Larry Holmes began his professional boxing career with 48 straight wins. He beat Ken Norton, he beat Leon Spinks and, yes, he beat Muhammad Ali, who passed away last Friday at the age of 74.
Holmes, then 31, beat Ali, then 38, in 1980, becoming the only man to defeat Ali via TKO. Of course, Holmes had an advantage over the rest of Ali’s opponents in that he and Ali were sparring partners for four years.
“I knew a whole lot about him,” the 66-year-old Holmes said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “What I told Ali before I even signed the contract, I said, ‘Ali, you know I know you. I boxed with you for four years. You think I don’t know you? I know your weak spots. I know everything. And you ain’t the same guy you used to be.’ But I said, ‘Well, you’re getting $10 million, so let’s get it. You get $10 million, I’ll get $3.5 million.’ Everybody was saying I was crazy for taking $3.5 million, but that was better than $2 million or $1 million or no million. So you go out there, you know he’s not going to do anything to hurt you, and I knew that I wasn’t going to hurt him, either. He tried (to beat me). I got to give it to him. He gave it his best shot to beat me. He didn’t lay down or nothing. He tried to get me, but he wasn’t able to.”
Ali was pulled from the fight after 10 rounds. Afterward, Holmes wiped the tears from his eyes, approached Ali, embraced him and told him he loved him.
“He said, ‘If you love me, why did you beat me up then?’” Holmes said, laughing. “It made me laugh. When somebody has a love for you even after that, from 1980 to the day (he died), it meant a lot. The man was my friend. Ali liked me, Ali wanted me to learn – and I learned from him and I liked him. I don’t care what they say. You can’t take (our feelings away from each other). . . . He was my friend. He was a friend, not only a guy that I boxed. It was a great pleasure just to be around him.”
Holmes was not at Ali’s bedside when he passed, but he knows what he would have said to Ali had he gotten the opportunity.
“I would have said, ‘You were the greatest and you still is the greatest,’” Holmes said. “‘You will always be the greatest – here on earth or in heaven. You’re always going to be the greatest in my mind.’ For people who want to talk negative, they can talk negative all they want. The man had it. You can’t take it away because God give it.”