32 years ago today one of heavyweight boxing’s longest reigns as world champion came to a controversial end, as light-heavyweight ruler Michael Spinks moved up in weight and challenged heavyweight king Larry Holmes. Meeting at The Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, 35-year-old Holmes and 29-year-old Spinks put on a fight that was later called the 1985 upset of the year.
Most experts felt the much bigger and harder-hitting heavyweight champion, who was making the twenty-first defence of his championship (alphabet-wise only the IBF belt was on the line, Holmes having fought for the new organisation since late 1984, but no-one doubted Homes status as the true heavyweight champion), would be able to see off Spinks, despite the light-heavyweight ruler being the younger, fresher and faster man. No fighter in history had been able to move up from being the light-heavyweight champion and grab the heavyweight championship, and the odds said Spinks would not change things.
Indeed, there was a real sense of boxing history in the air that September night in 1985; for if Holmes won he’d have gone 49-0 as a pro – thus tying the beloved Rocky Marciano’s legendary numbers. But it was Spinks, with his “Jinx” that wound up going into the record books, as he shocked Holmes and the odds by pulling off a highly controversial 15-round unanimous decision victory. There were no knockdowns in the fight and there never looked like being a KO either way, but the fight was fought at a good pace and it was engrossing.
Holmes, never a guy who was overly fond of boxing judges, Vegas ones in particular, felt he’d done enough to have kept his title after the fifteen tiring rounds (the ageing Holmes simply couldn’t pin down the slippery and frustrating Spinks, and due to the miles on his clock he’d grown weary chasing his skittering target) but he was worried the three officials might side with the challenger. His concern was proven to have been valid, as foe, who was almost two-stone the lighter man, was awarded with a close but unanimous decision.
Holmes, who had weighed-in at slightly over 221-pounds for the fight, was devastated, soon to turn angry. It was shortly after his first loss as a pro that Holmes came out with his infamous, “Marciano couldn’t carry my jockstrap,” comment. Annoyed that he’d, as he saw it, been robbed of a very special place in boxing history, Holmes took his frustrations out on the wrong person – the treasured Marciano. Winning himself no new fans despite the fact that many people agreed that he should have been given the win over the man who had been light-heavyweight champion since the summer of 1981, Holmes instead received a ton of bad press.
Now 48-1, the soon to be 36-year-old vowed to get revenge over Spinks in a rematch. But, as fight fans surely know, Holmes was to fall victim to an even more debatable decision loss at The Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas some seven months later – this time Holmes going home with a split verdict scored against him. Holmes, as bitter as can be, retired from boxing after his second defeat – only to come back after a break of just less than two years, to fight the man who would subsequently destroy Spinks inside a single round; Mike Tyson. Holmes lost this fight, too, and he was stopped for the only time in his illustrious career at the same time.
As much as the Tyson KO hurt him physically, however, the two losses he suffered at the hands of Michael Spinks in 1985 and ’86 wounded Holmes – to this day – a lot more emotionally. Also to this day, is the fact that both Holmes-Spinks fights garner much debate amongst fans. Who really won fights one and two between the two greats?