‘Gentlemen’ Gerry Cooney: “I’m A Lucky Man”

By Thad Moore on June 28, 2016
‘Gentlemen’ Gerry Cooney: “I’m A Lucky Man”
“Larry was heavyweight champion of the world. All I was worried about was the fight."

“I wanted the fight against Weaver. It didn’t work out. I would have liked to have had a couple more fights before Holmes…”

Gerry Cooney is best known for fighting valiantly in defeat to heavyweight champion Larry Holmes in 1982. The bout featured a lot of pre-fight hype, but turned into a competitive contest. Today, we look back on Cooney’s heavyweight title tilt that shaped the division in the 1980’s.

Before opposing Holmes, Cooney reached a tentative agreement to battle WBA heavyweight king Mike Weaver in October of 1981. The WBA reversed course when Cooney was set to fight Ken Norton and said Weaver had to meet James “Quick” Tillis in his next match or have the belt stripped.

“I wanted the fight against Weaver. It didn’t work out. I would have liked to have had a couple more fights before Holmes.”

Instead, Cooney signed on to fight for the WBC heavyweight belt opposing Holmes, but not until June of 1982. Originally scheduled for April, the fight was postponed due to Cooney tearing his rotator cuff. The slugger laments that this 13-month layoff was too long.

“I sparred with Tim Witherspoon before the Holmes fight. Witherspoon was new and young. I used to work hard with my sparring partners. My trainers had me breaking down different fighters. I was glad to get the title shot. I was just a kid. I was ranked number one at 24. I was excited and looking forward to the fight.”

Race was an issue that was brought to the forefront prior to the two boxers ever getting in the ring, but Cooney refused to get involved. “When I got the Holmes fight, he was bitter and angry with me that I got a lot of the attention. I think it was Don King and my managers that played up the black and white thing. I wasn’t angry. Larry was heavyweight champion of the world. All I was worried about was the fight.”

Leading up to the bout, promoter Don King offered this: “This is a white and black fight.” Cooney co-manager Dennis Rappaport said of Cooney “He’s not the white man, he’s the right man.” Holmes contributed to the racial storyline by referring to Cooney as “The great white dope. If he was black, nobody would know who he is.”

Before they laced up the gloves, Holmes’ property was vandalized. Snipers were strategically placed on rooftops near the Caesars Palace outdoor arena to keep the peace. A special phone was installed in Cooney’s dressing room for a congratulatory call from President Reagan after the fight.

Celebrities at ringside featured Jack Nicholson, Wayne Gretzky, Farrah Fawcett, and Joe DiMaggio. Both Holmes and Cooney were each guaranteed $10 million. Cooney had so much respect for the current lineal heavyweight champion.

“Holmes was a great fighter. When Holmes got hurt, it was instinctual with him. He had a great will to win. That’s what fighters do. He came up with Ali. He didn’t get the same response that Ali did, coming right after him. That was unfair.”

As the match began, it did not take long for there to be a significant sequence. In round two, Holmes used his left hook to set up the straight right which connected and put Cooney down. This was Cooney’s first time on the canvas as a pro.

“After Holmes knocked me down in the second, he didn’t go for the KO. After I was dropped, I wasn’t afraid anymore. Larry had the experience that I never had. He was patient and he waited.”

Cooney was the crowd favorite. Throughout the contest, chants of “Cooney, Cooney” could be clearly heard. Cooney was effective at the end of round four when he landed couple of left hooks including one to the body. Over the next few rounds, the action heated up as Holmes was more willing to trade.

Holmes landed lefts and rights in controlling the seventh, but Cooney came back in the eighth. Cooney was able to land his vaunted left hook efficiently to both the head and body and Holmes landed his left jab and right hand as the two exchanged blows.

The ninth round began with Cooney landing, but was followed up by a Holmes right hand that cut Cooney’s left eye. Holmes would continue to target that eye in the remaining rounds. A pivotal moment took place in round nine as Cooney was deducted two points for low blows. Finally in the 11th, Cooney had another point taken away for a low blow.

“When I had three points taken away from me for low blows that was hard to come back from. Larry was pulling my head down, that’s why I was hitting him low. After that I thought, ‘Go ahead and hit me.’ That showed a lack of experience for me.”

Cooney also cites the 10th round as a major turning point in the fight. “The 10th round for Holmes was big. After the 10th round, Larry was so fresh. He was prepared for what was to come.”

In both the 11th and 12th,Holmes was boxing, moving around the ring landing left jabs and right hands. Cooney was unable to land anything of significance.

In the 13th and final round, Holmes was landing more frequently with the right hand against a weary Cooney. Holmes hit Cooney with a powerful right and the challenger attempted to remain upright by grabbing the ropes. Cooney’s left hand hit the canvas and referee Mills Lane correctly ruled it a knockdown. Valle then entered the ring and stopped the bout and Holmes retained the WBC heavyweight title.

“Victor Valle did the right thing. He thought about his fighter’s health and thought about my life. The fight was the greatest experience of my career. I did well.”

After 12 rounds, two of the three judges had Holmes ahead 113-111. Without the low blow deductions, Cooney would have been ahead going into the 13th.

Holmes spent the majority of the night outboxing Cooney, at times moving in to land power punches. When Cooney would try and push forward, Holmes would effectively counter. The champion was able to catch some of Cooney’s shots on his gloves and arms, but was often quicker in connecting with his shots.

Cooney’s desire and heart in this contest could not be questioned. He also proved that his chin could hold up to Holmes’ punishment, particularly after the early round knockdown. Cooney also had his moments in this championship match, particularly in the middle rounds. Larry felt Gerry’s power as he told me that after Earnie Shavers, Cooney and Norton were the hardest punchers he’d ever faced.

Cooney shares no love loss for his co-managers Mike Jones and Rappaport, as well as the fight’s promoter. “Don King and my managers wanted to throw me in with Holmes for the payday. Don King owned everybody and my managers didn’t give a fuck.”

As Cooney illustrates, he and Larry periodically see each other and take part in charity events. The one-time heavyweight contender has all the respect in the world for the former champ. “We are very friendly. Today, I’m great friends with Larry Holmes.”

Prior to getting his title shot, Cooney defeated Jimmy Young, Ron Lyle, and Norton — stopping all inside the distance. Interestingly, Lyle said that Cooney was the hardest puncher he ever faced and that includes George Foreman. Perhaps the most memorable was his contest with former WBC heavyweight champion, Norton. The clash was made possible as Cooney says because “Norton beat (undefeated) Tex Cobb. That set up our fight. I rolled into it, I was next in line.”

By this time, Cooney was ranked number one by both the WBA and WBC and Norton was ranked sixth by the WBC. Cooney had been developing a following that was evidenced by the pro-Cooney audience at Madison Square Garden.

Cooney cornered Norton early in round one by hitting him with a right hand and two lefts to the body. Norton was noticeably in pain. Cooney said, “I heard him gasp.” “Gentlemen Gerry” landed several shots to the head, with the last two connecting while Norton was out on his feet as he slowly slumped toward the canvas. The matchup was over in 54 seconds and Cooney was the hottest contender in the division leading up to his challenge of Holmes.

Cooney would engage in two additional meaningful bouts after Holmes-a fifth round TKO loss to Michael Spinks and a second round TKO defeat at the hands of George Foreman.

To fully understand Cooney, you have to look back at his childhood. He grew up in Long Island Huntington, New York in a working class family as one of six children. Gerry’s father was an iron worker in the single income family. His dad was physically and emotionally abusive to Gerry and his siblings. He was also an alcoholic, which is a condition that would be eventually be passed down a generation and negatively impact the future boxer’s life. The elder Cooney passed away in 1976. Cooney reflects on the impact his father had on him.

“He was abusive. My Dad was an alcoholic and it came down to me. A lot of shit went on. I was living in the fast lane. I started drinking. I drank leading up to the Holmes fight.” In fact, Cooney drank throughout his boxing career. He is extremely proud of the fact that he is now 28 years sober.

Cooney has given back to the community since his retirement. He has been involved in the “Hands Are Not for Hitting” campaign against domestic violence. Gerry has worked with young fighters who have had to deal with the pitfalls of abuse. In 1998, Cooney was responsible for starting up an organization to provide assistance including job training and counseling known as FIST (Fighters Initiative for Support and Training).

Today, Cooney takes part in public speaking engagements and co-hosts a boxing talk show on Mondays and Fridays from 6-8 PM EST called “At The Fights” on SiriusXM with former New York City Athletic Commission Chairman and The Ring Magazine editor, Randy Gordon. He also teaches a boxing class for middle aged men.

However, Cooney is most proud of his family. “My great accomplishment in life is my wife and three kids. I have joys in my life. I’m a lucky man. I love life. I can’t wait to be with my wife tonight. I can’t wait to travel with her. My son is going to Lehigh University in the fall. I’m at peace.”

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  1. bikermike 05:00pm, 07/21/2016

    Cooney vs Norton…....brutal

  2. Your Name 04:51pm, 07/21/2016

    If..Cooney had better management..and fought more often….
    If…my aunt had balls ....she’d be my uncle..
    Cooney was good…got lots of coverage…but could have been developed far more wisely…
    in any case…Cooney actually invested his winnings wisely…and continues to promote efforts to assist fighers after the ring careers

  3. bikermike 04:44pm, 07/21/2016

    in the early seventies….most big fights were sold to our area via huge theaters filled with fans..and we’d watch the satellite signal ...

    Made the ride to ‘the big city’ several times to watch some major fights….with the old iron lung.

    Took some comfort with me several times…..no panties…and willing

    Later.when things got better…..I hosted….and will again…host some gatherings to see some fights…..but after mayweather/pacqiao ...it may be a while

  4. b 04:32pm, 07/21/2016

    respectfully…

    George Chuvalo vs Floyd Patterson ...was 1965 FIGHT OF THE YEAR….and Chuvalo took a fight for the title on seventeen days notice..against Mohammid Ali…when Earnie Terrell pulled out..

    Gave Ali more than he wanted over that fifteen rounds…...got a rematch for it…
    I would have rated Chuvalo higher

  5. bikermike 04:23pm, 07/21/2016

    they didn’t call them the whako twins for nothing

  6. biker 04:21pm, 07/21/2016

    ..not one disparaging remark from me about Cooney…..although my thoughts about living proof that anal sex is dangerous applies to Cooney’s management team and promoter are well known

  7. bikermike 04:17pm, 07/21/2016

    I was and still am a big Holmes fan…
    ‘big cat’ had a huge talent…in the ring…and that was the deal.

    He was not a social activist, nor a media person….he was a hard working ...god fearing, wife loving blue collar heavyweight fighter..who worked his way to the title .....period.

    media slaughtered him whenever they could….but he ...while in his prime…ruled the Heavyweights of his era…...I was particularly annoyed by the way he was treated up to , and including his bout with cooney…..

    If ever a guy earned his spurs…..so to speak….it was when Holmes knocked out Gerry Cooney that night…..and he made me a bundle on side bets too…Holmes ..only now…is recognized for the gifted HeavyWeight Champion he showed himself to be

  8. jeff 08:34pm, 07/08/2016

    Thresher is right on and I can not add at this time.

  9. The Thresher 05:11pm, 07/08/2016

    Eric, after some technical difficulties I am now the Thresher (again)


    KB

  10. The Thresher 05:10pm, 07/08/2016

    But now we know different about Holmes and his greatness. I was one of those who thought Cooney would dispatch him and I was shocked at the outcome. Cooney showed tons of heart but he was managed by wackos.

  11. Eric 04:45pm, 07/08/2016

    KB…There were a lot of fighters and writers who predicted that Cooney would defeat Holmes. Some of the ones I remember were Gil Clancy, Rocky Graziano, Muhammad Ali, etc.,all picked a Cooney victory. Holmes, like Rocky Marciano, seemed to suddenly become a better fighter after he retired in the opinion of the boxing experts. Don’t forget that Holmes was looking particularly vulnerable coming off the Renaldo Snipes bout and Cooney despite the long layoff, was thought to be a wrecking machine. Prior to the Cooney fight, Holmes had defended his title against people like Ossie Ocasio, Alfredo Evangelista, an unknown former Ken Norton sparring partner named Mike Weaver, a washed up Earnie Shavers, an obese Leroy Jones, a shopworn Scott Ledoux, a 200lb Leon Spinks, and Renaldo Snipes. Holmes had a life and death struggle with Weaver, was floored hard by both the creaky Shavers and fringe contender, Renaldo Snipes. In the early 80’s when Holmes ruled the roost, a lot of boxing people didn’t rank Holmes with the all time greats and the heavyweights division was thought to be a pretty sorry lot.

  12. TEDSARES 02:00pm, 07/08/2016

    AK IN

  13. KB 11:52am, 07/07/2016

    Eric, Foreman, not Holmes?

  14. Eric 08:01am, 07/07/2016

    It can be argued that Cooney was the most formidable foe that Holmes ever faced during his first career. I remember that a great deal of boxing experts, which included writers as well as fighters, favored Cooney in this matchup. Cooney was one of the few top notch heavyweights of that era who could matchup with today’s super heavyweights in terms of sheer size. Cooney’s 6’6” frame, and massive punching power should have landed him the title, but he lacked the heart of a 5’10”, stubby armed, thick legged Marciano. You can never measure heart or the will to win.

  15. KB 07:29am, 07/04/2016

    yes, The WHAKO TWINS

  16. JEFF DUNNING 02:37pm, 07/03/2016

    Cooney was washed up when he fought Spinks, drinking, poor to none training, blown confidence, no fight plan…fucked up managers and I told him so when he was training for Holmes in Northern calif.

  17. Your Name 10:14am, 07/02/2016

    I saw that fight at Mohegan Sun. The guy was very good. Very. But he retired.

  18. KB 10:12am, 07/02/2016

    Eric, Croatian Zeljko “Zed” Mavrovic was another. 27-1 record and he gave Lennox Lewis all e could handle.

  19. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 05:47pm, 06/30/2016

    Pete the Sneak-I am not Latino but I share some of the interests and preferences. Years ago I worked on the night shift with a gentleman from Bayamon and when we would take smoke breaks outside this bugger could unerringly tell if a woman who was walking toward us had a shapely ass. He was older and more worldly and at the time I was in awe of his genius.

  20. Pete The Sneak 09:34am, 06/30/2016

    Irish…Dammit, that Progressive girl in the tight Powder blue jeans is my favorite of all those ads as well. Wow… Makes me feel kind of better that I’m not the only guy who actually expends the energy to both look for and succeed in scoping something like that out in a 30 Second Ad….Peace.

  21. Eric 07:52am, 06/30/2016

    Axel Schultz and Frans Botha. Enuff, off to go cut the lawn. teehee.

  22. Eric 07:37am, 06/30/2016

    KB…Didn’t know that about Tommy. Tanks for the 411. Tommy is actually more Injun than Elizabeth Warren. Don’t lose to much money on the golf course.

  23. Eric 07:34am, 06/30/2016

    Stander did knockout Earnie Shavers though. My brother talked to the Council Bluffs Butcher and asked him to compare the punching power of Shavers and Smokin’ Joe. Predictably, Ron said there was no comparison and that Shavers was a bigger banger. Ron didn’t do too badly against Joe, I thought it even looked like he shook him up on one or two occasions. If I’m not mistaken Ron was reduced to fighting some legendary English street fighter in a match down the road. I would love to have guys like Stander, LeDoux, Knoetze have my back in a barroom brawl. Dino Denis as well, another “White Hope” at least sort of, would be hell in a street fight. What a hot head that guy was back then.

  24. KB 07:29am, 06/30/2016

    That is all -. Time to hit the links.

  25. KB 07:28am, 06/30/2016

    As usual when generalities rush to the fore, you’ll find enough hidden irony to forge an anvil. Morrison’s father, Tim, is white. His mother, Diana, is Native American.

  26. KB 07:23am, 06/30/2016

    Or Ron Stander tee hee

    there some Texan named Harries in Cut and Shoot.

  27. Eric 07:16am, 06/30/2016

    Irish…LeDoux did actually “beat” a washed up Norton in my opinion. Scotty fought just about everyone around during his time. Bobick has to rank as the most disappointing “White Hope,” but I think he was a better fighter than we are led to believe. The Norton & Tate beatdowns are what people think of when they think of Duane. IF I would have went further, I would have to start adding names like Chuck Wepner. hehe.

  28. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:09am, 06/30/2016

    Eric-Your “White Hope” list just flat makes me sad…..in all honesty the cutoff should probably be at number seven with Chuvalo. All I can say is, thank God I got to witness the Eastern European invasion before I check out. I for one don’t have a boxing sense of nostalgia for the Sixties through the Nineties….none!.The Fifties yes, but not that period….RIP Rocky Marciano and God Bless the Klitschkos!

  29. Eric 06:56am, 06/30/2016

    Francesco Damiani was the heavyweight I couldn’t think of. Decent fighter, another one that could have been considered.

  30. Eric 06:53am, 06/30/2016

    I forgot all about Du Plooy, my bad. I didn’t add Mesi because he was on the tail end of the Nineties and the Naughts, it was a shame his career was stopped short. Hipp was Native American. I will do a Google search, trying to think of a flabby Italian heavyweight from the ‘90’s who reached top 10 status. Be back with the 411.

  31. KB 06:42am, 06/30/2016

    Coetzee waxed Dokes. He was a champ in my books all the way. Tommy beat Foreman who was a champion at the time and he did it with a great fight plan.
    Johnny Du Plooy sent Mike Weaver to Adonis Dreamland and had concrete in his hands. That guy could punch.

  32. KB 06:39am, 06/30/2016

    Johnny Du Plooy ,Joe Hipp, Alexander Zolkin, Joe Mesi,  maybe even Tex Cobb are others

  33. Eric 06:35am, 06/30/2016

    Coetzee and Morrison were champs, but not really considered the “real” champion. I’m still FUMING that Tommy Morrison didn’t even make the top 100 best heavyweights on a list compiled on Boxing.com. hehe. That is utterly disgraceful. Some of those guys on that list were several notches below Morrison. Morrison had one of the best left hooks in the history of the heavyweight division. A left hook vs left hook matchup of Morrison vs. Cooney would have been interesting. RIP Mr. Morrison.

  34. KB 06:26am, 06/30/2016

    Excellent list but some of them became champions so they probably should be replaced, don’t you think?

  35. Eric 06:04am, 06/30/2016

    Ranking the best of the “White Hopes” from the Sixties through Nineties.

    1. Jerry Quarry
    2. Tommy Morrison
    3. Joe Bugner
    4. Gerrie Coetzee
    5. Gerry Cooney
    6. Oscar Bonavena
    7. George Chuvalo
    8. Kallie Knoetze
    9. Henry Cooper
    10. Duane Bobick
    11. Scott Ledoux
    12. Boone Kirkman

  36. KB 12:28pm, 06/29/2016

    Mark is married to an Asian beauty I believe

  37. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 12:27pm, 06/29/2016

    Powder blue jeans dammit! Anyway I think you get my drift!

  38. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 12:22pm, 06/29/2016

    The most creative people on TV are the directors doing the commercials….by far! The Progressive Ads are great but my favorite is the Liberty Mutual commercial where the girl with the fabulous ass in the powder jeans talks to us over her shoulder as she is walking away…..simply genius!!!

  39. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 12:14pm, 06/29/2016

    Question of the day: Is Facebook part of the MSM? Second question of the day: Is Mark Zuckerberg Jewish or is he Chinese or is it just that he loves that hot, tight Chinese pussy? Everybody on here needs to lighten up!

  40. KB 08:57am, 06/29/2016

    Kim Novak did it for me

    One of my college pros used to give the me eye—or so I imagined. She was into S & M I suspect based on her teaching methods and grading. Mostly S. Another missed opportunity on my part.

  41. Eric 07:46am, 06/29/2016

    Irish…Check out Debra Lafave. Remember this case when I was living in Tampa. They were saying she was too pretty to go to prison. At 12 years old, I don’t think I was even shooting bullets. teehee. I, like millions, had a huge crush on Ann-Margaret. And who can forget when Angie Dickinson played a teacher in, “Pretty Maids All In Row.” Goes to show you how REEL life doesn’t = REAL life, they had Rock Hudson playing an oversexed heterosexual.

  42. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:01am, 06/29/2016

    Eric-How about all these hot looking middle school teachers having sex with twelve year old boys. I was born way too soon I guess…..when I was in junior high the teachers were still wearing bonnets and they all looked like Margaret Hamilton. Maybe that’s why I always had the hots for Margaret…..go figure!

  43. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 05:28am, 06/29/2016

    Eric-How about if Cooney just had Gerry’s chin? Spinks could crack, probably every bit as hard as Bob Foster. When Ali fought Foster he ate up Foster’s shots…..no way a lightheavy was going to put him down. On the sauce or not it looks like Cooney just couldn’t handle Mike’s power.

  44. KB 06:05pm, 06/28/2016

    Eric, good points

  45. Sean Matheny 08:20am, 06/28/2016

    I’ m glad Gerry is doing well now.  It was a very memorable fight with Larry (one of the most under rated champs in my book).  One thing that stands out for me in that fight is that they introduced the champ FIRST in the ring, and Gerry last,  a first and last as far as I know in the history of boxing.  Gerry was a devastating puncher and always entertaining!!

  46. Eric 05:26am, 06/28/2016

    Cooney had all the physical tools, just lacked something upstairs. IF only Quarry would have been blessed with Gerry’s size and punching power. To this day, I have no idea how even a Cooney hampered by drug and alcohol use, could have lost to Michael Spinks. The Holmes & Foreman losses, I totally understand, but losing to a 205lb, Michael Spinks???? Never count out Mike Weaver, the guy could certainly rise to the occasion, don’t know if a Cooney victory would be guaranteed against Weaver back then. IF Cooney had stayed active, a fight against Coetzee, would have been interesting.

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