Try to remember

A time in September When heavyweights Were oh, so mellow . . .

LAS VEGAS — You should have seen it. Larry Holmes, cracking jokes, looking like he was ready to go out for dinner, 25 minutes after he’d lost the heavyweight championship of the world.

And Michael Spinks, the man who’d taken his title, giggling, showing his muscles, looking like he’d just taken his morning shower and was fresh for a day at the office.

Fight?

What fight?

And that about says it.

I’ve been searching through my notebook from this dud for a half-hour now, trying to find some hidden turning point, some hurt, some punches, some anything to reveal how and when the heavyweight crown went from champion to challenger, from older man to younger man, from veteran heavyweight to beefed-up light-heavyweight.

No luck.

Sometimes history comes with a bang and sometimes with a whimper. And on a cool Saturday evening in a boxing ring in a parking lot in the middle of the Nevada desert, well, the whimpers had it.

Unanimously. Everything but the Wave

Consider these scribblings:

1st rnd: Spinks . . . nothing . . . crowd boo . . .

5th rnd: Holmes, jab . . . Spinks, r . . . slow . . . no . . .

11th rnd: combo, Spinks . . . r uppcut, l, l, . . . Holmes . . . wild r . .
. slow . . .

12th rnd: . . . Spinks, l, . . .

This is a title fight? This is “A September To Remember”? At one point things were so inactive that the crowd had time to take up sides in a cheer, one side yelling “Lar-ry! Lar-ry!”, the other trying to drown them out with,
“Mi-chael! Mi-chael!” What fun. I half expected to see the Wave.

Sorry. When a heavyweight is going for immortality, and an ex-light heavyweight is going for an upset — especially with Nevada judges — there’s only one logical course of action. Hit!

Instead, Spinks did some herky-jerky side steps and Holmes followed him — shall we dance? — his left arm extended, but his right rarely following. It was as if he forgot how to put together a combination. He spent most of his time missing and blinking, as if he couldn’t believe it himself.

What we saw in Holmes was a boxing version of Dorian Gray, the picture aging before our eyes. He was old. Then older. And suddenly, it came crashing down on everyone who had picked the 35-year-old Holmes as the heavy favorite: the crusted fighter we’d seen over the last year was actually the real thing. He hadn’t just been going half-steam against weak opponents. He was through.

And so Spinks didn’t have to do very much but duck and dance and throw a few decent flurries and not stupidly walk into any of Holmes’ punches. He earned the championship like the 1,000th customer to enter a restaurant. Congratulations. Guess what? You win! Yeah, you.

“I never expected to win this,” Spinks said afterwards. “It, uh, wasn’t the hardest fight I’ve ever had.”

One would hope not. For in 15 rounds there was not a single punch that truly mattered. Not a stagger, not a slip, not a cut, not even a swollen eye. Fifteen rounds. No remorse, no regret

And when it was over? Then came the most surprising part of all. One would figure that Holmes, who had never lost a professional fight in his life, might show some remorse, some regret, some sadness that he fell one fight short of Rocky Marciano’s record 49 wins, after 12 long, bloody years of trying.

Instead, he laughed, mumbled some thank-yous, and made the soon-to-be-classic comment: “Rocky Marciano couldn’t carry my jockstrap.”

Well, of course, that’s true, since Rocky has been dead for 20 years. Besides, the way Holmes moved around Saturday night, it must have been made out of lead.

But it was a graceless and typical exit from a fighter who, despite his record, has never found a home in the hearts of his countrymen.

And Spinks? Well, on Sunday morning, I heard him suddenly bragging how he’d
“mesmerized and hypnotized” the former champion. Ah, ego. Don’t believe it. Spinks merely attended Holmes’ retirement party, and won the door prize.

It was drab, dull, and in the end, depressing.

As Holmes walked out of the ballroom press conference Saturday night, Butch Lewis, Spinks’ promoter, hollered after him, “Larry, if you want a rematch, it’s yours.”

“Ah, go to hell!” Holmes yelled back, laughing. “Be sure to tell Spinks about how many millions I got in the bank.”

What silliness.

What shamefulness.

What fight?

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