The right hand appeared to have been launched from somewhere around the fifth row of the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, out there among the seats the toffs had shelled out $200 apiece for to watch Larry Holmes defend his WBC heavyweight title against lightly regarded Renaldo Snipes last Friday night. The fight had been labeled Imminent Danger, a halfhearted hype to suggest that an upset by Snipes, a journeyman of little note, would derail Holmes's multimillion-dollar Don King-promoted date with Gerry Cooney next spring.
Holmes had spent the first six rounds patiently toying with the awkward Snipes, who resembled a cork bobbing crazily in a storm-swept sea. So I was hardly surprising that in the seventh Holmes seemed almost mesmerized as he stood—with his arms at his sides watching the aforementioned right become a blur of red.
With a thunderclap that may have been heard 550 miles away in Kiamesha Lake. N.Y. where Cooney was dozing, the punch landed hard against Holmes's head, just above his left ear Twenty seven seconds into the round the stricken champion dropped to the canvas like a sack of 13 million silver dollars. No longer will anyone wonder why King's hair stands at attention.
As Snipes's muscular arms shot toward the heavens. Holmes rolled over and pushed himself up on all fours. He wasn't thinking of the Cooney fight or of the millions it meant. "My title," Holmes thought. "He's trying to steal my title."
As Referee Rudy Ortega glided in to pick up the count at six. Holmes, pushing off his right foot first, stood but remained bent at the waist. Dazed, he lurched forward, striking his head against a neutral-corner turnbuckle. He never felt it.
It is the destiny of this remarkable fighter that he can only be at his peerless best when he's being truly tested. He constantly threatens to become a ring bully, but it is not within him. Not, that is, until he's threatened with defeat.
Earnie Shavers, whom Holmes likes, floored the champion in their second fight, and Holmes responded by knocking Shavers out. Mike Weaver, now the WBA champ, had Holmes down (it was ruled a slip), and although Holmes was weakened by an infection, he got up and hammered Weaver until the fight was stopped. Now Snipes, a fighter of such small consequence that Las Vegas refused to put this bout on the boards, dropped Holmes on his broad back.
After Ortega had performed the ritual of wiping off the champion's gloves, Holmes, still dazed, walked absently toward Snipes's corner, where the challenger's handlers were screaming at their man to move in for the kill. In his desire to get at Holmes, Snipes almost bowled over Ortega. Another wild right from Snipes tagged Holmes on the shoulder. The champ gave his antagonist a bemused look; then, his head clearing, he shifted into a controlled fury.
With Snipes still attacking wildly, Holmes began battering him with right hands, at one point landing 11 straight punches before Snipes scored with a hook just before the bell.
In the eighth, Holmes went back to the jackhammer jab that had been missing since he had ripped Snipes over the left eye in the fifth. "I've got to quit doing that," Holmes admonished himself later. "I saw the cut and said, 'Aw, hell, I don't want to hit that.' I let him off the hook and then he knocks me on my ass. From now on I'm going to be pure mean."