Cooney On Norton: “No Matter Who I Fought That Night, I Was Going To Win.”

By Thad Moore on September 16, 2016
Cooney On Norton: “No Matter Who I Fought That Night, I Was Going To Win.”
Norton made a huge tactical mistake by standing toe-to-toe with Cooney in the corner.

Norton clearly had the pedigree and Cooney the momentum as the up-and-coming contender on the rise. This match was set up as the ultimate crossroads battle…

Gerry Cooney was becoming a red hot heavyweight contender who was rapidly gaining a national following. He had moved up the ranks at a solid pace steadily increasing the level of competition. Cooney defeated the once beaten Eddie Lopez, John Dino Dennis, Jimmy Young, and Ron Lyle.

Lyle, who was Cooney’s last ring victim, said that Gerry punched harder than anyone he had ever faced. Next on his agenda would be his fight against former WBC heavyweight champion, Ken Norton. Norton boxed in perhaps the greatest era in the history of the heavyweight division, the 1970’s. He faced off against Ali three times, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Earnie Shavers, Duane Bobick, Jimmy Young, and Jerry Quarry.

Norton, 35, was confident heading into the crossroads match and saw this as his last opportunity to get the rematch he so desired with Holmes. Norton retired for 14 months and came back to vanquish the undefeated Randall “Tex” Cobb.

After Norton lost his third battle to Ali in Yankee Stadium, he collapsed in the ring sobbing on the canvas, incredulous at the verdict. After beating Ali in their first bout by split decision, Norton lost the immediate rematch, also by split decision. Following this loss, Norton suffered a TKO title challenge defeat at the hands of George Foreman. After Norton was awarded the WBC heavyweight title, he lost in his first defense in one of the greatest heavyweight title tilts in history, to Larry Holmes.

Norton clearly had the pedigree and Cooney, 24, the momentum as the up-and-coming contender on the rise. This match was set up as the ultimate crossroads battle.

Cooney remembers being around Norton prior to the fight, including at the pre-fight press conference and weigh-in: “He was an angry guy. He wasn’t saying much. He was a big, strong guy. He was always in great shape and was against me.”

The high-profile bout was to be held at Madison Square Garden. Both boxers had one style of fighting, by moving forward and pressing the action. Cooney’s team was aware that Norton fought at MSG against Duane Bobick four years ago and overwhelmed him in one round. Norton started fast, fed off of the energy from the crowd, and ended the match before the unbeaten Bobick could get started.

Cooney, along with trainer Victor Valle devised a strategy to attack Norton and crowd him right from the opening bell. The mindset was that if Norton couldn’t settle in, like Bobick, Cooney believed they could get to him early. Cooney’s best weapon was his monster left hook and he planned to use it in combination against Norton.

The bout was televised on HBO and was seen live by a pro-Cooney audience. When Norton was introduced, he received some support from the crowd. When the native New Yorker’s name was announced, there was pandemonium inside of the world’s most famous arena. Cooney arrived in the ring in green trunks with orange and white trim, honoring the Irish flag. Norton sported his traditional dark blue trunks.

There were pundits who believed that Norton would provide Cooney with the toughest test of his career. As the bout was underway, Norton landed a left jab to Cooney’s head and body. After that, it was all downhill for the “The Fighting Marine.” Cooney threw the left hook, which connected to the body and landed a right to the head. Norton made a huge tactical mistake by standing toe-to-toe with Cooney in the corner, which signaled the beginning of the end.

Cooney landed a big left hook hurting Norton, followed up by a right hand. Cooney peppered Norton with rights and lefts until referee Tony Perez stepped in and stopped the contest at 54 seconds of the opening round. Cooney landed the last four shots as Norton was seated against the ropes, completely defenseless. Perez waited too long to step in and stop the fight. As the bout was called to a halt, the crowd cheered wildly and Cooney raised his arms in victory.

Cooney shares his reflections on this vitally important career bout: “Norton just lost to Holmes. I was just 24. I was taking vitamins, training my ass off for that fight. I was in the greatest shape of my life. No matter who I fought that night, I was going to win. The crowd was great. I hit him with a right to the body and he buckled. I heard him gasp. As I landed the left hook and right hand, I looked at the referee to stop it. The referee stopped it three or four punches too late. I was stunned by how quick it was. Beating Norton was a great, great moment.”

Our conversation then moved to two undefeated prospects. The first is former WBO junior middleweight champion, Demetrius Andrade. Andrade is 23-0 with 16 KO’s and has dominated the opposition thus far in his career. His most significant victory to date was his WBO super welterweight title win over the previously unbeaten Vanes Martirosyan in 2013. “Boo Boo” fought as an amateur and secured his birth at the Olympics by winning a decision over current WBA welterweight king Keith “One Time” Thurman at the Box-offs.

Cooney feels that the southpaw has a tremendous amount of upside and looks forward to following his career.

“Andrade’s such a talented guy. He takes your power away and counterpunches you to death. Every time you try something, he makes you pay for it. He’s gotta be a finisher. I love Andrade’s ability in the ring. He’s one of the premier guys out there.”

Cooney expects a phenomenal future, as well, for Errol Spence. The 2015 ESPN and Sports Illustrated Prospect of the Year is awaiting a championship opportunity in the welterweight division. Spence has defeated veterans Chris Algieri and Leonard Bundu in his last two fights. As an amateur, “The Truth” was victorious against Julian “J Rock” Williams and Bryant Perrella. Cooney believes that Spence, who is 21-0 with 18 KO’s as a professional, may be a top pound-for-pound fighter in the future.

Cooney believes there is no ceiling to what Spence can achieve in his career.

“Spence is the best young fighter out there. I think he’s gonna be the best of the welterweights. It’s a very good division with Thurman and Garcia. Even Pacquiao-Vargas could be a tough fight.”

To honor the anniversary of the first Sugar Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns fight, we discussed that classic contest and other ring wars involving Leonard.

“Leonard and Hearns were both great fighters. Tommy was more brutal. It went back and forth all night long. It was a great time for boxing. I remember those guys that fought those trilogies. Duran was the best pound-for-pound lightweight ever. In the first Leonard-Duran fight, Ray wanted to show he could punch. He went toe-to-toe with Duran. But Leonard got that rematch back fast. Leonard is a smart professor in boxing.”

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Gerry Cooney Vs Ken Norton 1981

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  1. Old Yank 06:10pm, 09/24/2016

    Cooney has 25 bouts as a heavyweight in the first 4 years of his career—culminating in his win against Norton. He had only 55 bouts as an amateur. He had averages 3.5 rounds per bout leading up to Norton. By any measure he was a lot greener than most pundits will acknowledge.

    It may be that he was simply brought along too fast for us to really grasp how good he could have been. He was a money-making cash cow—the “Great White Hope” for everyone “in his business”. Making hay while the sun shines is not always the best strategy for the fighter—but it did serve his manager and promoter well.

  2. The Thresher 04:43pm, 09/21/2016

    And the whacko twins didn’t help matters

  3. The Thresher 04:42pm, 09/21/2016

    Coulda woulda, if only…...Facts don’t lie. Foreman destroyed him and so did Spinks. Cooney did not have the psyche for boxing. Coulda would a might have.

  4. nicolas 11:51am, 09/18/2016

    ERIC: In the Spinks fight, there is a moment, or several moments where Cooney is looking at his corner, l ike he really does not know what to do. Also, from what I have read Cooney did not seem to realize that he had on occasion Spinks in some trouble, he also I believed had Spinks cut in the fight. The knock downs are really crazy. Cooney does not seem that badly hurt from what I remember, it just seemed like he couldn’t stay up when being hit in that fateful 5th round. The fight was pretty even up to that point. Also, once again like in the Holmes fight, he had not fought in a while. This I think was the biggest obstacle to Cooney having better success, not fighting enough.

    While some may feel that 1981 was Cooney great year because he beat Norton, it was really the beginning of his down fall. First, the fight with Norton was delayed by some three months. In February of 81, there was supposed to be this spectacular card, which did not happen, and I won’t go in to. Cooney was supposed to fight Norton, and Weaver was supposed to fight Tillis. In October was 81, Cooney was set apparently to fight Mike Weaver, and Hagler -Hamsho. Well Tillis filed a law suit, in which he said he was supposed to get the title shot, and he won in court. Why the promoters did not try to offer some stand aside money to Tillis is a mystery, as certainly the fight between Weaver and Cooney would have brought a far bigger gate. Makes me wonder if the Cooney people rally had confidence in Gerry. Though years later, Eddie Futch felt he could have made Gerry Cooney a champion.

    That there are articles still written about Cooney, a boxer who had less than 30 fights, is quite incredible. Though now there have been what many would consider undisputed white heavy weight champions in Fury and the Klitschko’s, Cooney was of course American. He was also at the time perhaps emblematic of the Rocky movies of the 70’s and 80’s, a fantasy of a white heavyweight champion. I am sure he also became the richest boxer never to win a world title.

  5. Sam Young 04:09pm, 09/16/2016

    Gerry Cooney had potential, after he lost to Holmes he should of regrouped and tightened up his defense. I noticed when ever Cooney got hurt he never tried to hold or grab his opponent. After Cooney lost his fight he should of decided whether he wanted to pursue being a Heavyweight Boxing Champion. Either make your mind up do you want to be a Champion then fight at least 2 or 3 good opponents per year, fix your weaknesses, lay of the booze and be serious about it. No Cooney goes to the Bars gets drunk and fights once every 2 to 3 years. That’s not the way to become a Champion. I wasn’t impressed with Michael Spinks as a Heavyweight Champion, sure he won his first fight with Larry Holmes by a close decision, but the second fight Holmes was ROBBED. The first good young in shape Heavyweight Fighter Spinks fought “Mike Tyson” Michael was beaten down like he was a Little Baby. It was a Complete Joke. Michael Spinks was a Great Light Heavyweight Champion, but as a Heavyweight he was a joke.

  6. Eric 02:20pm, 09/16/2016

    Irish…Jerry had so many options other than boxing, but as we know, it was his father who all but forced his sons to lace up the gloves. Read that Jerry wasn’t a bad baseball player. Jerry looked like a movie star, and was highly intelligent. Read in the book, “Hard Luck,” that foxy Barbara Eden said the thing she remembers most about Jerry, was that he was very good looking. Sad thing about the Quarry brothers, they really had no choice to do anything else other than boxing, thanks to Papa Quarry.

  7. Eric 07:06am, 09/16/2016

    Irish…That Spinks loss puzzles me to this day. No doubt that the Spinks Jinx could wreck most light heavyweights, but a 6’6” 232lb Cooney? Spinks weighed as light as 170 1/2lbs in his next to last defense of the light heavyweight title against David Sears. Cooney was oddly a little timid in his fight with Spinks. I had figured that the much larger Cooney would have come out aggressive and blown Spinks out in a couple of rounds at most.

  8. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:00am, 09/16/2016

    Eric-That post was meant for your eyes only….your analysis and incite into what was going on especially in the Seventies, Eighties is really impressive. It is clear even to me here in the back row that you were really paying attention.

  9. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:45am, 09/16/2016

    Cooney was drinking during those days and his loss to Spinks was really pitiful even taking into consideration that Spinks was a freak ass puncher. As fans we sometimes invest a lot of our emotional energy in these guys believing that when they come up to the mark that they are at their level best and ready to rumble. I was at the Quarrys vs. the Soul Brothers fiasco at Caesars Palace literally praying for something, anything good to happen and we know how that one turned out. Anyway the next day I was across the street at the Flamingo Hilton hung over and really bummed out playing Keno. I hear this loud, roaring laughter behind me and across the casino floor….it was Jerry Quarry, may he rest in peace….believe me when I say my reaction was total WTF rather any urge to get an autograph.

  10. Eric 05:59am, 09/16/2016

    In fairness to Norton, he was pretty shot by the time he fought Cooney. He struggled in his fight against a limited Tex Cobb, and squeaked out a close decision. Despite having a relative high number of stoppage victories, Cobb wasn’t that big of a puncher, granite chin, strength and stamina was the big Texan’s best attributes. Remember Norton was gifted with a draw against Scott Ledoux before he announced his retirement the first time. Only the bell ending the last round saved Norton from being knocked out in that fight. Norton had built up an early lead but tired badly in the last few rounds. There was always speculation that Norton was at least 2-3 years older than his given age as well. I was a big Cooney fan, and the Irishman was gifted with all kind of advantages like size, strength and power, but he just never seemed to have the right mental makeup for a great fighter. Disappointing career, Cooney had the tools and talent to be champion of the world, especially in an era devoid of that many good heavyweights.

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