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After working in the car wash, Holmes drove a dump truck in the town gravel pits. He also worked in a quarry. He poured steel, he was a sandblaster. He made artillery shells. And at times he had disagreements with the police. But by the standards of the streets, they were considered minor.
"Like I said, I was no angel," says Holmes. "I know how it feels to get in trouble with the police. I know how it feels to drink and get drunk. I know how it feels to smoke grass and get high. I've done it all. You can't tell me about it. But I worked for a living. I worked from the time I was a little boy. A lot of the guys I ran with didn't want to do that. They wanted to hustle and to pimp. Some got killed; some are in jail. I've always felt that you had to work for anything you got. I'm not ashamed to work and I've expressed that to my lawyer, Charles Spaziani, to Richie Giachetti and to Don King, the promoter. I'm the heavyweight champion, all right, but I can go back to work with my head up now—which I'll do if I am misused. I want to be treated honestly and with respect. If not, it's bye-bye, boxing."
Holmes was 19 years old when he decided to become a boxer. He had been thinking about it since the days, years before, when he and some friends and his brother Lee used to fight in bars on Saturday nights for free meals.
"We'd take gloves and fight right in the bars," Holmes says. "Me and Lee and Pooch Pratt, and Butch Andrews and Barry DeRohn. We'd fill the bars on a Saturday night. And no matter what happened in the fight, they'd always call it a draw. Then we could go in the kitchen and eat hot dogs and hamburgers, which is all we wanted anyway.
"When I dropped out of school, I had to go to work. Then one day I said, what the hell, I might as well be a fighter. You don't have to go to school to be a fighter, you don't nave to go to college. All you have to do is know how to fight and how not to get hurt."
Once his mind was set, Holmes took a direct, if somewhat unusual, route. He went to Earnee Butler, who runs a record store and shoeshine shop on South Third St. in Easton, and challenged him to a fight. Butler was then in his 40s; as an amateur welterweight, he had won 19 of 20 bouts; as a pro, he had lost just 14 of 104. He had retired in 1953, 15 years before. Still, "When I got off, we went to a gym and went at it," Butler says. "After it was over, Larry said, 'You're the best I've seen. Will you train me?' "
Holmes, who had grown to 6'3" and some 200 pounds, won 19 of 22 amateur fights. Then, still under the tutelage of Butler, he turned pro in March of 1973 and won six straight. Holmes and Butler later split, and since then Holmes' career has been guided by King, Giachetti and Spaziani, a former Northampton County district attorney.
"Larry thought I was bringing him along too slowly, too cautiously," says Butler. "It wasn't that. I just wanted to be sure he was ready."
Meanwhile, Holmes continued to win—in relative obscurity. On April 5, 1976 he knocked out one Fred Askew in Landover, Md., his 21st straight victory and 16th knockout. There was not a ripple of attention.
"King was acting as the manager back then, and I was the co-manager and trainer," says Giachetti, who ran an auto body shop in Cleveland in order to survive financially during most of Holmes' career. "But it was always Larry and me. We were the ones sacrificing, sharing the same bad hotel room, eating the same lousy food, taking the lesser fights. King's idea of a break was to put us on an Ali undercard. You can imagine how much attention you get when Ali is around. Nobody steals the show from Ali. It wasn't until we fought Roy Williams—Larry's 22nd fight—that I even got a budget for sparring partners. Before that, I'd pick up guys off the street."