The two groups began to exchange curses. The milling in the hall turned to pushing and shoving. In Witherspoon's arms, Lenette began to cry. "Damn you," he shouted at Holmes. "Let's get the ladies out of here and you and I will go downstairs and settle this."
Witherspoon started out the door of Linda's room. One of Holmes's security men reached under his jacket, as though going for a gun. Witherspoon was pulled back into the room by one of his own security people.
"Let them go," Holmes ordered.
After Witherspoon and his people had returned to the nonviolent setting of their quarters on the sixth floor, to which mother, child and grandmother were soon moved, Witherspoon told Robinson, "You should have let me fight him. I wanted to fight him right there."
Robinson shook his head. "You're a professional," he said. "When you fight you get paid for it."
Assured of a $2.1 million payday—to Witherspoon's $250,000—Holmes came in weighing 213 pounds, just as he did when he beat Norton for the title on June 9, 1978. Later, Holmes would admit that at 213 he was too light for Witherspoon, who proved much stronger than the champion expected. And it certainly didn't help that after Thursday's weigh-in, Holmes ate "a lot of corn and rice and steak." Friday morning he awoke with a bad case of diarrhea. It left him not only light but slightly weakened.
When the fight began. Holmes, ignoring Futch's advice, threw two jabs and a chopping right, all of which the 219½-pound Witherspoon picked off cleanly. As Holmes stepped back, Witherspoon grinned at him. Near the end of the round, Witherspoon landed a solid right hand to Holmes's left ribs.
From that point until the ninth round, it was mostly Holmes's jab, still as lethal as ever, against Witherspoon's crablike defense, with the edge, however slight, going to the harder-working, if at times frustrated, champion. "He was picking off some of the jab," said Holmes, "but not all of it."
"I was having fun," Witherspoon said of his defense. And amid the gaiety, he all too frequently forgot to punch back. When he did, he punished Holmes's left ribs savagely. But while those offensive bursts were impressive, they were limited in number.
But in the ninth. Holmes made a costly mistake. Coming out of a clinch, he turned to Referee Mills Lane to complain that Witherspoon was hitting on the break. Before he could speak, Witherspoon hit Holmes flush with a right. Stunned, Holmes backed away until he could find a corner. With Witherspoon firing from both sides. Holmes covered up. "I just wanted to stay there until he punched himself out," Holmes said later. "I just wanted to punch enough so Lane wouldn't stop the fight."