The jab was a bolt of beauty, a cobra striking again and again at the already reddened and swollen face of Mike Weaver. It always begins this way—with the wicked jab. It is the drum roll for another anticipated brilliant performance by Larry Holmes, 29, the heavyweight champion of those portions of the globe that no longer swear fealty to Muhammad Ali.
"The jab is my dogs," a confident but troubled Holmes had said a few hours before his WBC title defense against Weaver last Friday night at Madison Square Garden. "I send the dogs out, then I go in."
Early in the first round the dogs were off their leads and doing their work. Weaver, 26, an ex-Marine from Pomona, Calif., was verifying the rumors about his abilities: he was plodding and easy to hit. He looked every bit the unappealing out-bet underdog he had been labeled by the Las Vegas bookies and the New York TV moguls.
The crowd of 14,136, the fans who watched on closed circuit in 45 locations, and the two million subscribers in their living rooms who could be thankful that Home Box Office shelled out the fire-sale price of $150,000 to buy a fight program that the three major networks deemed unworthy of display, warmed to the promise of Holmes' heavy fists.
The mood had been properly set, first by Jimmy Young, who had waddled in at 235 pounds, 23 more than he weighed when he beat George Foreman in 1977, but 24 fewer than he weighed only three weeks before this fight. He stifled a merry outcry at his obesity by knocking out one Wendell Bailey in the third round.
Then it was the turn of Roberto Duran, bringing a sense of almost surrealistic beauty to savagery, fighting for the first time as a welterweight and, after 10 brutal rounds, chasing Carlos Palomino, the former WBC champion, into retirement. Duran had been awesome among the lightweights, whom he ruled without mercy for seven years. He may be even better at 147 pounds. The higher weight slowed Duran not at all. He bewildered Palomino with flicking head and shoulder feints; he battered him with punches thrown at blinding speed. At times, just for fun, he feinted from the left, feinted from the right, and then, with Palomino in a flux of frantic confusion, stepped back and flashed a wolfish grin as Palomino untangled himself. Duran won 99-90 on all three cards.
"Aw, I wasn't that good," he said after this, his 66th victory in 67 fights. "I didn't train that hard in Panama. I guess I am just lazy. But next time I will train very hard. Next time I will be very good."
Next time should be against Pipino Cuevas, the WBA champion, sometime in September. And the time after that he should be matched with the winner of December's Sugar Ray Leonard-Wilfredo Benitez WBC championship fight.
"I don't think any of those people want to fight Roberto," said Carlos Eleta, Duran's patron and manager. "But now we leave them no choice. We have them in a position where they can't run from us."
Despite the action-filled welterweight fight, Friday night belonged to Holmes. He is an immensely proud man, and, despite the fact that he privately downgraded Weaver, it annoyed him that his fight was drawing less media attention than Duran vs. Palomino.