Boxing great Larry Holmes grew up in the small Pennsylvania city of Easton and never left, despite a long, lucrative career that took him to the pinnacle of his sport. Too much temptation in New York or Las Vegas, he says — Easton kept the former heavyweight champ out of trouble.
Now the city will be able to claim Holmes for all time. A 9-foot bronze statue that captures the "Easton Assassin" on offense, throwing that famous left jab, will be unveiled and dedicated this weekend in a riverfront park along — where else? — Larry Holmes Drive.
Holmes, who built a business empire in his hometown that included office buildings and restaurants, has never felt fully appreciated in a city where he says some people are jealous that a seventh-grade dropout dared to reach such heights.
But the 66-year-old son of Georgia sharecroppers knows what he did, both in the ring and outside of it, and he says that's good enough for him. He'll be on hand Sunday as a high school marching band leads a parade in his honor and a few of the fighters he met in the ring, including Gerry Cooney and Michael Spinks, help pay tribute to one of the best heavyweights of all time.
"It's mind boggling. Whoever thought Larry Holmes, a little black kid from Cuthbert, Georgia, gets a big monument on a street named Larry Holmes, next to Larry Holmes Enterprises?" said Holmes, who moved to Easton with his mother and 11 siblings when he was a young boy.
"I never thought that."
Holmes never wanted a statue, either, but relented when members of his family told him it was time. Diane Holmes, his wife of nearly 36 years, formed a nonprofit group, Heart of a Legend, to raise money for the monument.
"There are NBA players who have ginormous statues in their hometown, and they've left their hometown. He started here and he hasn't gone anywhere. So we needed to make this right," said Holmes' niece, Nina Alexander, a member of Heart of a Legend.
Holmes was heavyweight champion from 1978 to 1985, defending a version of the title 20 times, second only to Joe Louis. He beat an aging Muhammad Ali — who'd hired Holmes as his sparring partner years earlier — and stopped Cooney in the 13th round of a heavily hyped, racially charged title bout that pit the champion against a challenger reluctantly cast as America's latest "Great White Hope."
Perpetually underrated during his career, Holmes retired 69-6 with 44 knockouts. He was inducted into boxing's Hall of Fame in 2008.
Mayor Sal Panto, who grew up with Holmes in an Easton housing project and helped support his friend's boxing dream by making and selling fried dough, said Holmes became champion at a time when the city was down on its luck.
"His championship gave people a renewed pride in the city," Panto said. "His legacy is going to be the fact that he lifted up the people of Easton by the bootstraps and said, 'Look, we can do this, we can turn our city around. If I can do this, you can do this.'"
Holmes also devoted time and money to youth organizations.
"He's done for the city, he's done for so many people," Alexander said. "I think sometimes he goes unrecognized and it's just heartbreaking. This is a long time coming."