Thursday, September 21, 2023  |



KO Magazine 1986: Larry Holmes challenges Mike Tyson to non-title bout Pt. 1

Photography by The Ring Magazine/ Getty Images
Fighters Network

Editor’s Note: This Larry Holmes interview originally appeared in the December 1986 issue of KO Magazine. It was conducted before Mike Tyson won the WBC heavyweight title from Trevor Berbick on Nov. 23, 1986.

By Jeff Ryan

STOP THE PRESSES! Get that obituary page back here for a rewrite! The reports of the death of Larry Holmes’ ring career have been greatly exaggerated. Yes, we thought we saw him killed off when he lost back-to-back IBF title fights to Michael Spinks in September 1985 and April 1986, but wasn’t Bobby Ewing of Dallas supposed to be dead too? If you think Pam Ewing opening the shower curtain and seeing Bobby standing there under a stream of water was a shocking sight to CBS viewers, just imagine how HBO’s audience is going to feel when it sees a semi-retired Holmes resurfacing in, of all places, a fight with dangerous Mike Tyson.

Holmes has never done anything on a small scale, so why should his return be any different? You didn’t expect him to go gunning for Buster Douglas, did you? Sometime in the fall “The Easton Assassin” and Tyson will likely meet in one of the biggest non-championship heavyweight fights in several years. And, according to many knowledgeable boxing observers, when they do, we’ll be witnessing a distant replay of the 1951 clash between fading ex-champion Joe Louis and rising contender Rocky Marciano. In that one, “old man” Louis crashed to the canvas in the eighth round, creating a sight that brought tears to the eyes of nearly everyone present, even Marciano.

“Well, I ain’t no old man, nothing’s happening to me,” Holmes told Senior Writer Jeff Ryan via a telephone hookup from his Easton, Pennsylvania, office. When Holmes squares off with a tape recorder, there’s no waiting for the bell to ring, no listening to instructions. Ready or not, here he comes. Tyson, Gerry Cooney, Tim Witherspoon, boxing’s establishment. Holmes charges through subjects the way that Eric Dickerson rips through a defensive line, and leaves the same trail of steamrolled victims in his wake.

“Talk to the old man that people say I am. I’m 36. When you get to 36 you won’t be old, will you? I’m young, man. I bet you that guys 26 years old can’t do the things I can do inside or outside the ring. I’m an all-round athlete. I can do anything. I can take on all comers in any event they choose. If they want a race, whatever they want to do. Baseball, basketball, even a little soccer. As far as fighting, I’m as sweet now as ever. I might be a little slower, but I’m still sweet.”

And he’s off…

KO Magazine: First of all, what progress is being made in the negotiations for a fight with Tyson?

Larry Holmes: Well, I’m not doing it. I’ve got some people doing the negotiations for me. It’s at a standstill right now because Jim Jacobs wants to do it in New York and I’ve gotten offers to do it in Las Vegas, and he doesn’t like the guy who wants to do the fight – Bob Arum. But if you let personalities interfere with business, nothing will ever happen. I don’t like Don King or Butch Lewis, but I’ve dealt with them. Going into the lion’s den in Vegas twice in a row for the Spinks fights with nobody on my side was hard. I’m trying to give myself a chance to fight for a guy like Bob Arum, who is as neutral in this case as boxing can get. Bob Arum would promote this fight without worrying about having options for a second fight with me or a second fight with Tyson. He could care less. All he wants to do is put on a good event.

KO: Why, after your criticism of the Nevada judges and the controversial decision in the Spinks rematch, would you want to fight in Vegas again?

LH: I don’t really want to go back there, but if they’re gonna get me, they can get me in Las Vegas or New York. What’s the difference? But yeah, maybe I would rather get Tyson out of there in his own hometown.

Photo by The Ring Magazine/ Getty Images

KO: Who is they that you feel might be out to get you?

LH: The establishment. In other words, I don’t think I was treated fair in the second Spinks fight. I know I won the fight and I didn’t get it. I think they were tired of me.

KO: Why is that?

LH: When you’re good at what you do, people have a tendency to become jealous of that. It’s just like when a guy hits the lottery for a hundred million dollars. If his buddy didn’t get it and can’t have any, he’s gonna be jealous. Even if you become the President of the United States, some of your friends are gonna talk shit about you. That’s the way it is in the boxing game, too. No matter how good you are or how big you get, somebody always wants to slap you back down again. I was perfect, 48 fights and 48 wins, getting ready to tie and then break one of the great records. They had to stop that.

KO: Even if you did win the second Spinks fight, you have to admit that you had trouble with him twice. How then . . .

LH: Michael Spinks can’t say it either. He can’t swear on The Bible that he won that fight. And if God punishes people for what they do, the judges will be punished. He’ll punish them at the end.

KO: You admit, though, that the two bouts with Spinks were tough fights.

LH: No, man, they weren’t tough. They were just long.

KO: In any case, why would you risk tangling with Tyson, someone who is so young and strong and aggressive?

LH: I like risks. That’s why I’m in the fight game. I like a good challenge. And besides, why not give a young man the opportunity to beat one of the greatest fighters of all time – in spite of what people think of me (Chuckles.)

KO: What do people think of you? Don’t they think that you’re one of the all-time greats?

LH: Some of them do. Some of them think that I’m cocky or arrogant or whatever. They just don’t know how to take me. I’m really a nice guy. People say that when I say that I’m only trying to convince myself that it’s true, but they don’t know the person I am. Those who don’t accept me have something wrong with them. I take their opinions of me with a grain of salt. I ignore them and keep on going.

KO: Most people wouldn’t know that you’re a nice guy because they’re not around you and they only hear the controversial statements to the press, for example, the “Rocky Marciano couldn’t carry my jockstrap” quote. Why have you made some of the remarks that have gotten total strangers mad at you?

LH: You know, people don’t know how I feel and what pressure goes down on me. Before the fight, guys were coming up with computer predictions that I would lose to Marciano. Other people were saying, “You ain’t shit, Marciano was this and that.” People come around to antagonize you, aggravate you, put you though everything. They forget that you have a family and kids and that you’re just a man like anybody else is. I let these people get under my skin which sometimes you can’t help. When I said Marciano couldn’t carry my jockstrap, that wasn’t an insult as far as I’m concerned. I wasn’t saying that he wasn’t a great fighter. I just feel that I’m a better fighter than Marciano or anybody ever was.

KO: Couldn’t there have been a better way of saying it so that everyone didn’t get offended?

LH: Yeah, but sometimes when you’re pissed off, you don’t think. I probably should have said it another way, but I had just had something taken from me that I worked so long to get. It was like if someone kidnapped my daughter, what am I supposed to do? I’ll take my gun and go blow their head off. I felt like doing that to Butch Lewis and Don King and everybody who was sitting at ringside and hoping and praying that I lost. People always accuse and criticize when they don’t understand my feelings.

The writers come out to see you one week before a fight and they get to watch you for 15 minutes or a half hour. They don’t really spend time with you and learn your ins and outs. But yet they judge you and write negative thing about you to get you mad. I think the writers should at least try to get to know and understand a person that they want to do a number on. If a guy came down here and sat with me in Easton for a day or two and said, “Larry Holmes is an asshole,” then I can understand it. But a guy can’t meet me for two seconds and make an opinion. He doesn’t know my mood at the moment.

The relationship between Holmes and promoter Don King wasn’t always a happy one. Photo by The Ring Magazine/ Getty Images

KO: You were quoted as saying that you’re interested in a Tyson fight because you’d like to pick up another quick million. What’s another million when you already have $40 million?

LH: That’s another building. That’s another Rolls Royce. That’s another $100,000 a year in interest for Larry Holmes Jr.

KO: With that thinking, though, what’s to keep you from fighting until you’re 45?

LH: Well, if I’m healthy and I’m able and capable, I will go on. If I’m not, then it’s different. They always say that Larry Holmes is getting old. They didn’t say that about Archie Moore when he was 39 and he won the title. Muhammad Ali fought until he was 39. Now you guys are retiring me at 36. They want to retire me because I’m good. Michael Spinks and everybody else out there knows it. And I can’t be beat. I’m unbeatable. If Mike Tyson thinks he can beat me, all he has to do is put his name on the piece of paper. If Jim Jacobs thinks Mike Tyson is so great, so tough, put his name on the paper. Show me. I’m from Missouri. Show me you can kick my butt and send me home to Kandie and Larry and my family.

KO: (Laughing.) We know you’re not from Missouri.

LH: Well, that’s the saying. Missouri’s the “Show-Me” state. Well, show me. Beat me. Don’t run around the ring for six rounds like Michael Spinks did and not throw a punch, and then all of a sudden come up with the decision. All they had to do for the Spinks fight was give me the money and tell me to go out there and play tag because that’s all I did. I had to chase his ass all around the ring. If he could, he would have ran out the door. He knows it and you know it, unless you’re biased. Don’t listen to what I say, watch the tape. The American people all say that I won from the night they saw it. Why didn’t Butch Lewis put the fight on TV with NBC on delayed tape? Because people are gonna sit down and see that Larry Holmes really won. They hope people forget about it. The want me to go away. But I ain’t goin’ nowhere. I’m stayin’ right here and I’m gonna fight their asses until there’s no more fight left in me.

KO: How much fight is left in you? What can’t you do now that you could do when you beat Ken Norton for the championship? And don’t say you have exactly the same skills, because that’s impossible.

LH: I do have the same skills. Let me correct you on some of the things. I’ve got it in my mind. I may not be as fast as I was before, but I have the same skills. And what makes up for the speed is my experience.  Let’s put it this way, old buddy. I was fighting a light heavyweight. Spinks was fast and he was running, he didn’t fight. I wasn’t trying to catch a heavyweight.

KO: Tyson is going to come right at you and attempt to glue himself to your chest. How do you hold him off?

LH: You might say that I don’t have much left, but when I was young, I didn’t have enough experience to keep guys like Earnie Shavers off me and I still did, didn’t I? One thing that I got that Mike Tyson has to respect is a left hand that’s out of sight. I’ve still got the best left jab in the business.

KO: Why didn’t you use it against Spinks?

LH: I used it real well for 11 rounds, and then I was trying to knock him out with right hands and left hooks.

KO: Does the right still have its power?

LH: No, it don’t have the power that it used to have because I broke it a few times. But it still possesses a wallop. It will knock your head off.

KO: You probably can’t move constantly for 10 rounds against Tyson, does that mean . . .

LH: Let me say this: Experience makes up for all that movement. He ain’t gonna run in on me for 10 rounds. He’s got to be crazy. Don’t you think he’s gonna get tired too? He ain’t God and he sure ain’t no machine. And he ain’t fighting Joe Frazier’s son.