Larry Holmes is one of the greatest and most respected heavyweight champions of all time – so to see him destroy a rival by running onto the roof of a car to deliver a WWE-style flying kick in a fight of street remains one of the craziest spectacles of boxing.
Holmes, who made 20 heavyweight title defenses and fought everyone from Muhammad Ali to Mike Tyson, was a smart 6-foot-3 technician in the ring with a tremendous kick. So he’s not the kind of man you’d imagine charging onto the roof of a limo in a bright white tracksuit, then launching himself two-footed at Trevor Berbick – cutting through a horde of police and onlookers like a dream combination of Eric Cantona and Macho Man Randy Savage.
Except the TV footage does exist and it’s amazing, only missing commentary from Jim Ross (“Like Gawd as a witness, Berbick is snapped in half”) and WWE boss Vince McMahon (“What a man- uh-var!”) as the finishing touch. But how on earth did two world heavyweight champions end up rolling around in a parking lot in street clothes in 1991?
The bad blood goes back to when they met in the ring a decade earlier. Undefeated world champion Holmes won a clear 15-round decision at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, but Berbick – a big pre-fight underdog – kept him competitive and surprised many by going the distance. He was clamoring for a rematch, but didn’t think it was a special, one-off parking lot game 10 years later.
Holmes, who came in 48-0 before tasting defeat, was in comeback mode in 1991. He had lost his heavyweight crown to Michael Spinks in two close and contentious fights, then was stopped by a Tyson from 21 years old. But even at 41, Holmes still struggled a bit in the tank and found his way back to victory by knocking out journeyman Tim Anderson in one lap.
Then came a far more entertaining post-fight press conference than this fight as a perfectly suited Berbick interrupted things – in true pro wrestling style – to demand a rematch and accuse Holmes, bizarrely, of ruining his marriage. by sending a call girl to see him the day before their fight. As the cameras rolled, Holmes – whose wife and children were present at the event – understandably left the stage quickly, but Berbick remained to entertain the press.
“If you want a street fight, I’ll break all his ribs,” Berbick shouted. “He used a sweetheart to ruin my entire married life! That’s why he doesn’t like me. Jenny from Jacksonville! I have evidence and I have tapes… All the problems I have come from him. My children are also suffering.
Berbick had briefly held a version of the world heavyweight title five years earlier, but lost it in two rounds to a 20-year-old ‘Iron Mike’, stumbling sadly around the ring in knee-high socks as he was trying to regain his balance. Little did he know that Holmes – silently furious at what had happened – was about to bring him down in arguably even more dramatic style.
By the time the television crew then caught up with Berbick, he was in the parking lot, his suit much more disheveled and surrounded by police, accusing Holmes of assault. “Everyone saw him kicking and punching me!” he shouted. “Larry Holmes kicked and punched me.” But there was no evidence and Holmes had nearly got away with the perfect crime – except that “Easton’s killer” chose that exact moment for the ultimate sneak attack: running over an entire limo, before to deliver a mid-air strike in frankly heroic style for a man in his 40s.
The only thing missing was Jacksonville’s Jenny as a glamorous valet and Larry in a leisure suit hanging out the leg as he pinned Berbick to the tarmac for the three count. Instead, police and screaming onlookers fought to separate the couple. By the time it was over, Berbick’s suit looked more than ready for the dry cleaners – although surprisingly no arrests had been made or charges laid. Maybe the law enforcement officers watching assumed they had been hallucinating the whole thing.
You could say that was irrelevant for Holmes, who had the misfortune to follow in the footsteps of Ali (who had used young Larry as a sparring partner early in his career) as heavyweight champion. . Holmes reportedly cried after defeating a damaged 38-year-old version of Ali in 1980 – but the public viewed him as a surly, professional champion; a palliative between the charismatic and breathtaking Ali and the brooding menace of Tyson.
That feeling of being undervalued gave Holmes a bitter edge he never lost and helps explain why one of the most cerebral big heavyweights ended up leaping onto the roof of a car to fly to an ex-adversary. True, no apology was received. “I didn’t like it,” Holmes said years later. “He was just arrogant – no respect; no respect for my wife and my family, my friends or anyone.
“I was a better boxer than him and my personality was better than his. So he wanted to act stupid and I acted stupid with him, which I shouldn’t have done.
Holmes fought for another 11 years after his street fight with Berbick, dropping points to Evander Holyfield and Oliver McCall in world title challenges but possessing enough veteran smarts to pull off a few upsets, beating the likes of Ray Mercer. His last fight was in 2001 when the 52-year-old took on self-styled four-round king Eric ‘Butterbean’ Esch, overtaking him in 10 rounds. After 75 fights in 29 years, only Tyson could stop Holmes.
Berbick tragically lost his life at the same age when Holmes finally retired, the 52-year-old murdered in his native Jamaica by his own nephew in 2006. Yet for a heavyweight titleholder whose reign no lasted only eight months, Berbick had a unique career moments. He was the last man to defeat Ali in a sad spectacle in 1981, he was the opponent when Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in 1986 and his feud with Holmes has – if nothing else – delivered the one of the amazing and unforgettable street brawls boxing has ever seen.
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