When speaking of legendary boxers of the late 1900s, it is impossible to leave Larry Holmes off the list. The man from Easton, Pennsylvania is fondly remembered by many boxing fans from the time.
And it is easy to understand why. Holmes, nicknamed the ‘Easton Assassin’, was an imposing presence in the ring. It helped that he won many a bout in commanding fashion.
Indeed, out of 75 pro fights, he tasted victory in an impressive 69 fights. This includes a 48-0 unbeaten streak in the first 48 matches of his career.
Holmes is also the only man in history to have knocked out Muhammad Ali. Granted, this was at a time when Ali was long past his physical prime; nevertheless, it ranks as an impressive feather in Holmes’ decorated hat.
The man who, at one time or the other, held the WBC heavyweight championship, the Ring magazine and lineal titles, as well as the IBF title, turns 72 today. As such, it is as fitting a time as ever to look back at the career of one of boxing’s all-time greats.
Larry Holmes was born on this day in 1949, the fourth of 12 children to John and Flossie Holmes. He came from a working class background, and the family survived largely off welfare.
His father worked as a gardener at Conneticut till his death, and would visit the family in Easton only sporadically. Young Larry, realising money was hard to come by, dropped out of school to take up jobs.
He first worked at a car wash and would later work in a quarry, as well as drive a dump truck. All of this led to him taking up boxing at the age of 19.
He trialled for the Olympics team in 1972, but would fall short and not get selected. Nevertheless, he ran up a 19-3 record as an amateur before he turned pro in 1973.
Few knew it at the time, but the boy from Easton with a feared left jab was about to take over the world.
Holmes began his pro career with a four-round decision win over Rodell Dupree. Notably, he would work as a sparring partner with some of boxing’s bigger names at the time like Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Earnie Shavers, and Jimmy Young.
The gig helped in two ways; not only did he get paid well for it, he also picked up a lot of knowledge in the process.
“I was young, and I didn’t know much. But I was holding my own sparring those guys”, Holmes would later say of his experiences as a sparring partner.
“I thought, ‘hey, these guys are the best, the champs. If I can hold my own now, what about later?'”
Holmes would gain a world title shot with his decision win over Earnie Shavers. This win put him on course for a championship shot at long last.
Taking on Ken Norton, he would win the belt with ease. From then he would embark on a massive winning spree. He took on all comers and won. His left jab was the most feared in the sport and his ability to go the distance when needed made him the ideal all-round boxer.
One of his more famous wins came against Ali, which stopped when the legend’s trainer threw in the towel. Holmes won, but he was also clearly affected at the way in which he could dominate Ali.
He paid his respects afterwards, and went on to accumulate a 48-0 record. One more win would take him level with Roc Marciano, who retired as world heavyweight champion with a 49-0 record.
However, in Holmes’ 49th bout against Michael Spinks, it was the latter who emerged victorious. And Holmes would retire – and come back – several times over thereafter, his last fight coming in 2002.
Holmes’ would do significant damage to his reputation due to retiring and unretiring several times. However, his professional record remained an impressive 69-6 at the time of his final retirement.
Notably, all of his losses came after his 48th bout. What’s more, each and every one of his losses was in a title bout. While that might paint the picture of someone who couldn’t do it when it mattered most, it is fair to say that is an incorrect assessment.
Holmes successfully defended his titles on 20 occasions and was, in his prime, nearly unbeatable. It is also worth noting that most of his title shot losses were close calls.
Holmes also holds the distinction of being the first-ever International Boxing Federation (IBF) heavyweight champion. He also held the prestigious WBC championship, The Ring magazine and was also the lineal champion.
He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2008 and is also part of the World Boxing Hall of Fame.