Holmes loves tooling about in the limo. He once owned 17 vehicles, five of them Rolls-Royces. But the limo is the way to go. Of course, riding in a limo is work, too. "Turn at the second gate, Ben," Holmes hectors. "Second gate, Ben!" Driver Ben made this exact run the day before. He's boiling. It's apparently all he can do to keep from turning around and telling the boss he knows nothing about chauffeuring, either.
Why do fighters come back, all of them? It doesn't have to be one thing. It usually is one thing, but not every time. Not this time. When Holmes says he needs the money—and he has told people that—he means it in the way that a Rockefeller might mean it. That is, after all, how you remain wealthy: You have a need for money. Holmes, ever since he discovered that boxing was a kind of ready teller, has needed money.
Admittedly it was a surprise to him in his retirement to realize that his income would henceforth come in the form of a monthly check. The check might be $50,000 from municipal bonds or $60,000 in real estate income. But there would be no $1.5 million payday to be scheduled because a tax bill was due or his hotel required an improvement or a construction project struck his fancy. Retirement income was just a boring stream of money. Still, Holmes says, "I adjusted."
He did the usual heavyweight champion things—bought the cars, the half-million-dollar house with the indoor swimming pool shaped like a boxing glove (whose resale value is limited by the dwindling number of boxing champions in Easton)—but he recovered his senses before his big earning days were over. No recent champion has had the luxury of seven years to learn from his mistakes. Holmes came out more or less intact from a time when he maintained "feel-good" cars and "be-noticed" cars, which were rolled out depending upon his mood.
His attorney, Charles Spaziani, would like to see Holmes unload everything but his monument, the L&D Holmes Plaza, and return to clipping coupons. This notion agrees more and more with the ultra-conservative Holmes, a man who, except for real estate, has never invested in any scheme hairier than a municipal bond. The Commodore Inn, which he bought for $1.2 million, is in the process of being sold for $3.2 million. His downtown bar and restaurant were recently put up for auction; there was no sale, but renovations are under way to make the establishments more marketable. "He just wants to divest himself of headaches," Spaziani contends. "He really shouldn't have to pay attention to whether someone's serving a minor at his disco."
Amazingly, despite Easton's prolonged industrial slump, Holmes is far from being destitute. Rents can go down to zero, and he will not go under. He carries virtually no debt on his properties, except for "a little bitty note for repairs here and there," he says. He has paid cash for boats, limos, cars, even his $500,000 private compound in Easton. He did get a mortgage on his second home, in Jacksonville, but only because he was between transactions there. He had bought one house for $250,000 (cash) but shortly afterward found one on the water that he liked better, and that cost $400,000. The second will be paid off as soon as the sale of the first is settled.
Holmes claims that his businesses are breaking even and that his only income is from interest. But Spaziani says the L&D Holmes Plaza's two prime tenants alone have put Holmes in the black, and the prospect of a third tenant, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which might occupy that bothersome top floor, makes the building a potential money machine. In any event Holmes does not seem a desperate man.
Certainly his first comeback was about money. Twenty-one months after losing a rematch with Michael Spinks in 1986, Holmes was lured back to fight Tyson. Holmes had no illusions about that fight. "That was business," he says. "I thought I might have a chance to beat him, but I didn't know I'd beat him. Not on two months' notice. But the money was there. I was building this building at the time, and I made a business decision." Tyson chopped Holmes down in four rounds. It was grim stuff. But that might be just the kind of thing you do for $3 million when you're building your monument.
This second comeback seems different. Neither money nor the boredom of retirement explains it entirely. There is pride. Those two losses to Spinks haunted him in retirement more than anybody thought. "I never wanted to get out of the game the way I did," Holmes explains. "I'm telling you. I thought I beat Michael Spinks." Today Holmes admits that the first fight with Spinks, in 1985, when Holmes was gunning for Marciano's record, might have been a draw. The second Spinks fight Holmes thought he won easily. In the years since, those defeats, along with his lingering image as a sore loser, have nagged at him. And there was only one thing to do.
"It's like Larry can't sleep," says Butch Lewis, Spinks's promoter. "Thinking about being on the threshold of history and then having this...nightmare happen to him. I'm convinced the whole point of this comeback was to fight Michael. I'm telling you, the calls I've gotten, let's just say he's been persistent." Lewis says Holmes even sent Smith to Lewis's office to try to develop Spinks-Holmes III. But Spinks was firmly retired. By the time Holmes finally got that message, his comeback was under way.