Exclusive Interview With Mike Weaver On His Classic Fight With Larry Holmes

Imagine, fellow fight fan, if you can, a card that features the heavyweight king fighting a live underdog, this in a fight that turned out to be a thriller – with the great duo of Roberto Duran and Carlos Palomino serving up under-card, yes, undercard action!

This is what went down in New York in June of 1979. Heavyweight boss Larry Holmes met a dangerous slugger in former marine Mike Weaver, and fans were treated to two special fights. Today, at close to 73 years of age but looking years younger (as is the case with Palomino, who has also turned 70 but doesn’t look a day over 55), Weaver has some career to look back on.

Weaver, who faced so many big names during his exciting career, became a heavyweight champion in 1980, this with a stunning KO of John Tate. But it could be argued that the Holmes fight of ’79 was the best fight Weaver ever fought, even though he lost.

Here, Mike, or Michael, kindly takes the time to speak about that fight and other things for the benefit of ESB readers:

Q: It’s a real honour to be able to speak with you, champ. First of all, the Holmes fight was a truly great fight! Can you remember who you sparred with for that fight? I know its 45 years ago…….

Mike Weaver: “Yeah, I spared with Ken Norton, and three other guys. I had maybe a month to get ready for that fight. I had beaten somebody (Oliver Philipps, KO 4 in March of 1979), and they said to me, do you want to fight Larry Holmes? It was maybe a month’s notice. We went to New York for a press conference, and we stayed in New York. We didn’t get any sparring for the first week we were there. It took a week before we could get anybody to work with. I didn’t have no time to train, really – maybe a couple of weeks.”

Q: That’s amazing, because you came close to beating him as it was. If you had had more time to get ready for Holmes, who knows what might have happened?

M.W: “Right. I maybe only had a few weeks to train when I was in New York.”

Q: That fight was probably the last great heavyweight title fight of the 1970s, which as you know was full of great heavyweight fights…..

M.W: “Exactly. You know what I was [going into that fight]? I was a tough club fighter who might last two or three rounds. No-one knew who I was. But I told people I would beat Holmes, that it would be a tough fight, that he would know he was in a fight.”

Q: And you sure did that. Was it a knockdown you scored, I think in the 4th round? They called it a slip.

M.W: “Yeah, they called it a slip. But Larry Holmes called me one day, I think about four or five years ago. And he told me that I whipped his butt! He told me that I hurt him a few times. He told me that himself.”

Q: Mutual respect. Two great fighters. The thing about you, Mr. Weaver, is you had great stamina, along with your other assets like power. Holmes looked so tired in the later rounds.

M.W: “He was. He was breathing hard. I thought to myself – I got him! I thought that. But he was a champion and he came back. I felt that he was tired but he kept fighting. He told me in the ring, he said to me that I would have to kill him to take his title. He said that right there in the ring.”

Q: Is Holmes the greatest you fought, because you fought a bunch of great fighters?

M.W: “Yes, Holmes is the best I fought, of course. No doubt.”

Q: He caught you late on, he poured it on with his uppercut, dropping you in the 11th round and stopping you in round 12. Was Holmes the hardest puncher you fought?

M.W: “No, he wasn’t a hard puncher. I fought a lot of guys who punched harder. He was just an average puncher, with a great jab. But no, he wasn’t no hard puncher like, well, I could name a few guys I fought who hit harder than him. It was more fatigue when he got me. As a matter of fact, the last little strength I had, I used that to get up (laughs).”

Q: That’s a great line! You lost to Holmes, but of course you went on to become champion with your famous KO of John Tate. Is it true that Ken Norton gave you your “Hercules” nickname?

M.W: “Yeah, I’d hear him in the gym, ‘Hercules this, and Hercules that.’ It was a great compliment.”

Q: And it’s also true you flattened a guy in the Marines over an argument about the jukebox, who happened to be the Marine heavyweight champion?

M.W: “That’s right. We both wanted to put a song in the jukebox and he shoved me and I pushed him back and he swung at me but he missed and I fought back and I knocked the guy out. Later, people were telling me I should join the Marine Corp boxing team, that the guy I had knocked out was the heavyweight champion of the Marine Corp!”

Q: That’s an awesome story! The fight with Holmes that you had was great, and on the same card, fans got Duran against Palomino! I guess you were too busy focusing on your fight to have watched that one?

M.W: “I actually think I did watch it. I met Carlos Palomino in the service, he was in the air-force, I think. But, yeah, I met him.”

Q: Carlos is like you, as in he doesn’t age! You both look years younger than you are!

M.W: “Thank you! Yes, I try to stay young.”

Q: You never make excuses for a loss – apart from maybe you have a real complaint about the Mike Dokes fight, the first one, where you were stopped so prematurely. But the Holmes fight, if you had won that one…..How would that have changed your career?

M.W: “Well, the thing with me was, people were always telling me what I could do if I took the sport seriously. At the time, I was young, and I was chasing girls (laughs). I often took fights on short notice. But then I got a manager who cared about me, and he took control and he guided me right. And Ken Norton one day, he said to me, ‘Michael, if you come to the gym every day, you can really do something in the heavyweight division.’ I first worked with Ken Norton before he fought on [Muhammad] Ali’s card, when Ali fought Bob Foster in Lake Tahoe.”

Q: Did you want to fight Ali?

W.W: “I was supposed to fight him after I beat Tate. Tate was supposed to beat me and then fight Ali. But after [I beat Tate] I heard Ali was going to fight Holmes. So I went to South Africa to fight [Gerrie] Coetzee. Ali would call me, telling me he as gonna beat me up (laughs). Angelo Dundee spoke to me, in London, and he told me, ‘we don’t need you.’ Ali didn’t need to fight me.”

Q: Not at all, and it would have been a bad night for Ali had he fought you in 1980……maybe in his prime it would have been different….

M.W: “In his prime, yeah…”

Q: Well, thanks so, so much for your time, Champ. I appreciate you speaking with me!

M.W: “My pleasure.”

Mike Weaver – a class act, in and out of the ring. Now, fellow fight fans, go and check out the Holmes-Weaver fight of 1979 for a reminder!

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