THERE’S nothing more frustrating for a journalist to be given a sensational scoop only to have the elation dashed by being told it’s off the record.
It’s happened to me many times and what world heavyweight champion Larry Holmes revealed forty years ago in Las Vegas I’ve had to keep to myself until today.
Larry Holmes, pictured with his wife Diane and daughter Kandy Larie, had to put them in a safe house
Holmes won a pulsating fight with Cooney’s trainer throwing in the towel in the 13th
Holmes, before he defended his title against Gerry Cooney on June 11, 1982, set up his training camp at Caesars Palace.
The Holmes-Cooney clash sold itself.
Both men were unbeaten and Cooney – the Deontay Wilder of his day – had knocked out 21 of his 25 opponents with his dynamite left hook.
America hadn’t had a white world heavyweight champion since Rocky Marciano retired undefeated 27 years before.
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That gave promoter Don King the ammunition he needed to provoke extra publicity by disgracefully turning the fight into a Black v White race war – much to Holmes and Cooney’s disgust.
It was all the white supremacists in the States needed to unload their bile and issue Holmes with death threats.
I have covered nearly eighty world heavyweight championships – many of them highly controversial – but the build-up before Holmes and Cooney entered the ring in the 30,000-seater open-air arena built on Caesars Palace parking lot was unquestionably the most repugnant and toxic.
Whenever I had interviewed Holmes before previous defences he was always relaxed, smiling and happy to talk.
But when I went to see Larry in his hotel suite six weeks before the fight with “The Great White Hope” as King called Cooney, I realised as soon as I walked through the door he was an extremely worried man.
There was every reason for him being morose and not his usual laid-back amusing self.
He then told me he had to move his wife Diane and his kids out of their home in Eastern, Pennsylvania, to a secret place of safety after a carload of rednecks with rifles had shot up his mailbox on his front lawn.
In the febrile atmosphere of the time that news item almost certainly would have made headlines worldwide.
Larry must have seen the journalistic light shining in my eyes because he quickly added “Please don’t write about it because I’m in enough trouble with this black and white nonsense already.
“I believe what happened in Eastern is a warning to me and my family and if the story appears in the press it could encourage other racial idiots.”
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White supremacist groups relentlessly continued to harass Holmes right up to the opening bell and issued warnings that their agents were ready to shoot Holmes as he entered the ring.
The Las Vegas Police Department took the threats very seriously and deployed their top marksmen at various vantage points overlooking the ring just in case there was an assassin lurking in the crowd.
Fortunately the only violence that night was confined within the ropes. How Holmes managed to concentrate on beating Cooney considering the stress he was under was remarkable.
Cooney certainly gave him many awkward moments but he wasn’t in Holmes’ league and after being floored twice his trainer Victor Valle threw in the towel in the 13th round to save his man from being knocked out.
FOES TO FRIENDS
I met up with the pair of them in London last week before they began a four-gig tour of England as part of the celebrations to mark their epic battle four decades ago.
That’s when a grinning Larry released me from my vow of silence and said it was now OK to tell the mailbox saga.
Diane who was on the trip with them told me to this day she won’t allow a mailbox in front of their house.
She said: “I’ll never forget how scared I was – I thought they were out to murder me and the children.
“Since that happened I have insisted the mailman makes his deliveries at my front door.”
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I’m delighted to say Larry, 72 and Gerry 65, are in great shape and despite King’s efforts to whip-up hatred between them, they have been bosom pals since they bumped into each other by chance in Atlantic City, just eight months after they fought.
As they both said: “We didn’t care about black and white – we cared about each other.”
Don King sparked racial hatred in the build-up by dubbing the fight ‘White vs Black’