Holmes defended title against Berbick nearly 40 years ago
He was the most successful heavyweight champ of the late 70s and early 1980s, and nearly 40 years ago, Larry Holmes retained his title but was taken the distance for the first time as champ against a tough Jamaican-born opponent.
“The Easton Assassin,” Holmes stepped through the ropes at Caesar’s Palace Pavilion on April 11th, 1981, having defended his WBC Heavyweight title eight consecutive times and all by knockout or TKO.
His opponent that night was a little-known WBC mid-ranked contender named, Trevor Berbick. Berbick, who was under Don King’s promotion, but had never fought in the United States So, Holmes was an overwhelming favorite.
After all, he had dispatched legendary Muhammad Ali in the same building the previous October in a 10 round demolition of the “Greatest of All Time.”
Further, even though he was going against a lightly regarded opponent, Holmes still said leading up to and after the fight that he took things seriously with the little-known, Berbick.
And for his part, Berbick entered the ring 18 – 1 – 1, was not intimidated and was even taunting Holmes in round one. The two fighters exchanged glares after the bell and then Holmes did a two handed shove to Berbick enraging him. Berbick then tossed aside legendary ref,, Mills Lane trying to get back at Holmes.
However, as entertaining as that was, as the fight wore on, Holmes was clearly much more experienced and talented fighter. He rocked Berbick with a strong right in the second round and continued to score with his trademark left jab and more hard rights behind it.
Although, he was never able to knock Berbick down, he did land that big right on several occasions throughout the fight and basically had things on “cruise control” entering the final rounds.
Berbick could not mount much in the way of offense and Holmes went the 15 round distance for the first time since he captured the title in a wild 1978 win over Ken Norton.
The lopsided scoring from the three ringside judges was topped by Judge Joe Swessell giving Holmes every round of the fight at 150 – 135. The Associated Press had scored the fight, 147 – 138 for the champ.
With the win that night, Holmes improve to 36 – 0 with 27 KOs. The “Easton Assassin” would go on to a 48 – 0 record before Michael Spinks upset him in September of 1985. Thus, stopping him one win short of matching Rocky Marciano’s all-time heavyweight unbeaten record of 49 – 0.
As we’ve written previously, Holmes lost to Spinx again in a rematch later that year. And then, he was destroyed after a two-year layoff by Mike Tyson in January of 1988. That meant that a fighter who had won 2o straight title defenses had now been beaten in three straight fights.
Holmes continued to fight on into the early 90s winning 6 straight fights, including defeating unbeaten Contender and former Olympic Gold Medalist, “Merciless” Ray Mercer in 1992.
That set Holmes up for a challenge for the Undisputed Heavyweight championship against Evander Holyfield, but Holyfield dominated the aging Holmes in a 12-round unanimous decision. Homes later also lost to Oliver McCall in 1995 by 12-round decision for the WBC belt and it was the last time that he fought for one of the Big three recognized Heavyweight Championship organizations.
Holmes retired after defeating Eric “Butterbean” Esch in July of 2002 with a 68 – 6 record, and he was enshrined into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2008.
As for Berbick, he famously defeated Muhammad Ali himself, just eight months after the Holmes loss in December of 1981. Berbick lost a key fight to fellow contender, American Renaldo Snipes, in October of 1982 derailing a chance at a heavyweight title shot.
But, eventually did capture the WBC belt with a 12-round decision over Pinklon Thomas in March of 1986.
But, Tyson destroyed Berbick in just two rounds in November of that year and Berbick never fought for the heavyweight championship again.
He finished with a 49 – 11 – 1 record.
Berbick and Ho;mes had an equally famous dust-up when ten years after their fight in the ring, This as the two were involved in a brawl outside of a local fight card in South Florida in 1991. It started with Berbick complaining on camera to the media about Holmes wife having tried to wreck his marriage by lying about Berbick.
There was then, an off camera altercation with and authorities, including the local police, outside of the venue trying to restrain and help Berbick. He was on camera claiming to having been kicked and punched by Holmes.
And that’s when, Holmes climbed on top of a limousine and launched himself, like a professional wrestler with a drop kick at Berbick dropping him to the ground, again!
See it for yourself here:
No charges were ever filed in the now hilarious incident.
While Holmes will never be given the same level of status that Ali gained the 60s and 70s, nor was he has feared a notorious a knockout artist as Tyson in 86 – 90, he still belongs among the all-time greats.
This for the overwhelming success he had in the heavyweight division, which included. his 20 successful title defenses, which has only been topped by Joe Louis and Wladimir Klitschko.