CANASTOTA, N.Y. (AP) – He had a boxing resume that could stand beside the greatest in his sport. Yet, Larry Holmes always seemed to have to justify himself as a champion.

There was no need for explanations Tuesday. Holmes received the ultimate validation when he took his place in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Joining him in the 2008 class were 11 others boxers and ring personalities chosen by members of the Boxing Writers Association and a panel of international boxing historians.

He will be enshrined as the longest reigning world heavyweight champion in boxing history, holding the title for nearly seven years (1978-85). Holmes’ 20 successful heavyweight title defenses were surpassed by only Joe Louis with 25. He was on the verge of matching Rocky Marciano’s perfect 49-0 mark when he was upset by Michael Spinks for his first loss.

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

“I feel good about myself. I’m not going to let people put me down. I worked hard. I worked hard,” said Holmes, who is 58 but just five years removed from his last fight.

Holmes will be inducted 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.

Holmes compiled a record of 69-6, with 44 knockouts. But there always seemed to be questions about just how good he was, Hall of Fame executive director Ed Brophy said. 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 trainer 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.”

The “Easton Assassin” possessed one of the best left jabs in boxing history, a devastating overhand right and uppercut. Hall of Fame referee Arthur Mercante put Holmes among his top five all-time heavyweights.

“He was underrated,” Mercante said.

Holmes was born in Cuthbert, Ga., and moved to Easton with his family at age 7. He began boxing in the Police Athletic League. 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,” Holmes said. “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 a hard-punching 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 as one of the greatest in boxing history. The two 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,” Holmes said. “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.”

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 nondecision loss of Ali’s career.

“Emotionally, it was a tough fight,” Holmes said. “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 string of successful title defenses ended in 1985 when he was upset by Michael Spinks in a 15-round decision. In 1986, Holmes lost a rematch with Spinks by a disputed split decision and retired – temporarily.

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

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

Since retiring, Holmes has become a successful businessman. He owns a nightclub and restaurant to go with real estate ventures and his boxing training facility. He does speaking tours, was featured in a documentary and starred in a TV reality show.

He also has written an autobiography, which now needs an update – an entry for the Hall of Fame.

AP-ES-12-11-07 1610EST


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