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