6. Larry Holmes

The right guy at the wrong time.

When Holmes turned professional in 1973, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman were hogging the limelight and no one seemed to notice Larry. He sharpened his tools during sparring with Ali, Frazier and Earnie Shavers.

Frazier and Foreman walked away while Ali was still squeezing every last drop out of his career in ’78 – it was time for Holmes to strike. He beat Shavers in a title eliminator and then faced WBC champion Ken Norton in one of the best heavyweight fights of all time.

After 15 brutal rounds, Holmes’ hand was raised and a legend should have been born – except the world was still captivated by Ali, who had just reclaimed the WBA title by beating Leon Spinks.

They eventually fought, and despite boxing as sympathetically as the rules would allow, Holmes gained few fans by publicly hammering a worldwide icon. The fractured state of the heavyweight division also weakened Holmes’ profile, despite wins over Trevor Berbick, Spinks and Gerry Cooney, all of whom were outclassed.

Michael Spinks beat Holmes in consecutive meetings to ruin his chances of matching Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 ledger before a peak Tyson smashed him inside four rounds. He returned in 1991, with the division still very strong, and did himself justice by remaining a contender, though naturally could not reclaim his peak form.

With one of the best jabs in history and an intelligence that shone through, Holmes was a special talent.

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