The long-playing Larry Holmes road show closed—maybe—at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas last Friday night. The last performance was shortened from 15 acts to a few seconds shy of 10 when referee Carlos Padilla grew weary of seeing the International Boxing Federation heavyweight champion rattle hard right hands off the lumped and dazed head of plumpish David Bey.
And so Padilla earned the gratitude of pudgy people everywhere when he moved in and muzzled Holmes with two seconds left in the round. No one, it appeared, was more relieved than the 233-pound Bey, who had been knocked down twice in the eighth round, although later he could recall falling only once.
"That's it," Holmes said after he earned $1.525 million in raising his record to 47-0. He had been saying for weeks that Bey would be his 18th and final title defense. However, he has given the world's promoters until June 9—the seventh anniversary of his 15-round decision over Ken Norton, which won him the WBC title—to come up with enough gold to change his course.
"I want a lot of money and no more of those big hitters like Tim Witherspoon and Mike Weaver," said Holmes, narrowing the field to almost nobody. "I've paid my dues, and if they want me back, they've got to give me little people I can beat on without getting hurt."
The 35-year-old champion suggested that $3 million would entice him out of his rocking chair in Easton, Pa. to fight Michael Spinks, the light heavyweight champion. And, grinning, he said, "Only $2 million for either Tommy Hearns or Marvin Hagler."
As one would expect, the discussion soon zeroed in on Gerry Cooney, the giant Holmes cut down in June 1982.
"Cooney?" Holmes said with a sneer. "Sure, I'd fight him again. But I'd want $25 million. That means I've priced myself right out of the market. I don't want to fight him because it would bring out all that racial discrimination crap again. That's why I want $25 million, because I know nobody can pay it."
All this was said before he fought Bey, a 4-to-1 underdog. Like Holmes, Bey was undefeated, but he had had only 14 fights, most of them against guys with names like Alf Coffin or Lon Bumpers or Larry Belfus. His best victory was his last, a 12-round decision over Greg Page seven months ago; Page has since won the WBA championship by knocking out Gerrie Coetzee.
For Page, Bey weighed an unsvelte 224¼ pounds. Two days before his fight with Holmes, he was proudly showing off his new body, all 237 pounds of it. "I weigh more," he explained, "but I'm trimmer. It's just that my muscles are getting heavier."
"Muscles don't get heavier," he was told.
"They don't?" said Bey, eyebrows knitted into a question mark. "I wonder what's doing it." Puzzled, he wandered off to eat his way through the buffet line.
Holmes hadn't looked sharp in his most recent fight, a 12th-round TKO of James (Bonecrusher) Smith last November, his first outing in a year. Against Smith, Holmes had broken his right thumb. A piece of bone was chipped away, making it impossible to close his fist. His hand hurt while sparring to get ready for Bey, so he simply cut back on his ring work. Bey would be different. "I'm gonna hit him with it until either he goes or the hand falls off," he said grimly. "If you can't fight hurt, you better find something else to do."
When he won the WBC title against Norton, Holmes fought with painfully strained muscles in his left shoulder and arm. He also overcame adversity in his 1979 fight against Earnie Shavers, who knocked Holmes down with a savage overhand right in the seventh round, only to see him rise. Holmes stopped Shavers four rounds later. And now Holmes was saying, "Nobody has been able to take my championship, and Bey won't either. He's a face fighter. Anybody who comes in with his hands down can't hurt me. He don't bob and weave. He holds his hands down, and he just walks in."
For four rounds Holmes patiently let his eager rival roll the dice. Bey went for it all early, the one big punch that would make him a winner in the city of losers. Late in the second round, with Holmes mesmerized by the right-hand freight trains thundering past his head, Bey rocked the champion with a short snapping hook. A shudder surged through Holmes's 223½-pound body. A second hook caught him high on the chest. "He got my attention," Holmes would say later. "But you know me, when I get hurt, I just say, 'Hey, let's dance some.' "
Bey's moment had passed. When he finally caught up to Holmes, he was met by clear eyes and a head-snapping jab.
After four rounds, Eddie Futch, who has been around boxing almost as long as sweat has, had solved Bey's awkward wild style. As Holmes sat in his corner, his little trainer leaned over and said: "Quit countering. Get off first; then, when he counters, you counter his counter. You can't give him room. He needs it to punch. You got to go to him. Snap that jab. Stay on top of him."
In the fifth, Holmes turned it into an honest fistfight, and Bey began backing away, pawing with the left hand while gluing his right glove against his chin. Holmes turned back the clock: his jab became the expected jackhammer; his right cross was strong and cruel. The champion's expression was intense.
In the eighth, Holmes snapped off two jabs, took a small step to his right and exploded a straight right to the side of Bey's head. A quick hook caught Bey in the back of the head as he was falling. Bey got up, only to run into a savage onslaught that drove him across the ring and dropped him to his left knee, his left arm hooked around one of the ropes. Bey took a second count of eight, but as Holmes moved in, the bell stopped him.
Holmes battered his confused quarry in the ninth, and in the 10th he came out hard, figuring Bey had earned his $130,000. With 30 seconds to go, he drove Bey into a corner, again made that little step and crossed with a hard right. All but out, Bey staggered backward across the ring, only to be trapped in the far corner, where Holmes hammered him at will until Padilla wisely stepped in.
It mattered little, but Holmes was ahead by seven points on one judge's card; by five on the other two. It was a worthy closing to an illustrious career.
"My only fear now," said Futch, who has been urging Holmes to retire since the Cooney fight, "is that Larry will go home and look at the tapes and see how great he looked. I'd like to see him go out now after looking so good, rather than like some of our other most recent champions."
One would hope that after Holmes looks at the Bey tape, he'll study another, the one of his October 1980 fight with Muhammad Ali, the legend who hung around too long and was battered by Holmes for 10 rounds before he quit on his stool. There is something to be learned from that.