LAS VEGAS -- Larry Holmes can't complain that Evander Holyfield gives him no respect.
Holyfield, the undisputed and undefeated champion, asked yesterday to place his 42-year-old challenger in heavyweight history, ranked him "No. 3, behind Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis."
"When I look at the guy, I see someone who had good skills and was able to take it and somehow always found a way to win," Holyfield said. "He was so much better than the people in his era; they thought they were so many bums, but they weren't. Look at Ken Norton and Earnie Shavers."
Holmes, who bristled when he was Holyfield's age at the endless comparisons with Ali, in at least one sense ranked the 29-year-old champion No. 1 yesterday.
"He's more boring than me," Holmes said to the crowd at the Caesars Palace Sports Pavilion before going through a sharp sparring session for Friday night's fight. He was loose and easy, and when Holyfield's remarks were relayed to him, the oft-moody former champion seemed genuinely pleased.
"I think it's very nice Evander did that," he said.
Asked to rate himself, he said, "I don't do that."
"I don't want to be better than Muhammad Ali or better than Joe Louis or anybody," Holmes said. "When I was at the top of my game, from '78 to '85, I felt I was the best of all time then."
Holyfield said he was judging the old Holmes by his ring ability alone. "When he opened his mouth, he made himself look bad," Holyfield said.
Holyfield has gone from a 6-1 to a 4-1 favorite, reflecting, perhaps, the same kind of lack of respect Holmes went through as champion. Holmes followed the Ali era, Holyfield replaced the Mike Tyson regime.