Friday, June 02, 2023  |



KO Magazine 1986: Larry Holmes challenges Mike Tyson to non-title bout Pt. 2

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 8,1985: Larry Holmes (L) poses with Michael Spinks during a press conference to promote their upcoming fight in New York, New York. Photo by The Ring Magazine via Getty Images
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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


KO Magazine: What do you think of Mike Tyson as a fighter?

Larry Holmes: Great athlete. The guy’s got a lot of potential and I think he’s gonna be the champion of the world and one of the greatest fighters of all time.

KO: What would a loss to you do to his career?

LH: Nothing, because I’m a champion. I’m a guy that everyone loses to including your current champions. I beat Spinks, Tim Witherspoon, and Trevor Berbick. So what if Tyson loses to me.

KO: If you want a challenge, why not fight Tyrell Biggs, someone who doesn’t punch as hard as Tyson?

LH: There’s two reasons. The first is that they didn’t come up with the money. And the second is that there will always be more money to fight Tyson.

KO: In the early years of your career, you were not moved wisely by Don King. Are you a little envious when you see Tyson getting so much money and attention even before he has won a title?

LH: No. I’m gonna tell you something, more people know me than Mike Tyson. They just know his name. I can walk in a jungle and they’ll know who I am. And God works in mysterious ways. Despite all the tricks that everybody played on me in those day, he’s taken care of me. When I lost to Spinks, everybody thought my bottom was gonna fall out, but my bottom got stronger. My world did not come to an end. One of the things people don’t like that I’m capable of doing is going to the bank and getting $5 million or $6 million out. They don’t like to think that Larry Holmes has multimillion dollar investments that paid off.  You can’t name one fighter that has a $10 million piece of property like my Larry Holmes Commodore Inn, or is in the process of building a $4 million apartment complex and doesn’t have to borrow a dime to do it.

It was Holmes’ speed and class vs. Cooney’s explosive hitting power. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

KO: After calling Gerry Cooney “looney” and insisting that you would never grant him a rematch, why did you suddenly change your mind and consider fighting him a few months ago?

LH: First of all, I called Cooney “looney” only because it went with his name. It was just to get his goat, so I could knock him out. As far as granting him a rematch, Cooney was never in line to get a rematch. People made offers to me, but nobody brought any money to me. People said they’d give me 10 million and that they’d be down with a million the next day. I haven’t seen them in two years. How can you give the public something when they don’t really want it?

KO: But why the change of heart? We sat in your office one day in 1985 and looked at a letter you received that was filled with racial slurs. You said the racial prejudice that the first Cooney fight stirred would prevent you from ever being part of a second one.

LH: For $5 million, I think it would be worth it.

KO: Worth going through all of that again?

LH: Yeah, because I’m building a building for four million. I think I can take it one more time for $5 million. Now that a few years have passed, I think people are a little more mature. That craziness won’t start if you don’t have Don King to spur it on and Dennis Rappaport to keep it going. On a neutral basis, with different promoters, I think the rematch could have been made. As long as King wasn’t involved and Rappaport wasn’t part of the co-promotion, we could have probably had a nice promotion without a lot of racial discrimination going on around the world.

KO: What is your answer to someone who believes that your filing protests with the IBF over the loss to Spinks was just an example of you being a sore loser?

LH: Well, I am a sore loser. Just like everybody else, I got feelings. When you see injustice done to you, you want something done about it. Larry Holmes can sit back and say the hell with the whole thing. But what about my brother or your brother or somebody else’s son who wants to fight? Fighters are taken advantage of. I got a letter from a lady who said her husband fought in Jersey and got hurt and whoever the commission was didn’t pay the hospital bill like they were supposed to. Why not fight for guys like them? I can afford to pay my hospital bill, but they can’t. That’s why I protest, to let people know I’m willing to fight the system. I never thought they’d overturn the decision. But I got the last laugh. I’m on a special commission to reform boxing in the state of Pennsylvania. At 36 years old, with $65 million in my pocket, I don’t have to do that.

KO: Do you consider yourself to be a type of elder statesman for the fight game?

LH: I think I’m the only one who’s got the balls to ask guys that are doing wrong, “Where the hell do you get off doing that?” Because everybody else is afraid that they’re gonna hurt somebody else’s buddy. I’m not afraid of that. I don’t know if you’ve seen my friend Muhammad Ali lately, but they lead him all over the world just to make appearances at boxing shows. But he doesn’t speak out against the corrupt commissions like I do. Who does that? No other fighters do that. Somebody’s got to start it. Do you think [Tim] Witherspoon’s gonna end up with any money? He made $2 million, but he ain’t got shit, he’s in debt. How can a fighter make money when a promoter’s promoting his fight and the promoter’s son is taking a third of his purse? Tell me, is that fair?

KO: Do you feel that you set a precedent by becoming  your own manager and negotiator near the end of you reign?

LH: Yeah. And you know who another guy was who did what I did, except he didn’t have the guts to stick it out? [Hector] Camacho. He told the WBC to kiss his butt. He said he’s fighting for this amount of money and that’s it. But he went right back into the same mess. He’s right back with Don King and Don King is calling the same shots. These guys can’t survive on their own because they don’t know how to protect their money. They get broke and desperate, and that’s when Don King puts that trap out for them. They’re like a rat looking for cheese. Do I sound hard?

KO: You sound honest.

LH: That’s the way I am. That’s probably part of my problem. People want bullshit and I give ‘em the truth. And it hurts these guys. It’s uncomfortable. Everybody can talk about it, but I can back my shit up.

Holmes at war with Tim Witherspoon. Photo by The Ring Magazine/ Getty Images

KO: How do you feel when you see a champion like Tim Witherspoon come into his biggest payday with a big roll of fat over his waist?

LH: First of all if shows me that these guys deserve the treatment that they’re getting, unless they wise up. You’re supposed to be an example for the people and one thing that I always did, even at the age of 36, was look my best and fight my best when I got into the ring. These guys don’t dedicate or discipline themselves to get down to a comfortable fighting size. But you can’t say things to them or they tell you that you’re jealous. When I told Witherspoon he should get in shape, he said, “You’re jealous of me. You can’t whup me.” He ain’t got a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of. How can I be jealous? (Laughs.) Are you taping me laughing?

KO: Of course.

LH: I want the laugh in with the writing because it’s a joke. And that’s what boxing’s becoming – a joke.

KO: Who’s the next champion to reign as long as you did?

LH: None of them.

KO: Well, who’s the next champion to reign for a while at least?

LH: You mean more than two fights, three fights?

KO: Yes.

LH: None of them. Maybe Gerry Cooney. The last statement I made after I fought Gerry was that he would be the next champion and beat everyone in the world. If he would have fought anyone but me that night, he would’ve been champion.

KO: It’s very surprising that you would say that.

LH: I never had anything against Gerry and I still don’t. Gerry don’t like me because people turn things around and tell him I said things about him that I didn’t say. At a Howard Cosell interview in New York before the fight, I said, “Gerry, we’re gonna fight. I don’t hate you, and after the fight we can be friends. Let the best man win and let’s have no hard feelings. I tried to shake his hand and he wouldn’t shake. If you notice, after the fight, I didn’t boast that I kicked his ass. I could have easily did that, but I didn’t do that. I have no hard feelings toward another fighter because we’re the ones who take it all and risk it all. I think Gerry’s a capable fighter. I don’t care what people say about my feelings. He fought his heart out that night. And he’s 6’6”, with that long jab and hard left hook. I’m telling it like it is.

KO: Are you finally admitting that Cooney hurt you with a left hook?

LH: No, Cooney never hurt me with a left hook because he never hit me with one. I felt it on my arms. He hit me one time in the body. It knocked the wind out of me. Didn’t hurt me, but knocked the wind out of me.

KO: Is he better than Tyson?

LH: I will bet that Gerry Gooney knocks Mike Tyson out in less than five rounds.

KO: In a previous interview with us, however, you said that you’d want to hurt Cooney if you fought again. Why did you say that?

LH: Because we were thinking of negotiating another fight with him and I was trying to put fear in him. If we were going to fight now, I wouldn’t be saying nice things about him. But I don’t have to fight Gerry now so I can tell the truth.

KO: If he’s so good, why doesn’t he fight more?

LH: It’s not Gerry. Dennis is afraid that Gerry can’t fight. Gerry can fight.

KO: If you were Cooney’s manager, what moves would you make with him?

LH: I would put him out there as quick as I can with Witherspoon, Berbick, Spinks, Tyson, and get him all the money. He wants parity. Fuck parity. You want the championship. Give them all the money they want because after you win the championship then you are the man. Then they come to you. I took less money when I fought Muhammad Ali. Ali got eight million to my 2 ½. Cooney got what I got and I was the champion. I figured I can’t make the money without Cooney and he can’t without me. Dennis Rappaport thinks with his heart, not with his brain. He’s not a good fight man. If he knew boxing, Gerry would be champion today. He would have went back in the gym after he fought Holmes and come back to get another chance at the title. He could have been bigger than Holmes, Spinks, everyone, because you know what he’s got going for him that he doesn’t realize? Color.

KO: He has to realize that.

LH: He don’t realize it. If he did, he could have kicked Dennis Rappaport’s ass and said, “Let’s go get one of these turkeys. If I can’t beat one of these turkeys, then I shouldn’t fight.”

KO: You don’t think Tyson has the same kind of long-range potential that Cooney does?

LH: No. Little guys don’t have it. Joe Frazier didn’t. Earnie Shavers didn’t. Archie Moore didn’t. Floyd Patterson didn’t. Guys like Tyson are little trucks. They burn out when they have to go up against a load that’s bigger than they are. That’s only common sense. Man, I’m bad, ain’t I? (Laughs.)

KO: How have you been spending your time since the Spinks fight? You’ve kind of dropped out of sight.

LH: I’ve been running, training. I’m building my apartment complex here in Easton. I’m doing drug programs. I’ve been running in and out of hearings because I’m being sued by a few people. That’s what I’ve been doing.

KO: How do you think you will be remembered by the historians?

LH: As one of the greatest fighters of all time… with a big mouth. (Laughs loudly.)

KO: Any regrets about that?

LH: No, cause I still do it. If people don’t like the truth, that’s their business. One thing they’ll say, “That Larry, boy, he’s got a big goddamned mouth.” But I told it like it was, not like they wanted to tell it.