Here's the word from Larry Holmes on why he lost his heavyweight title to Michael Spinks last September and why he thinks he can beat Spinks in their rematch on April 19 in Las Vegas. Holmes told SI senior writer Pat Putnam that he fought ineffectively against Spinks because he was worried about a herniated spinal disk that was putting pressure on a nerve in his neck. According to Holmes, a Las Vegas neurosurgeon told him 10 days before the fight that one solid punch could paralyze him for life. "I was scared because of the pinched nerve," he said. "That damned pinched nerve. I was thinking about it too much. I was thinking about his counter." Holmes said that's why he threw so few of his usually devastating rights. He also said that he shouldn't have worried about the pinched nerve the last time out and that he won't give it a thought this time.
Holmes obviously needs to prepare himself mentally for the Spinks rematch, and he can properly do that only if he somehow explains away last September's defeat, his first after 48 victories. And, of course, alibis for that unexpected result might also hype the rematch.
But there appears to be at least some truth to what Holmes is saying. Dr. Vance MacDonald, a neurosurgeon on staff at the University of Nevada's Medical Center, is the specialist who examined Holmes before the first fight. He recalled last week, "The bottom line was that, from the one test that he had, there was the possibility of a ruptured disk in his neck. There was some weakness in his [right] arm which suggested the same thing." But MacDonald also said, "I think I may have said that if he did have a ruptured disk, there was the potential possibility of paralysis. I am not denying I said that. No matter what I said, it was based on supposition.... I would have liked to have done other tests."
After seeing MacDonald, Holmes went to another specialist for a second opinion. That doctor, according to Holmes, said the chances of paralysis were negligible. He says he has come to accept this assurance more fully than he did at the time and, as a result, will be less sparing with his right hand on April 19. Of that fight, he told Putnam, "I want it so bad I'll probably go in there tight, but I'll go in there fighting. Either they count me out or they count him out. That's the way I want this fight to be."
Alibi or not, Holmes sure sounds as if he believes it.
While too many college athletes take time off from the books to play ball, baseball players at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology did just the opposite last week. Playing against crosstown rival Indiana State in their annual Mayor's Cup game in Terre Haute, R-H enjoyed a 7-4 lead after three innings when designated hitter Mark Mayfield and two reserves abruptly departed; they were due back on campus for a mechanical engineering exam. Indiana State scored single runs in the fourth and fifth. In the sixth the Engineers lost two more players: Centerfielder James Yoakum and shortstop Alan Snedeker also had tests to take. Its ranks depleted, R-H still hung on for a 7-6 win, only the third for Division III Rose-Hulman against Division I Indiana State since the Mayor's Cup series between the two began in 1973.
Rod Higgins has spent this season on a whirlwind tour of the NBA. The 6'7" forward's odyssey began after he was cut by the Chicago Bulls during the preseason. He soon caught on with Seattle and played 12 games for the Sonics in November and December. Then he was cut and signed with San Antonio, where he played 11 games. The Spurs waived him and Higgins played two games for New Jersey in February. Dropped once more, Higgins—he doesn't take these things personally—again signed with the Bulls on March 14 and played five games, thus becoming the first NBA player to play for four clubs in a season. That record may yet fall: Cut again last Thursday, the forever free agent is looking for a new team.
STRANGERS IN A STRANGE LAND
It was an alien invasion by 8,000 mostly clean-living, outdoorsy folks. They were in Las Vegas, riding bikes in the desert and jogging through the streets even as bleary-eyed bettors made their way home at dawn. For the 15th straight year, Vegas was hosting the week-long Ski Industries America convention, a gathering of ski-shop owners and outdoor-equipment manufacturers that seemed strikingly out of place amid all that neon.