There was the win over Ken Norton, the heavyweight title defences, the sad night against Muhammad Ali, the losses to Michael Spinks, the statements, the battle for recognition and then there was the night that Larry Holmes flew like a soaring eagle in Florida.
The Diplomat Resort and Country Club in Hollywood, Florida, was the venue for the return to the ring, after a three-year exile, by Larry Holmes. His previous fight had been the night in Atlantic City against Mike Tyson. That never worked out for Holmes, but his return was obvious.
Holmes was a few pounds heavier than he had been for the Tyson loss and he was 41 when he climbed through the ropes for a 10-round fight. In the opposite corner was a boxer with sad eyes called Tim “Doc” Anderson. To be fair, Big Tim was not much of a scrapper, but he ducked and dived, took odd fights, landed phantom punches, jumped on the floor and generally served a role on a circuit of boxing shame. He was ideal for Holmes that April night.
Anderson lasted just 123 seconds of the first round, that is three rounds less than he went with George Foreman. Anderson had beaten Lupe Guerra over 10 rounds two years earlier – that’s the same infamous Lupe who Frank Bruno beat in his debut so many, many boxing moons ago. The Holmes result was not fixed, there was no need to pay anybody to lose – Anderson never had a chance.
There was, however, real hostility in the air. At the back of the hall, watching and unimpressed was former WBC heavyweight champion, Trevor Berbick. He had lost to Holmes over 15 rounds 10 years earlier. He wanted a rematch, but what he really needed was money. Berbick was down on his luck. The year before Berbick had split with his wife, been charged for the alleged rape of a babysitter and then arrested for kidnapping his daughter. Berbick wanted more than a rematch, he wanted revenge.
Holmes dismissed him: “He’s not getting a fight – I beat him once, won every round and I don’t like his attitude.” The post-fight conference came to end, Holmes went to his suite, but Berbick kept ranting. He had an audience of writers, the fight had been rubbish and they needed something.
“The hate for me is all about Jenny from Jacksonville,” said Berbick, the press were interested in Jenny. “She broke up my marriage and that is because of him [Holmes]. She is his sweetheart and I can prove it.” It’s a typically complicated love story, like all bitter disputes of the broken heavyweight heart. Holmes had a holiday home in Jacksonville and perhaps it was the mention of the place in Berbick’s rambling confession that made the wife of Larry Holmes pause a second and listen. She no doubt heard Berbick call Jenny from Jacksonville her husband’s “sweetheart.”
A minute later, up in the suite, she told Larry the news. He was furious, he got dressed and chased downstairs in a huff of denial to confront Berbick. A scuffle in the lobby took place, punches were thrown, jackets ripped and the police separated the two boxers. There was a peace, temporary. The press followed Berbick outside to the car park, they wanted more and Berbick, looking stunned and a mess from the grapple, continued with the sordid details of an affair that went wrong. He blamed dirty Larry again. This was a great story.
The reporters surround Berbick at the back end of a giant black limousine. All the cameras are rolling, the men listening and Berbick struggling to get his message out, and then there is a moment of pause. One man glances off to his side, then another, then another and their eyes are wide in disbelief and glee. In that great moment of pause there is a new sound, a heavy and rapid sound in the Florida night. The sound is getting closer, louder, more thunderous and then the cameras turn and running at full-pace, every ounce of his 17-stone frame bursting with violent speed is Larry Holmes on the flat roof of the stretch limousine. And then time stops, nobody can move, as Larry takes off – he is in the air, flying with his legs, arms and mouth pumping and then gravity and hate win and he lands on Berbick. Crash! Several others are collateral in the fall.
They are separated again by police and stunned reporters. Berbick is driven home, Larry returned to his suite with his honour restored. That is the night Larry Holmes flew.
And the players now in this night of flying wonder?
Tim “Doc” Anderson had five more fights, beat a man he was meant to lose to and was poisoned in the rematch. He belongs to a boxing game that nobody wants to embrace, a rancid business of fixed fights in lonely rings. Anderson’s manager was a foul-mouthed Florida chancer called Rick Elvis Parker. A tricky man with few morals higher than the heels on his cowboy boots. In 1995 the doomed pair clashed for the last time and Anderson shot Parker, shot him so many times that he had to reload. Parker died trying to get his engraved Glock from his fat sock. Anderson is in prison for life.
Trevor Berbick did eventually serve 15 months for a sexual assault and then continued to fight. He divided his time between makeshift pulpits in store-front churches and dubious boxing promotions. It was a hard fall from grace for the former champion. He quit in 2000, he was the Canadian heavyweight champion and had failed a brain scan. He was 45 then, and 52 when one night in Jamaica, outside a church in Portland, he was beaten to death with an iron pipe by his nephew, Harold. There would never be a rematch with Holmes.
So that leaves Black Cloud, as Holmes was known in his greatest fighting days. Well, he finished that crazy night of limousine jumping at the Diplomat by playing with his band, Marmalade. He beat Ray Mercer in a truly impressive win the following year, lost to Evander Holyfield for three titles the same year, lost a title fight to Oliver McCall outdoors at Caesars in 1995 and finished his boxing life with a win over Butterbean in 2002. We now know and respect him as one of the finest fighters in history. And he could fly, trust me.
Jenny of Jacksonville is still free as a bird, somewhere deep with her mysteries in Florida.