Sunday, July 28, 2002

Holmes beats Butterbean, then retires

Associated Press Writer

Eric "Butterbean" Esch is backed into a corner by Larry Holmes.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        NORFOLK, Va. — When Larry Holmes entered the ring, “Ain't No Stopping Us Now” blared from the speakers and the crowd roared its approval. It was just like old times for Holmes.

        But it didn't take long for the 52-year-old to show his age against Eric “Butterbean” Esch on Saturday night.

        When Holmes danced in his corner during introductions, his flabby midsection jiggled. When he fired off his once-lethal left jab, his opponent shook it off as if his nose itched.

        And when he sat on the stool in his corner between rounds, he panted like a dog in afternoon heat, his stomach jutting out, the sweat pouring off his brow.

        There was no stopping the former champion.

        He won a unanimous decision over Esch in a 10-round sideshow that pitted a graying grandfather against a blubbery, baldheaded brawler who had never fought more than four rounds.

        If boxing had a senior tour, Holmes would be a champion again.

        But it doesn't, so the proud, paunchy former heavyweight is hanging up his gloves — for now. Again.

        After the victory, he said it would be his last fight. But he's said that before — seven times, by his count. He says that, for the right money, he'd be happy to climb back into the ring again.

        “As far as I'm concerned, this is it,” he said. “I don't think anyone's going to offer me a lot of money.”

        He made $250,000 for the fight, to $100,000 for Esch.

        Holmes, who insists that he has fought into his 50s because he loves it, criticized promoters Don King and Bob Arum for not promoting his last fight.

        “I've made a lot of people a lot of money in my 33 years of boxing. Don King, Bob Arum and other promoters benefitted from me. But these guys didn't have the guts enough to send me off properly in my last fight,” he said.

        It was the first fight for Holmes (69-6) in nearly two years — since he beat 49-year-old Mike Weaver. His rust was surpassed only by his slow feet, wooden gait and timid approach to the wild-swinging Esch.

        He opened the fight with 10 consecutive jabs, but none did any damage. Both fighters seemed afraid of each other: Esch refusing to attack until Holmes did, and Holmes circling while he gathered the energy to punch again.

        By the end of the round, the crowd of 7,097 at Norfolk Scope arena was booing the lack of action. The boos continued through the fifth round.

        Neither fighter was ever in trouble. By the sixth round, Esch (63-3-3) was bleeding from a cut over his left eye, but it wasn't serious.

        In the 10th, a haymaker by Esch knocked Holmes backward and he appeared to trip, falling into the ropes in the corner. Referee Chris Wollesen gave him a standing eight-count.

        “The ref started counting and I thought, "Are you drunk?' I've been in this game 33 years and I know whether I fell or not,” he said.

        As for Esch, Holmes was impressed with the guy he once described as a “fat slob impersonating a fighter.”

        “He's more than a four-round fighter,” Holmes said. “He did not sit down once tonight. He's big, he's heavy. He doesn't have all the skills, but he has the heart to fight 10 rounds.”

        In an undercard bout, Jacqui Frazier-Lyde stopped Heidi Hartmann in the third round of a super middleweight fight.

        Frazier-Lyde, the 40-year-old daughter of former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, improved to 9-1 with the victory.


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