NEW YORK -- No one ever accused Larry Holmes of being a sentimental old fool, and that wasn't a vocal reminder yesterday on the phone of the warmth of the good old days.
Don King, he said, is "an evil bleeper-bleeper." He reminded us that he always said Mike Tyson would wind up back in jail "and broke, too." Evander Holyfield, he said, "is not the fighter people think he is."
Yeah, but what do you really think, Larry?
It's rougher now that he can't move the way he used to and has to stand in front of opponents and take punches. But "I want all the money I can get," he said.
He argued that he had $13.5 million in real estate, although maybe the hotel he bought for $7.5 million might be worth only $4.5 million now. Business is business and now he was dealing with Bob Arum.
He used to say, "I won't fight for Bob Arum as long as I'm black." But here he is, crazy as it sounds, tuning up for a tuneup, two fights from the heavyweight title he held for 7 1/2 years. Next Tuesday, he meets the human sponge, Jamie "Feather Man" Howe, an absorbent journeyman, on USA cable from Jacksonville.
That will be his last fight before challenging Ray Mercer for the phony WBO title Feb. 7, probably in Atlantic City. The contracts are signed, and never mind that the WBO title doesn't count; the numbers are seven figures.
Holmes beats Mercer -- and it says here that if enough rust peels off, the 42-year-old grandfather stands an excellent chance against a man who doesn't hit hard enough to knock him out or quick enough and often enough to outpoint him -- the next stop is Holyfield.
He figures the heavyweight champion will be available in April or May because Tyson is "gonna be in jail, ain't he? . . . I think he's put his foot in the water. If he did the things people are saying he did, he should be locked up. And given counseling."
See, there is at least the sour cream of human kindness. Holmes sees Tyson as a victim, too.
"I always said Don King would end up with all his money," said Holmes, "and I feel the guys around Mike, nobody really teaches him. Instead of saying, you can't put your hands on that, they'll be saying, let me go next. There's a good side to Mike Tyson. He's a very good person at times."
He was ambiguous about the recent rash of rehashing old charges against King, his former manager/promoter/love-hate object. One side said "it helps everybody's case who's suing Don." Specifically, he thought Tim Witherspoon "should kick Don's behind. I think a lot of what he [Witherspoon] said is true."
Holmes said the attacks on King were indicative of the "racist country we live in."
"Don is an outspoken bleeper-bleeper," he said. "What do they do to outspoken people? They took my title (in two controversial losses to Michael Spinks), remember? They're tired of Don King being too big, [they're] tired of uppity [blacks].
"How often do they do stories on the mob, and there's a whole hour on Don King on PBS. One whole hour."
He sort of agrees with King's assessment of Holyfield. The promoter said Tyson was spelled "M-A-N" while Holyfield, apparently for taking Francesco Damiani as an opponent Nov. 23, was "an affirmative action welfare champion."
Holmes acknowledged that he turned down the Nov. 23 date, purposely asking for too much money ($3 million while being offered $750,000) "because I'm not ready."
He said he flunked his previous comeback, when Tyson knocked him out in four in 1987, because he had only two months to prepare.
This comeback, he said, "started as a game" to entice Michael Spinks into a third fight. He realizes now "he ain't comin' back." The "game" has become deadly serious. Holmes' reflexes have slowed so considerably that Art Card, a journeyman, couldn't miss him in his last fight.
"Card hit me with three good punches all night," Holmes insisted. "That's because I stood right in front of him. I said I wasn't going to dance and move anymore. You gonna stand right in front of someone, you're gonna get hit. Take Holyfield, how many times he get hit? His last fight with George Foreman, he got hit more times than I got hit my whole career.
"What I am doing is learning to accept it, to take it. So I'm gonna get hit. Until somebody whups me, I'm gonna stay right in this game."