite again.