Larry Holmes went into seclusion last month, leaving a message that he would speak with reporters after his Jan. 22 heavyweight championship fight with Mike Tyson in Atlantic City.

Not every reporter believes Holmes will be available to speak even then -- at least not immediately.

Tyson, 21, is an overwhelming favorite to leave the former champion, a 38-year-old grandfather and current hotel proprietor, in need of a wake-up call.

Tyson (32-0, 28 KOs) and his managers are looking beyond the dispatching of Holmes back to retirement: They recently signed a six-fight deal with HBO reportedly worth $25 million to Tyson.

Tyson even made Holmes mad recently. "I don't like Larry Holmes," said Tyson, a 7-1 favorite, after refusing to shake Holmes' hand at a Dec. 1 news conference in New York to announce the fight.

"When I went to shake hands with Mike Tyson, he pushed it away," said Holmes. "I always shake hands with my opponents. I know how to treat people and when Mike Tyson learns that, he'll be a great human being.

"I had a great deal of respect for Mike Tyson. I have his picture on the wall of my office and it's the biggest one up there next to mine and Ali's. It'll come down now."

Since then, Holmes (48-2, 21 months in retirement) has said little, just that he will let his fists do the talking -- leaving only one fighter to hype a fight that could use all the hype it can get.

Few are taking Holmes seriously -- except supposedly Tyson. "I take the fight very seriously," he said after snubbing Holmes. "Larry Holmes can still fight. He went 15 rounds in his last fight and he won. They just didn't give it to him."

Tyson was referring to Holmes' controversial split-decision defeat by Michael Spinks in April 1986. Seven months earlier, Spinks beat Holmes for the International Boxing Federation title in a close decision. Following those two defeats Holmes went home to Easton, Pa.

He says he's disappointed by the way his career wound up against Spinks (he was champion for 7 1/2 years) and believes he won at least the second Spinks fight. He aims to set matters straight against Tyson.

Holmes will get $3 million for fighting Tyson, but Holmes insists he doesn't need the money.

"I'm coming back to gain respect. I'm coming back to see justice done."

He works out in a new gymnasium where he keeps an apartment for himself and one for his daughter and her husband, parents of Holmes' four-month-old grandson.

Keeping his word that he would say no more, Holmes declined to leave his gym at home in Easton, Pa., Tuesday to promote the fight by appearing with Tyson in Atlantic City.

Promoter Don King had promised that Holmes at least would speak via a telephone hookup, but when the voice came through from Easton it was that of Holmes' publicist, Dick Lovell, who said, "Larry's not here."

Then Lovell read a short statement from Holmes: "I am training very hard and taking this fight very seriously. Any and all questions will be answered Jan. 22."

Before his silence, Holmes often repeated that he doesn't believe he is too old to fight at 38, the same age Muhammad Ali was when Holmes pummeled him in 1980. Holmes says he was never in the number of bruising battles Ali was, with Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton and others. In retirement, Holmes says he has taken care of his body and that "for this fight I'll probably be more motivated than any other fight," because he doesn't want to go out with a defeat and because of Tyson's snub.

Most believe Holmes will end up like Ali and Joe Louis, having fought too long. Holmes' former trainer, Eddie Futch, said recently that Holmes' skills have deteriorated too much for him to withstand Tyson.

Holmes is not coming back by popular demand. In fact, he lost popularity for criticizing Rocky Marciano after failing to match the late champion's 49-0 record -- although he subsequently apologized.

To most, Holmes appears to have forgotten what he said when he beat Ali so badly -- he would never stay beyond his time.