I dreamed of Ali last night. We were in a ring, fighting someplace. In the seventh round, the seventh or eighth, he was saying, "Don't knock me out.... Don't knock me out!" I says to him, "You gotta get out of here, man. You gotta get the hell out of here!" And then the next thing I remember is we was standing together under a tree, the best of friends. That's what I dreamed last night.
It's almost nine o'clock at night, and Larry Holmes is sitting in the driver's seat of his white Continental Mark VI, his left foot stuck out the open door, the other hitched up on the sill, the receiver of a radiotelephone pressed to his ear. The world heavyweight champion is parked on the shoulder of an interstate in northern New Jersey, with the Manhattan skyline rising in the distance, with semis rushing past 10 feet away and with a heavy smell of gasoline all around him. He is talking to the operator.
"This is Larry Holmes, right," he says. "I got a problem. Can you help me?"
A few minutes earlier Holmes had been hustling to New York for an appearance on Good Morning America to promote his Oct. 2 fight against Muhammad Ali. Holmes' brother Jake had been driving in the fast lane—with Larry resting in the backseat and the champion's manager-trainer, Richie Giachetti, trailing them at 65 mph in another white Continental—when the lead car struck a piece of pipe lying on the road. It ricocheted upward under the car, driving a hole in the gas tank, then kicked back down onto the pavement and went flipping away end over end, lighting up like a sparkler as it skated across the concrete. Giachetti followed Holmes' Mark VI as it pulled off" the road, leaped from his Lincoln as it skidded to a halt in the gasoline slick and ran to the back door of the other car.
Gas was still gushing, as from an open faucet, out of the tank. "Get out! Gas is leaking! Gas is leaking!" shouted Giachetti, who used to build stock cars and knows too well what hot metal and high-octane fumes can mean.
Holmes clambered out and strode quickly up the road, looking behind him as he walked. They waited 10 minutes for a state trooper, but only mosquitoes came. "They're eatin' me up out here!" Holmes cried. "The heavyweight champion...." Holmes briefly shadowboxed, flicking jabs at his humming ultraflyweight opponents, and then headed back to his car. "I'm going to call a tow truck," he said.
So now he's sitting in a knocked-out car, inhaling gas fumes and trying to call for help above the roar of the semis. "My car broke down," he says. "Can you get me a tow truck? Yeah.... We're on 95, near Exit 16.... What?" After a moment's silence his voice rises in mock disbelief.
"How can Ali knock me out?" Holmes says to the operator. "How can he? He hasn't knocked anyone out in more than four years! How can Ali knock anyone out? The fight won't go 10. Believe me.... Can you bet money? Yeah. Bet a thousand. I'll guarantee it for you. Believe me...."
Holmes hangs up, shakes his head and shrugs. "You call for help," he says, "and all they want to know is if you can go eight rounds with Muhammad Ali."
There are few places Holmes can go these days where he isn't asked about his fight against Ali. From the shoulders of roads to TV studios to the streets of the cities he visits, Ali stalks him. Indeed, there is nowhere on earth, not even in his dreams, that Ali's presence doesn't hover near, reminding Holmes, himself one of Ali's great admirers, that he succeeded the most charismatic figure in American sport.