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And then it was June 9, with Holmes and Norton sitting in their corners, their lungs burning as they sucked in gulps of air. The scoring was all even after 14 brutal rounds of fighting.
"We thought I had the fight locked away," Holmes says. "I don't know what the judges were looking at. I was told just to go out and box, not to get knocked out. Hell, if he was going to stop me, he'd have had to kill me. He'd have had to hit me with a hammer.
"I had been thinking about that 15th round for a long time before we ever fought it. When I was running up those big hills, or along the towpath down by the river, I'd be thinking about that 15th round. And when the 15th round really came, all I thought about was all that running I had done to get that far. When I went out there in the 15th, I went out to fight, to give the people their money's worth. It didn't matter that I thought I had the fight already won. I fought Kenny Norton the way he wanted to fight. I fought him close, I fought him inside, I traded punches with him. He took punches, he gave punches, and we gave the people a great fight. That's why we were in there."
That was the night Larry Holmes became heavyweight champion of the world.
More than two months have passed since Holmes trained in the loft in the barn in Ohio. He worked hard for two more weeks, then returned to Easton, where he has bought a new house. He was in New Orleans to watch Ali defeat Spinks. And then he went back into hard training for his first title defense.
After Holmes finishes with Evangelista, Giachetti and Spaziani want another fight against another opponent they consider less than outstanding, someone like, say, Duane Bobick or, as Giachetti says, "an Ali or a Spinks. Then we'll fight the killers—the Nortons and the Youngs. Hell, we'll fight an Ali or a Spinks right away, but them other guys can wait a little bit longer. Remember, Evangelista is our third fight this year, and the other two were Shavers and Norton. And don't sell Evangelista that short. He is a top contender, and those kind of guys fight a hell of a lot tougher when it's for the title.
"We really don't want Ali," Giachetti continues, "but we can't turn him down if they offer the kind of money a fight like that deserves. Let's face it: Ali is shot. So who else can he fight but Holmes? You got to figure he's going to get licked by whoever he fights, so if he's going to get whipped, he might as well do it for the big money."
Of one thing Holmes is certain: it is going to take at least $5 million for him even to consider laying leather on his idol.
"I don't really want to fight Ali," he says. "Ali is a living legend. Once he was on his light side, but now he's on his dark side. If I fight him, folks are going to say, 'Well, Ali, he's an old man.' I'm hoping that he retires. There would be a lot of money involved if Ali fought on, but money is not everything. All that money is going to be here when you are gone. And I have so much respect for the guy. He's a real nice guy. And he helped me out a lot. He gave me a chance—to spar with him, to learn from him. No, I don't want to have to fight Muhammad Ali.
"But there are a lot of guys who want to fight for the title. They'll all get a chance. I don't think there's anybody out there who can beat me. Shavers can't beat me, Ali can't beat me, Spinks—all those people—they can't beat me. I'll give Norton another chance, maybe in a year. There's all those foreign dudes. They'll all get a chance. I'm like Ali. When Ali leaves this world, no matter what else was said about him, people are going to say he was a hell of a guy, a damn good human being."