Another sad show, for old-time's sake


LAS VEGAS -- Boxing proved again last night that it is a sport that cannot be embarrassed.

You'll read in some places about Larry Holmes' courage and his will and his heart and all the other fistic cliches.

Do not believe it.

Sure, Holmes is brave. He's a professional fighter, and he put up all the fight he could. He didn't get $7 million to lie down. The problem is that he's 42 and shouldn't be in the ring and didn't have nearly enough fight to give.

If you didn't see it, I'll tell you how it went.

Holmes would lean on the ropes where Evander Holyfield would follow. They would exchange punches, few of which did any damage. Eventually, Holyfield would lure Holmes toward the middle of the ring, where Holyfield would throw most of the punches, few of which would do any damage.

That's it. You've seen more action on "Seinfeld."

The only exciting thing that happened was an errant elbow in the sixth that cut Holyfield's right eye, which nearly closed. Holmes tried to chase the blood as the fans chanted, "Larry, Larry, Larry." But Holmes didn't have any chase in him, either, and Holyfield, who had never been cut, escaped.

Spotting Holmes an eye was, although sporting, not enough. Holyfield fought half the night with a deep gash over his right eye, and still he won easily. What next -- tie a hand behind his back?

Two judges gave Holyfield eight of the 12 rounds, and the other gave him nine.

What did it prove? Here you have a sport that needs a grandfather with his gut spilling over his shorts to try to breathe some life into it.

The thing is, we already saw this act before.

Haven't we seen it enough?

The only reason this fight came off was the belief that anyone -- even a 42-year-old grandfather -- could beat Holyfield. Holmes wasn't worried before the fight. During the introductions, when he wasn't laughing in the ring, he was waving to his wife in the audience. It was like he was getting a guest shot on late-night TV.

And, certainly, this fight did little to enhance Holyfield's reputation. He never knocked Holmes down, and he never even hurt him.

No wonder they felt they could trot out Holmes, a George Foreman wannabe, who had retired twice before and must now, please, retire once and for all.

At least with Foreman, you had wit and humor and a sense of something and someone all out of proportion.

He is the gentle giant/preacher/fast-food frequenter whose legion of children are all named George. He calls himself the eighth wonder of the world -- and winks.

What Foreman has, in Foreman-size, is charm.

And that sense of indestructibility.

And he couldn't come close to beating Holyfield. Let's remember that. He was brave, too, and he unloaded a few shots, but again Holyfield easily won the fight.

Holmes is not charming. He's Holmes. We know all about him -- heavyweight champ for nearly a decade and no one even thinks to rank him as one of the all-time greats. Even now, Foreman says we'll have to wait another 10 years to rate Holmes as a fighter.

He was, of course, victim to the post-Ali syndrome. Fighting at the tail end of the Ali-Frazier-Foreman-Norton era of exceptional heavyweights, Holmes never found a rival to help define his title. He was a good champion denied any great moments. In fact, he is forever remembered as Ali's sparring partner who made good.

What Holmes fights do you remember? Yes, the tragic Ali fight of nearly 12 years ago, right here in the same parking lot at Caesars Palace. Holmes was 30 then and at the top of his game, and we remember the sadness of the moments. No one was sadder than Holmes, who grieved for Ali, his idol. We saw what can come of old men who stay too long, but no one seemed to learn from that lesson.

We saw it again in 1988 in Holmes' comeback against Mike Tyson. And Holmes didn't learn from that lesson, either. Holmes was already shot in 1985 when he lost his title to Michael Spinks, who, like Holyfield, is a light-heavyweight in disguise. He lost to him again, and he said he'd quit. He lost to Tyson a couple of years later, and he said he'd quit.

Why didn't he?

That's easy, isn't it? Holmes was never lovable, but he was bankable. He was always in it for the money, and, if you're going to be a boxer, that seems as good a motive as any.

And now watch. The promoters aren't done with us. They'll be beating the drums for a Holmes-Foreman fight -- the Geezers at Caesars.

George Burns is playing Caesars Palace next month. Maybe he'll get the winner.

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