The kid was good, too. He had quick hands, a classic jab and a willingness to pay the price. In arenas, he paid it mostly on undercards; in the gym, he paid it as a sparring partner for the heavies in the heavyweight division—Shavers, Joe Frazier, Ali. It was in Ali's camps around the world that Holmes honed his skills and came under the spell of that strange man who floated in the ring, recited doggerel and carried on great conversations with himself. "I used to think Ali was crazy," Holmes says. "I used to watch him all the time, like a hawk—watch him walk, watch him eat, watch him talk. He used to say all those things. He used to say, 'I wrestle with an alligator, tussle with a whale, handcuff lightning, throw thunder in jail!' I really thought the man was crazy. He came with me to Easton one day to make a speech at a school, and I heard him talking to himself on the bus. He was saying, 'I'm one bad nigger.' "
While Ali took him around the world, to places like Zaire and Manila, Holmes always reached back to Easton for support. He and Giachetti grew close. Luis Rodriquez, a light heavyweight from Bethlehem, whom Holmes had known since they were amateurs together, was his sparring partner. And he hired Charles Spaziani, the former district attorney of Northampton County, Pa., as his lawyer and financial adviser. They had first become friends in 1968, at a time of racial unrest in Easton. "Some of the police officers were overzealous," says Spaziani, who was then DA. "They went out and picked up every black on the street." Holmes was walking out of the State Theatre when police grabbed him, accused him of being part of a group of troublemakers and took him to the station. The next day, after posting bond, Holmes went to Spaziani's office and pleaded his innocence. Spaziani had the matter investigated, found that Holmes was telling the truth and had the bond returned to him, along with an apology from the mayor. It was Spaziani and Giachetti, more than anyone, who guided Holmes in those early days—Giachetti as manager, cornerman and trainer, Spaziani as counselor and friend.
Holmes says he relied on their judgment because he had to. "When you're coming up, you have to do that," he says. "I couldn't call the shots because I wasn't in a position to call the shots. I had no money. I had no other place to go."
But he has the money now. And he is 30 years old, no longer a young man, and taking firmer charge of his affairs, in and out of the ring. Holmes still regards Spaziani as a friend, but they have had their differences. Giachetti is still listed as Holmes' manager as well as trainer, but he is far more the latter than the former, and his influence on Holmes is not nearly what it once was. "Richie used to choose the sparring partners and used to take care of the payroll," says Jake Holmes. "He decided what to pay the sparring partners, even us. If Richie wanted Larry to spar four rounds, he sparred four rounds. If he wanted him to go 15, he went 15." Holmes now makes these decisions.
"Larry used to figure he couldn't do those things on his own," Jake says. "Confidence is the only word I can find for it. Now he's finding he can do it on his own. Larry demands more. If he's paying you and he wants you to do something, you got to do it. Two years ago, if you didn't do something he asked you to do, he'd say, 'Oh, O.K.' Now he wants to know why. 'Why you keeping me hangin'?' He has taken control of his life—taken responsibility to himself."
According to his family and friends, Holmes is a man in transition, growing more up than away. But, as relationships have changed, feelings have been hurt and egos bruised. "I've heard people say that Larry has grown apart from his friends, people who've been with him a long time, but I don't see it that way," says Rodriquez, who is now Holmes' public-relations man. "I see it as Larry maturing, coming to terms with himself and realizing he's just as capable as the people around him. The people he had depended on and confided in are now having difficulty coming to terms with the fact that Larry doesn't need them as much as he used to. It hurts them because they haven't come to terms with it. I have...finally."
Since King began taking a more active interest in Holmes' flourishing career, he has clearly won Holmes' loyalty and become a shaping influence in his affairs as a fighter. Giachetti is silent on the internal politics of the Holmes camp, especially on the role of King, but clearly the former partners from Cleveland are at odds. Equally clearly, Holmes now leans toward King. "Richie don't like a lot of things I do with Don, I'll tell you that," Holmes says. "Spaz don't like a lot of things I do with Don." The most recent thing they did not like, Holmes says, was his and King's decision to fight Ali. Holmes claims he will make between $4 million and $6 million for the fight: Ali boasts about an $8 million payday for himself.
"They went against me on that," Holmes says. "They told me I should make more money. But I don't care about making more money. I used to fight for $150. How are you going to turn down $4 million? How are you going to turn down $2 million? A million? When I fought Scott LeDoux I got $925,000. They didn't like that. They thought I should have gotten a million and a half. Don said, 'I can't give you a million and a half.' I said, 'Give me what you can.' They say Don's exploiting me. But I trust Don. I will sign a blank contract and give it to him. I like to think Don is my friend.
"Richie is good in the corner," says Holmes. "He is a worker. I am a boss. I want him to know he's not my boss. I want him to know I'm not his robot, like he used to think I was. Spaz, too. Those guys work for me, whether they accept it or not. I pay them. They don't take the shots. If I have to take the shots, why can't I call 'em? I could be wrong, I don't know, but they think because I had only a seventh-grade education that they know more than I do."
There is a tone of impatience in Holmes' voice now, one that promises even more changes. "Think Richie's going to quit? Think Spaz is going to quit?" he says. "They're going to get a couple of hundred thousand every time I step into the ring. Where are they going to make a million a year at? They're not going to make it no more. I'm going to take over the money. They're not going to get those big percentages anymore. Starting this fight. Richie might not know it; Spaz might not know it. They're going to get paid good money. But out of $4 million, think I'm going to give them $500,000? That's crazy."