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Holmes, the master of the counter-punch, has as his trainer Eddie Futch, the master of the counter strategy. One afternoon Futch slipped into the gym where Witherspoon was working. Within a few moments he had seen all he needed to know. He reported back to Holmes: "He's working on stopping your jab and your right hand. He looks like Archie Moore: His right arm is up and jack-knifed across his face, and he'll pick off your jab with his right glove. You're going to have to use your hook. As soon as your jab touches his glove, turn the hook over. The whole side of his head will be open."
Holmes's most destructive punch, the one set up by his lightning jab, has always been his chopping right, which has given him the majority of his 30 knockouts in 42 fights. But his hook had been working well in his rigorous training for Witherspoon, which Holmes embarked on immediately after his March 27 defense against Rodriguez in Scranton, Pa. And Holmes had managed to work himself into a white heat that was fanned by a growing animosity between the two fighters.
One day several weeks ago, as the two camps met coming to and going from the gym. Holmes had called Witherspoon a punk. Then he had thrown a towel at him. When Witherspoon's brother Anthony, an undefeated light heavyweight, hurled the towel back, the two camps erupted into a mini-war.
Two nights before the fight, the battle was rejoined. That day Witherspoon's daughter Lenette, 3, her mother, Linda, and Linda's mother had arrived from Philadelphia. They were put in room 1411. Holmes was in suite 1420, and his people were in rooms all around him. That night two of Witherspoon's brothers, Bernard and Anthony, went up to the 14th floor to see Lenette. By mistake, they said later, they knocked on the door of one of the Holmes rooms, which led to a shouting and shoving match. Someone on the floor called hotel security.
Witherspoon, Robinson and five compatriots were in the lobby. Noticing the security people rushing for an elevator, one of them asked what was wrong.
"There's a battle on the 14th floor," a security man said.
"My God, my baby's up there," Witherspoon yelled, running to the elevators. The other six men followed him.
Arriving upstairs in Linda's room, Witherspoon was relieved to find his daughter safe. Then there was a hammering on the door. It was Holmes. "I want you and all your people off my floor," he said.
"It's my baby and her mother," Witherspoon said.
"I don't give a damn. You got a half hour to get them off my floor," barked Holmes.