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Saturday, February 8, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Grandfather Holmes Wins Decision, Earns Respect -- 42-Year-Old Beats Mercer After Shaky Start

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - Larry Holmes, who never got the respect he thought he was due when he was world heavyweight champion, got it here early today. At age 42, a grandfather.

He scored a unanimous decision over previously undefeated Ray Mercer, a 4-1 favorite who is almost 12 years younger.

Holmes, who had scoffed at the oddsmakers all week, survived a shaky start and finished crowing like a barnyard rooster.

He won easily on all three judges' cards, 117-112, 117-111 and 115-113, and had the crowd chanting his name at the end.

"Everybody says you have to lay down and die when you get to be 40," Holmes said when it was over. "I didn't do that."

Holmes, who rose from a carwash worker in Easton, Pa., to world heavyweight boxing champion, extended his record to 54-3 and regained some of the respect he lost when he was knocked out by Mike Tyson in 1988, ending his first comeback.

Last night, six fights into his second comeback, after 37 knockouts and a onetime string of 48 consecutive wins as a professional, his career seemed to be alive again at Convention Hall.

Holmes beat a good heavyweight, a former Army sergeant who was trying to climb into heavyweight title contention with this fight. Mercer, who is 18-1 with 14 knockouts, probably would have landed a major-money bout with George Foreman in June had he won. That fight will likely go to Holmes now, and it will probably be in June.

Mercer, of Newark, N.J., earned $1.2 million for these 12 rounds, by far his biggest payday and well worth the World Boxing Organization championship he was forced to give up when he agreed to fight Holmes. The WBO suspended him because he did not fight its mandatory challenger, Michael Moorer.

Mercer, who said he planned to take the fight to Holmes from the beginning, did just that early. He opened the bout by meeting Holmes in center ring with two stiff jabs and forced the ex-champion to retreat for most of the first four rounds.

In Round 1, Mercer sent Holmes reeling on his heels with a jab, and Holmes had to cover in a corner.

It wasn't all Mercer, however. Holmes stood his ground twice in the first two rounds and popped Mercer with right hands to the head and the body that got the crowd roaring, but Mercer never blinked, and he kept pushing forward.

In the third round, Mercer pushed Holmes into a corner and let Holmes flail away, taking Holmes' best shots in rope-a-dope fashion.

But if Mercer was counting on Holmes to wear out early, he soon discovered that it wasn't going to happen.

After four rounds, Holmes had hit Mercer with everything but his stool and was still punching at the bell, only to see Mercer grin and wave at him to keep the punches coming.

Twice, Holmes anchored himself in a corner and stuck his left hand out to hold off Mercer.

Although Mercer hardly gave Holmes a chance to rest, and despite his being outpointed early, Holmes seemed to pick up confidence as the fight wore on and found time to play to the crowd. Once, when a fan yelled for him to jab, Holmes unleased two quick jabs and a combination and shouted back through his mouthpiece, "Is that what you want?"

And once in the sixth round, pushed into a corner, he took a second to look directly into a TV camera, which was just inches from his face.

By the seventh round, Holmes was picking up points, pounding away at Mercer's body and popping Mercer's head with his jab. After a fierce exchange at the end of the round, the crowd stood and applauded in appreciation.

By the 10th round, with Holmes now boxing Mercer on even terms at least, the crowd began chanting, "Lar-ry, Lar-ry."

And then it became obvious that Mercer would not only fail to get his predicted knockout but had also lost the edge he had built in the early going.

Holmes, who earned $1 million for his efforts, said he was not fighting for money this time but for pride. He was still trying to gain the respect he felt he never got in 20 successful title defenses from 1978 to '85, including a technical knockout that sent Muhammad Ali into final retirement in 1980. Like Ali and so many before him, he refused to believe that his legs were gone, that his skills were but a shadow of what they once were. And he might be right.

Holmes' first comeback was a mistake, he said before this fight. He said he wasn't prepared for Tyson, fought only for the $3 million purse and was hoping to get lucky. This time, he prepared for 13 months and easily won five tuneup bouts before facing Mercer.

This comeback is not for money, and this time he insists he's ready.

Note -- Jimmy Paul, a former lightweight champion who had been away from boxing for 46 months before returning last August, battered Todd Foster of Great Falls, Mont., to his first defeat in 23 professional fights last night in a bout on the Holmes-Mercer undercard.

Foster was knocked down by a right hand in the fourth round, knocked down again by two left hooks in the sixth and cut badly over and under his right eye. The fight was stopped 27 seconds into the seventh round.

FIGHT NIGHT

-- THE OUTCOME: Larry Holmes, 42, beat Ray Mercer, who is almost 12 years younger, by unanimous decision.

-- THE SCORECARD: Holmes won easily on all three judges' cards - 117-112, 117-111 and 115-113.

-- NEXT UP: Holmes probably will land a major-money bout with George Foreman in June.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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