Boxing
"Easton Assassin" now Hall of Fame caliber
Lyle Fitzsimmons

By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Boxing Contributing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Membership has its privileges.

But, as Larry Holmes recently found out, it's also got its limits.

"They called me and told me I'd made it (to the Hall of Fame) and I didn't want to tell anyone how excited I was about it," the former heavyweight champion said, in a Wednesday phone interview.

"So I went to bed that night and I woke up my wife, and when she asked me what I was doing, I said, 'I can do that now, because I'm a Hall of Famer.'

"And she said, 'OK, but if you ever do it again, you'll be a dead Hall of Famer.'"

Assuming he makes it to Canastota, Holmes, now 58, will join fellow honorees Eddie Perkins, Mogens Palle, Frank Warren, Dave Anderson and Joe Koizumi for an event-filled weekend that's scheduled to include a golf tournament, banquet, parade and autograph card show, leading up to the enshrinement ceremony on June 8.

"The first thing I'm going to tell everyone is how much I've been blessed," Holmes said. "I'm a seventh-grade dropout from Cuthbert, Ga. and Easton, Pa. and look what I've accomplished.

Larry Holmes
Larry Holmes finished with a career mark of 69-6.
"I heard my whole life how I wasn't supposed to do anything and how I'd never make it, and now I look out my window and the street sign says 'Larry Holmes Drive.'"

The Hall induction conveniently comes nearly 30 years to the day Holmes "arrived" on the boxing scene, winning the WBC heavyweight title by split decision from Ken Norton after a stirring 15th-round rally at Caesars Palace on June 9, 1978.

He defended that belt 16 times before relinquishing it and inheriting recognition from the fledgling International Boxing Federation, whose crown he defended three more times before suffering the first loss of his career to Michael Spinks in September 1985.

The upset defeat came on the night Holmes was expected to run his professional record to 49-0, which would have tied the run of pristine supremacy established by Rocky Marciano between 1947 and 1955.

Instead, the most memorable moment came at the post-fight press conference, where Holmes said, "If you want to get technical about it, Rocky couldn't carry my jockstrap."

More than two decades later, Holmes remains just as defiant.. but with a touch of empathy.

"I don't regret anything I said or did back then, but I do regret hurting anyone's feelings with those things," he said. "I don't have to have the argument about being the greatest heavyweight ever, because it's a fight you'll never win. But as long as I can be considered 'one of the greatest' now, I can be satisfied."

Holmes retired after a controversial split-decision loss to Spinks in an April 1986 rematch, but came back in 1988 for a shot at undisputed champion Mike Tyson, which ended in a fourth-round TKO loss.

He was inactive for three more years before beginning another comeback with a first-round stoppage of Tim Anderson in April 1991, which was eventually followed by a 12-round points win over former Olympian Ray Mercer in February 1992.

That surprising triumph earned Holmes a chance at the WBC/WBA/IBF belts held by Evander Holyfield, which he lost by unanimous decision.

Subsequent championship fights with Oliver McCall (WBC, April 1995) and Brian Nielsen (IBO, January 1997) also ended in decision losses for Holmes, who subsequently wound down his career with "Legends Tour" defeats of previous foes James Smith and Mike Weaver before toppling cable-TV novelty Eric "Butterbean" Esch over 10 rounds in his final fight, at age 52, in July 2002.

"I was slipping. My skills had gone away and I knew I wasn't going to get them back," said Holmes, who finished with a career mark of 69-6 with 44 knockouts.

"You look at these guys that are out there now and they're still fighting, but they've got to realize that, too. I learned from guys like Joe Louis and Archie Moore and Sugar Ray Robinson. You try to hold on to it, but it's just not there anymore."

Championship boxing is available this weekend... but it'll require a passport.

Philadelphia native Steve Cunningham returns to Europe for the third time Saturday night, when he'll defend his IBF cruiserweight title against unbeaten challenger Marco Huck in a scheduled 12-rounder at Seidensticker Halle in Bielefeld, Germany.

The 31-year-old Cunningham, now 20-1 with 10 knockouts, captured the belt with a majority-decision defeat of incumbent Krzysztof Wlodarczyk on May 26 in Poland.

He'd faced Wlodarczyk for the vacant crown six months earlier, but lost a controversial split decision when two judges overruled the card of Charles Dwyer, who'd seen it, 119-109, for Cunningham.

Huck, a 23-year-old born in Yugoslavia, earned the shot with a 12-round majority defeat of fellow unbeaten Vadim Tokarev in an IBF eliminator, also on May 26.

He turned pro in 2004 and scored 10 straight wins by KO, then won the European cruiserweight title with a second-round stoppage of Pietro Aurino in December 2006.

Elsewhere on the card, young Nicaraguan slugger Jose Alfaro makes his first grab at a world title when he faces Thai veteran Prawet Singwancha for the vacant WBA lightweight belt.

Now 19-3, the 24-year-old Alfaro enters on a five-fight KO streak, which includes an eighth-round stoppage of former 140-pound champion DeMarcus Corley in May.

He stopped Panamanian journeyman Rosano Lawrence in two rounds in his last bout, on July 13.

Singwancha is unbeaten in 28 bouts since 1999, when he was stopped in one round by Hiroyuki Sakamoto and fell to 4-2 as a pro.

He captured the Pan-Asian Boxing Association's lightweight title two months after the Sakamoto loss and has been successful since, defending that belt 13 times through 2004 and improving to 30-2-1 with a decision win over Teofilo Tunacao in March 2006.

Singwancha faced Jose Miguel Cotto for the vacant WBA title in May, but the bout was ruled a draw.

Last but not least, here's your chance to help recap the last 12 months.

Next week, along with my own selections for top fighter, fight, prospect and upset from 2007, I'll include reader votes and views for those same categories in this space's inaugural "Best of" edition.

Please direct any opinions to the e-mail address below, along with any supporting explanations that you'd not mind sharing with the rest of the group.

And heck, if anyone's got any snappy ideas for the award names... send 'em on over.

Mean time, have a happy and safe holiday.

Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com. He is a periodic contributor to the Dave Smith Show - broadcast weekdays from 6 to 9 a.m. on Sporting News Radio (radio.sportingnews.com) - and provides 'In The Ring' boxing commentary for Speeding Bullet Network (speedingbulletnetwork.com).

Jabs, hooks or knockouts, Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com.