Boxing: Holmes still a champion entertainer

By Patrick McKendry of APNZ in Pennsylvania

At the Champs' Corner Bar and Grill on 91 Larry Holmes Ave, the man himself is sitting at a table on the balcony and talking to his good friend Jimmy when Joseph Parker and Robert Berridge walk out to meet him.

Holmes, a 64-year-old former heavyweight champion of the world, is looking out over the Lehigh River and sipping from a pint of Budweiser, which leads nicely into the first of many pieces of advice he hands to the two New Zealanders who are fighting near his Easton home here on Sunday.

Known as the Easton Assassin and the heavyweight with perhaps the best left jab ever, Holmes tells the Kiwis, who are clearly impressed to be in his presence: "You make 'em drunk and then you mug 'em. The jab is always your best punch."

Quietly at first, Holmes meets the entourage of Parker and Berridge, including Parker's parents Dempsey and Sala, and Berridge's fiancee Renee.

Soon, however, he is on his feet, showing Parker, in particular, how to master that famous left. Jimmy says quietly to one of the group that the champ, a natural raconteur, doesn't normally give advice to fighters. Maybe the fact that the pair have come so far and are fighting in his backyard has made all the difference.

"No, what are you doing?" he asks Parker. "Throw it out that way, pop, like a whip.
"Stay loose, tighten at the end, pop. Step in like that, pop."

Later, Holmes turns to Sala and says: "The smartest thing you did was bring him here. My mama didn't like to see me fight. She said 'the only one who hits him is me'."

He turns to Parker and Berridge and says: "I got a lot of things to teach you boys but you didn't bring a pencil and paper. I know this stuff, I know it!"

Holmes does. He was the heavyweight champion of the world from 1978-85, fought professionally 75 times, lost six, which he disputes to this day, and was knocked out only once - by Mike Tyson in 1988.

The hardest hitter? Earnie Shavers. Toughest fight? Ken Norton.

"No one thought I could do it. I ran around the hills here and people said 'what are you doing boy, come and have a drink'. But I said 'I ain't gonna do it if I don't try'.

There is a sense that Holmes wasn't appreciated during his career, sandwiched as it was between those of Muhammad Ali, whom he beat in 1980, and Tyson.

He is now. He shows Parker and Berridge around the memorabilia in his restaurant which by now is filling with families.

Taking pride of place on his "wall of fame" is a large portrait of Martin Luther King, the American civil rights campaigner.

"I put him up there because what I achieved was minor compared to what he did," Holmes says.

Parker says afterwards: "It's an honour. He knows everything about boxing.

"His jab and the speed that he had was the best. Before I met Larry all I heard was how fast his jab was and how effective it was. That's what we try to do and now I've met the guy who we've been talking about."

As Parker and company sit down to eat, Holmes, ever the showman, says: "Somebody sing!"

Patrick McKendry travelled to the USA with assistance from Duco Events

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