Surely the interior decorator of Larry Holmes's new gym in Easton, Pa., is a creature of dark and mischievous humor. On the wall of a tiny office by the front door, arranged within a single frame, are seven photographs of the former heavyweight champion. Beneath the photos, in block letters, is the caption THIS MAN is CRAZY. And just to the right, above a poster from the Lafayette Trust Bank picturing Holmes and imploring him to do it "one more time," is yet another photo of Holmes, this one showing him with arms raised in victory as he bounds away from the corner of a soundly whipped and dejected 38-year-old Muhammad Ali.
The photo of Holmes and Ali was taken Oct. 2, 1980; now it is January 1988 and it is Holmes who is 38 and training to fight Mike Tyson this month at the Convention Center in Atlantic City. This time it is Tyson who is the young (21) and undefeated heavyweight champion. And, yes, there are those who see the parallel and who suggest that this man, who hasn't fought in 21 months, well, this man is crazy.
Holmes refuses to read any significance into the grouping of the photographs in his $450,000 training facility. Several weeks before the fight, the ex-champion (though he refuses to acknowledge the "ex-") is sitting in his business headquarters in his $1.5 million office building. Evidence of his wealth is everywhere. Downstairs is his Round One nightclub, which is next door to his John Henry's Restaurant and Lounge and just across the street from his parking lot.
On a table in an adjoining office is an architect's model of his $10 million luxury apartment building and office complex, which are under construction on a 3.2-acre plot on nearby Larry Holmes Drive. Four miles to the east, just over the state line, in Phillipsburg, N.J., is his $10 million, 130-room hotel, and three miles to the west is his $1.5 million home and the garages that house $1 million worth of automobiles, trucks, and motorcycles. Only his millions of dollars in municipal bonds and certificates of deposit are not in public view.
"Ali was an old 38 with a body that was beaten up from too many wars—three with Joe Frazier, three with Ken Norton, two with Leon Spinks, one with George Foreman," Holmes is saying. "And he let his sparring partners beat him to death. All that rope-a-dope stuff. I had some hard fights, but no wars, not like Ali. I look in the mirror and say, Hey, you're a 38-year-old grandfather. Then I smile because I see a 22-year-old Larry Holmes looking back at me. Nobody has ever beat up on me and nobody is going to, especially Tyson-unless maybe somebody teaches that boy how to fight in the next couple of months."
Then Holmes's head drops, and he yawns. "But right now I'm tired," he says softly. "I'm worn out. I never like running. I never like hitting the heavy bag. I don't like jumping rope. I'd rather box than do all that stuff."
Then why is a 38-year-old grandfather who has more money than he can spend in 10 lifetimes going through all this agony just so he can fight Mike Tyson?
For more than seven years, from June 9, 1978, when he won a 15-round decision over Ken Norton, until Sept. 22,1985, when he lost a unanimous decision to Michael Spinks, Holmes ruled the heavyweight division. He fought for money, certainly. But for Holmes, boxing was also his means of self-expression; the ring was his canvas, and he painted brilliantly. Yet he suffered from the barbs of his detractors, who regarded him as an unworthy successor to the giants, Ali and Frazier.
Holmes divides the world into two camps: one, about the size, say, of Rhode Island, houses his adulators; and a second, which takes in the rest of the planet, is populated by those who make spiteful assaults on his dignity. When Holmes lost his rematch with Spinks on April 19, 1986, in Las Vegas-a split decision that many observers felt should have gone the other way-it heightened his conviction that the world had conspired to conceal his greatness.
After the Spinks fight, Holmes announced his retirement. Bitter, he went back to Easton to brood and to run his small empire, Larry Holmes Enterprises, Inc., of which he is the president and chief executive officer. Holmes says he was offered $4 million to fight in South Africa. He considered it—"To hell with what Jesse Jackson says," he said at the time—and then wisely rejected it.