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During the lean years, Holmes worked as a sparring partner for Ali, Joe Frazier, Earnie Shavers and Jimmy Young. He was paid well, and he was learning; also, his confidence in his own abilities was growing. "I was young, and I didn't know much. But I was holding my own sparring those guys," Holmes says. "I thought, hey, these guys are the best, the champs. If I can hold my own now, what about later?"
In April of 1976, with only nine days notice, Holmes fought the towering Roy Williams and won an impressive 10-round decision. Three days later he was at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital having a broken right thumb repaired. He wouldn't fight again for nine months.
"I couldn't fight," Holmes says, "but every day for those nine months I was in the gym training. That's why my left hand is now so much better than my right. I forgot about my right, in a sense. I had a cast on it. When I got the cast off, the doctor said don't bang anything with it. I just worked with the left—the jab, the hook, the uppercuts. The left hand is probably 100% better right now than my right. If it wasn't for that hand, when I fought Norton for the title I probably would have lost."
After his right hand finally healed—imperfectly—Holmes won four minor fights. Then last March 25 he went against Earnie Shavers at Caesars Palace. It was the fight Holmes wanted, his first against a heavyweight of international stature, the chance to prove what he had been saying all along: that he was the baddest heavyweight in the world.
"And the rest of the world was saying I had no heart, that I'd fold and quit against Shavers," Holmes says, without bitterness. "Even one of my own uncles bet $1,000 on Shavers, and later I learned that Don King had already given Shavers $25,000 front money for his next fight after he beat me. All that negative stuff just made me work harder, just made me more determined. The only way Shavers was going to beat me was if they let him in the ring with a gun."
As a fight, it was no contest. A superior boxer with fast hands and quick reflexes, Holmes battered Shavers into submission, leaving him barely able to stand, winning every round from two judges, 11 rounds from the third.
"And what happens?" asks Holmes. "All I hear is what a great job Ray Arcel and Freddie Brown did."
At the last minute, Giachetti, covering all bets, had imported veteran trainers Arcel and Brown to work the corner with him. "It's Larry's biggest fight, and I'm young," says the 38-year-old Giachetti. "I figure maybe these guys can help."
"It was a mistake," says Holmes. "They're from the past, from the old school. They wear their hats indoors, they have cigars sticking out of their mouths and they growl at the fighters. The only thing they did was get all the publicity.
"Richie did all the work. Before the fight the only thing Arcel tells me is how much I hate Shavers. He flies into Vegas the night before the fight to tell me this. I told him, I don't hate Earnie. I've sparred with him, I've been to his home, I've had coffee with him. I don't hate him, I'm just going to fight him.' I don't hate anybody. Not even Ken Norton, like they said. If Larry Holmes ever gets to hate anybody, you're going to read in the papers that Larry Holmes has killed somebody."