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'Under-appreciated' Holmes recognized for 44 KOs, 20 successful title defenses

CANASTOTA, N.Y. -- For most of his career, it seemed Larry Holmes had to justify himself as a champion outside the ring as much as he had to defend his crown inside it.

Holmes received the ultimate validation of his career Tuesday when he was named to the 2008 induction class of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, joining 11 others boxers and ring personalities chosen by members of the Boxing Writers Association and a panel of international boxing historians.

The "Easton Assassin" held the world heavyweight title for nearly seven years, 1978-1985. Holmes' 20 successful heavyweight title defenses were surpassed by only Joe Louis with 25. Holmes was on the verge of matching Rocky Marciano's perfect 49-0 mark when he was upset by Michael Spinks and suffered his first loss.

"I think there were some people who shortchanged me ... not the fans. Sometimes the critics try to make you think you are less than what you are," Holmes said in a telephone interview from his business office in Easton, Pa.

"I feel good about myself. I'm not going to let people put me down. I worked hard. I worked hard," said Holmes, now 58.

Holmes will be inducted at a ceremony June 8, along with junior welterweight champion Eddie Perkins. Middleweight Holman Williams will be inducted posthumously. All three are in the hall's modern-era category.

Middleweights Len Harvey and Frank Klaus and welterweight Harry Lewis were honored in the old-timer category and 19th-century Irish heavyweight Dan Donnelly in the pioneer class.

Although Holmes compiled a record of 69-6 with 44 knockouts, there always seemed to be a shadow over him and questions about just how good he was, said Hall of Fame executive director Ed Brophy. Holmes defended his title against contenders of varying quality: For every Muhammad Ali, Ernie Shavers and Leon Spinks, there was a Lorenzo Zanon, Scott Frank and Ossie Ocasio, Brophy said.

"Larry Holmes was probably the most under-appreciated heavyweight champion in history," said Emanuel Steward, a 1996 Hall of Fame inductee. "He should be right there with Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis, an all around fighter. He would have been a major problem for any heavyweight champion of any era."

Hall of Fame referee Arthur Mercante also said Holmes was among his top five all-time heavyweights. "He was underrated," Mercante agreed.

Holmes was born in Cuthbert, Ga., and moved to Easton with his
family at age 7. He began boxing in the Police Athletic League as a teenager. His
first big break came in 1971 while he was preparing for the U.S.
Olympic trials and was invited to become one of Ali's sparring partners.

"We became great friends," said Holmes, who possessed one of the best left jobs in boxing history and had a devastating overhand right and uppercut. "I can remember not wanting to go home after meeting him that first time. I would never trade it for nothing in the world. People have their memories. That tops it for me."

Holmes' career took another boost in 1978 when he upset hard-punching Earnie Shavers, setting up a title shot with WBC heavyweight champion Ken Norton in Las Vegas on June 9, 1978.

Holmes won the fight with a final round cited by many boxing observers as one of the greatest rounds in boxing history.

The two men fought evenly in the 15-round slugfest. As the last round entered its final minute, Norton delivered an uppercut that knocked out Holmes' mouthpiece.

Momentarily stunned, Holmes responded with a sustained flurry of punches that badly staggered Norton with the seconds ticking down.

"No one thought I could beat Norton. No one thought I could be heavyweight champion of the world. I worked him. That was 15 rounds of fighting, something they don't do today," said Holmes.

Holmes said the most emotional night of his reign came in October 1980 when he faced Ali, his friend and mentor. The aging Ali was returning to the ring trying to win the heavyweight title for an unprecedented fourth time. Holmes dominated the fight, finally causing Angelo Dundee to throw in the towel after the 10th round - the TKO was the only non-decision loss of Ali's career.

"Emotionally, it was a tough fight. I love the guy. He was 38 years old, and they were calling him an old man and washed up. So if I beat him, so what? I was in a no-win situation," Holmes said.

Holmes string of successful title defenses came to an end in September 1985 when he was upset by Michael Spinks in a 15-round decision.

In April 1986, Holmes lost a rematch with Spinks by a disputed split decision and retired -- temporarily.

In January 1988, Holmes -- then 38 -- was lured out of retirement by a $3 million purse to challenge reigning undisputed world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson. Tyson knocked out Holmes in the fourth round, the first and only time Holmes would be knocked out in his lengthy career. Holmes again retired.

Holmes returned to the ring again in 1990. In 1992, he upset the undefeated 1988 Olympic heavyweight champion, Ray Mercer, but lost a 12-round decision to Evander Holyfield in a title fight. Holmes got a last title shot in April 1995. At the age of 45, Holmes lost the WBC title by decision to Oliver McCall.

Since retiring, Holmes has become a successful businessman who owns a nightclub and restaurant, numerous real estate ventures and a boxing training facility. He also does speaking tours, has written an autobiography, been featured in a documentary and starred in a TV reality show.