A Talk With Gerry Cooney

BY Luca De Franco ON October 21, 2006
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If you think that amateur boxing never sold tickets, read this article. On March 17, 1972, Madison Square Garden hosted the Golden Gloves and 20,000 people filled the building. They went wild when a local kid named Gerry Cooney won the middleweight title. It was St. Patrick’s Day, Cooney was of Irish ancestry and about 800,000 New Yorkers have Irish blood, but that doesn’t justify all that enthusiasm. Cooney’s power and personality were the reason for it. As a matter of fact, when “Gentleman” Gerry became a professional in the heavyweight division, huge crowds followed him wherever he went. And Cooney disappointed the faithful, collecting an impressive series of knockouts.

Between 1977 and 1981, Cooney won 25 consecutive bouts, 22 within the distance (21 KOs and 1 by disqualification). Among his victims were three very dangerous opponents: Jimmy Young (put to sleep in four rounds), Ron Lyle and Ken Norton (both lasted less than one round).

Those triumphs granted Cooney a shot at WBC heavyweight champion Larry Holmes. Once again, the “Gentleman” had a hand at breaking many records held at that time. On June 11, 1982 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, over $8 million in tickets were sold. ABC TV paid $ 3,000,000 to broadcast the fight billed Pride and Glory. It made big news outside the boxing community too. Time magazine put Gerry Cooney and Sylvester Stallone on its cover with these words: Heavyweight Hits! Boxing scores one-two punch at the box office: Gerry Cooney fighting champ Larry Holmes in Las Vegas and Sylvester Stallone fighting his own legacy in Hollywood. President Ronald Reagan even built a direct phone-connection between the White House and Cooney’s hotel room. Reagan wanted to be the first one to congratulate Cooney for his victory. It never happened because Larry Homes won by TKO 13.

I always wanted to ask Cooney about his career, but didn’t know how to get him. One day I saw his photo with my good friend Joe DeGuardia and approaching him became very easy. When I called Mr. Cooney, he was willing to answer all my questions. The first one concerned his sensational three-fight winning streak against Young, Lyle and Norton. Nobody expected Cooney to win that easily because those guys were partners in boxing history. Ron Lyle built a record of 43 wins (31 KOs), 7 losses and 1 draw. He lost to Ali (KO 11) and Foreman (KO 5), but was powerful enough to twice knock down “Big” George in one of the most sensational wars of all-time. Jimmy Young defeated Ron Lyle, George Foreman and lost on points to Muhammad Ali. The Ring magazine called Young-Foreman the “Fight of the Year”. Young retired with a record of 34 wins (11 KOs), 19 losses, 2 draws and 1 NC. Ken Norton fought Muhammad Ali three times. He won the first battle and lost the others (always on points). Norton also faced Holmes and Foreman (losing both times). Norton retired with a record of 42 wins (33 KOs), 7 losses and 1 draw and the WBC belt.

That’s how Gerry Cooney routinley disposed of tough guys, and I wanted to talk about that.

“I beat up Jimmy Young, [cutting him] over the left eye,” Cooney told me. “He was stopped at the end of the fourth stanza. I broke Ron Lyle’s ribs and he had to quit. I needed only 54 seconds to knock out Ken Norton. I hit him hard with a right hand to the body and finished him with a left hook to the face. Ron Lyle and Ken Norton had a better record than Jimmy Young, but the latter gave me more trouble.”

What about your fight with Larry Holmes?     

“I had been inactive for 13 months and I needed to fight often to be in top shape. In 1977, I fought 7 times. In 1978, I got into the ring 8 times. In 1979, I had 7 battles. In 1980, just 2. In 1981, my only ring war was against Ken Norton. If I was in top shape, I could have beaten Holmes. He is the best boxer I ever fought.”

After Holmes, you fought twice in 1984, once in 1986, 1987 and 1990. Why?

“I didn’t want to admit that my career was over. That’s the problem of every boxer and that’s why I created Fighter’s Initiative for Support and Training (F.I.S.T). I want to help boxers the moment they hang up the gloves. Most of them cannot take care of their interests because they always delegated it to their manager. Some of them cannot even compile a check. Besides, they don’t know how to get a job. F.I.S.T. helps them to understand what their skills are, where to look for a job, how to approach other people on the job and so on. It’s of the foremost importance that they understand that the privileges connected with their boxing career are over. They are no longer special people. If they want something, they must be able to get it by themselves. I like to say that F.I.S.T. doesn’t provide fish to the boxers, but teaches them how to fish. We want the boxers to be productive member of the society.”

To get the funds for FIST, Gerry Cooney promotes golf tournaments and boxing shows in prestigious locations where the clients get first-class treatment. On October 26, 2005, at the Hilton Hotel in Manhattan, Cooney had as special guests Angelo Dundee, Ken Norton and Jake LaMotta.

“Jake La Motta was one of my idols,” said Cooney, “along with Joe Louis, Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali ande Rocky Marciano. I consider Marciano the greatest of all times. When they compared me to him, I felt honored. I promote boxing shows because that’s what I did when I hung up the gloves. That’s also the fastest way to make some money. You know, there are a thousand charity events in New York every year and the people who have the money prefer to give them to a hospital rather than to an organization which helps boxers."

Gerry Cooney

Born in New York City on August 4, 1956.
Height: 6'7"
Nickname: Gentleman.
Trainer: Victor Valle Sr.
Record: 28 wins and 3 losses. He won only three times on points, knocking out 24 opponents and winning once by DQ.
On February 15, 1977 in Long Island City he pro debuted with a KO 1 over Bill Jackson.
On May 25, 1980 in Atlantic City, he won by TKO 4 over Jimmy Young.
On October 24, 1980 in Uniondale (NY) he defeated Ron Lyle by KO 1.
On May 11, 1981 at Madison Square Garden, he KOed Ken Norton in 54 seconds.
On June 11, 1982 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, he challenged WBC heavyweight champion Larry Holmes losing by TKO 13.
On May 31, 1986 in San Francisco he won by KO 1 over much publicized Eddie Gregg (who was 24-1-1).
On June 15, 1987 in Atlantic City, he lost to Micheal Spinks by TKO 5.
On January 15, 1990 in Atlantic City he lost to George Foreman by TKO 2. It was Gerry Cooney’s last fight.

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