“Gentleman” Gerry Cooney Could Have Been Champ!
By Ken Hissner (Oct 30, 2009) DoghouseBoxing  
So many times I’ve seen certain good boxers come along when there was a dominating champion. On the other hand I have seen some better than average boxers win world titles because there wasn’t such a champion. “Gentleman” Gerry Cooney is a perfect example. I remember when Ali was inactive and there was a tournament of eight boxers. Joe Frazier decided not to enter it and wait for the winner. Jimmy Ellis was an underdog and won the tournament becoming champion. Today, Cooney would be a champion.

At a recent “signing” show Cooney was just leaving as I got there. At 6:06 and still looking like he could enter the ring you couldn’t miss him if you were a fight fan. As soon as I talked to him I could see the nickname “Gentleman” was not something he didn’t earn but lived.

Cooney was 55-3 in the amateurs and a New York Golden Gloves champion in 1976. He was closer to 200 pounds than the 238 at his highest weight in the professional ranks. He trained at the Huntington Athletic Club on Long Island. His trainer was John Capobianco, Sr. He was signed by the “odd couple” Mike Jones and Dennis Rappaport. His new trainer would be Victor Valle, Sr. He made his debut in New York the on Valentine’s Day week-end knocking out the first of nine opponents in then fights in the next twelve months.

On Saint Patty’s Day week-end he faced a lighter opponent in S.T. Gordon, 10-2, a future WBC Cruiserweight champion. “All he did was hold every time I hit him to the body,” said Cooney. The referee finally disqualified Gordon in the 4th round at the Aladdin, in Las Vegas in his first 10 rounder. New York’s Bobby Cassidy and Oklahoma’s Sean O’Grady were two other Irish boxers that were winners on the card. Cooney would have been better off fighting another heavyweight on the card, Tex Cobb.

The next five fights Cooney would return to 8 round bouts. These fights were important in his maturing with opponents like G.G. Maldonado, 12-6-2, Sam McGill, 14-5-1, and Eddie “The Animal” Lopez, 12-1. “McGill was unknown to me and could fight,” said Cooney. Maldonado had just defeated Nick Wells, 9-1, who had defeated Larry Holmes twice in the amateurs.

In January of 1979 Cooney would fight Lopez, in Miami Beach. His only loss was to Olympian John Tate. “He was a rough fighter who took me the distance,” said Cooney. With a 20-0 record, Cooney was matched with one time prospect Dino Dennis, 35-2-1, in Madison Square Garden in a 10 round co-feature. “You’re going to get killed if you beat this guy,” said Al Braverman. This was the trainer of Dennis. Dennis won his first 27 fights before losing to George Foreman. He had won his last 7 fights. Cooney easily stopped him in 3.

Several fights later Cooney would start a three fight string against name fighters who would build up his portfolio for a title fight. First, Philly’s Jimmy Young, 25-9-2, who had only been stopped one other time in what would be a 56 fight career (by Earnie Shavers) was the opponent in May of 1980 in Atlantic City. A cut over young’s left eye, led to a stoppage at the end of the 4th round. “He was awkward and a big test. I turned him into an uppercut,” said Cooney.

It would be five months before Cooney’s next encounter in October of 1980, with Ron Lyle, 39-6-1, at the Nassau Coliseum, in New York. Cooney gave Lyle a beating with a body shot to the ribs knocking him through the ropes at 2:49 of the 1st round. Ken Norton, 42-6-1, was next. I told Gerry I had seen him and Norton at ringside talking to the commentators with Norton mouthing off. I thought “this guy doesn’t have a clue the kind of beating Gerry is going to give him in the future”. It was May of 1981 at Madison Square Garden. “I hit him with a straight right hand and backed him up against the ropes,” said Cooney. It took all of 0:54 of the 1st round and one of the most vicious beatings you will see on www.you-tube.com . Norton was out against the ropes and Cooney still landing five unanswered punches as Norton slumped to the canvas out but with his glazed eyes open. He sat there for sometime before he was able to get up.

What happened next was a fighter’s nightmare. It would take 13 months to get into the ring with Larry Holmes for the WBC heavyweight title. “I wasn’t going to sign with King so we couldn’t fight any of his fighters and I needed fights to keep busy,” said Cooney. His management should have gone to Puerto Rico or Canada for a stay busy fight.

This writer was asked to go to spy on Cooney to see if he was faking an injury. I told Luis Rodriguez who was Holmes public relation man I wasn’t a spy and probably couldn’t detect an injury anyway. They told me to take a week up in New York where Cooney was training. I was aware Holmes is tight with a buck and wasn’t about to spend more than a day if I did that and take someone with me who knew if a fighter had an injury. When I got to their office to discuss terms they told me Cooney was in Puerto Rico per the morning paper. I questioned Holmes why he wasn’t fighting Gerrie Coetzee who was robbed by Renaldo Snipes whom Holmes talked about fighting after Cooney.

Holmes trainer, the legendary Eddie Futch was also there. Holmes told me “Jesse wouldn’t allow it”. I knew apartheid was going on in South Africa where Coetzee was from but I was referring to bringing him here. I asked Holmes “Jesse who?” He replied, “Jesse Jackson”. I said “what does Jesse Jackson give a shit about you?” I figured there goes another 10%. At that, I walked out with Futch and he said “Holmes won’t go to South Africa. He’d want a helicopter at ringside.”
At the start of the 1st round Cooney was the aggressor using his jab. Holmes for his entire career would get away with using a “straight arm” as a ball carrier does in football. In the 2nd round with about 40 seconds to go Holmes hurt Cooney with a right hand that had Cooney stumbling to the canvas. Cooney seemed more embarrassed than hurt. He got up and again was the aggressor until the end of the round. In the 3rd round a left hook by Cooney to the side of Holmes head stunned the champion who got on his bicycle. It was a big round for Cooney who would stun Holmes again near the end of the round. In the 4th Holmes seemed to be jabbing Cooney with power until near the end of the round when Cooney rocked Holmes and had him holding on at the bell.

In the 5th and 6th round Holmes finally got up on his toes and would periodically attack. He was always leery of Cooney’s left hook to the ribcage. Near the end of the 6th Holmes had Cooney hurt, but just before the bell Cooney landed three consecutive left hooks. Cooney would come back and take the 7th round. He had to back Holmes up to be effective. In the 9th round a cut Cooney received over his right eye was starting to bother him. While pulling Cooney behind the neck Holmes was hit with a low blow left hook. Referee Mills Lane would take a second point from Cooney for low blows while never warning Holmes for holding behind the head and only twice for the straight arm. The 10th round was the best round of the fight as they stood toe to toe at times letting it all hang out.

In the 11th and 12th rounds both fighters showing fatigue and Cooney losing another point in the 11th round in a fight with few clinches. In the 13th round with Cooney’s left eye closing Holmes was landing wide lead rights almost at will. Holmes landed close to ten unanswered punches with a couple blocked by Cooney whose legs seemed gone at this time as he was backing up his legs gave out as he grabbed the top rope completely exhausted. To his credit the trainer Valle jumped into the ring to save him for another day. The time of stoppage was at 2:52 of the 13th round before a crowd of 29,214. Two of the official scorecards had Cooney behind 113-111 which meant without the three points for low blows he would have been ahead. The other at 115-109 seemed out of whack. Inactivity had hurt the 26 year old Cooney and the question would be how much damage the loss would be for him?

“Today, Larry and I are friends,” said Cooney. Yes, some twenty years later. “Gerry is a nice guy. He does things for people and I help him out whenever I can,” said Holmes. Holmes was referring to F.I.S.T., an organization Cooney would later start to help boxers in need.

It would be twenty-seven months before Cooney would fight again. He would stop Philipp Brown, 22-0-2, in 4 rounds and George Chaplin, 22-6-2, in 2. Another seventeen months went by and he would stop Eddie Gregg, 24-1-1, in the 1st round. He needed more consistency and wasn’t getting it. It would be over a year before he would fight and meet the IBF champion Michael Spinks, 30-0, in Atlantic City in June of 1987. Spinks had given up the IBF title and took this more lucrative fight instead of fighting his mandatory. Holmes would come in at the heaviest of his career at 238. After four rounds, though all even on the scorecards, it wasn’t the same Cooney who had fought Holmes. Spinks had suffered a cut under his right eye. In the next round while trying to land his left hook, Cooney was caught flush on the jaw with an overhand right. Spinks would follow up with a variety of punches until another right dropped Cooney. He got up but was dazed. He would lose for the second time in his career at 2:51 of the 5th round.

Another ill advised comeback in a major fight after a two and a half year lay-off was with Big George Foreman, 64-2. While Cooney wasn’t fighting, Foreman was having seventeen fights, all wins, sixteen by knockout. A word to the wise was not to make the same mistake again. Forging ahead with this fight Foreman was the largest opponent of Cooney’s career at 253. The 26 year old that fought Holmes was now 33. It didn’t take long in Atlantic City before Foreman unloaded on Cooney scoring a 2nd round stoppage at 1:57. Cooney’s career would finally come to an end at 28-3 (24) on January 1990.

“I have three children while working with orphanages and other charities,” said Cooney. I was referred to Seth Myers, by his uncle, boxing trainer/manager John Myers of Lebanon, PA, about his experience with Cooney. “I was ten when one of my friends whom I should have been paying attention to more as he was pouring gas out of a can onto the grass. Before I knew it he lit a match to the gas and it exploded and I was got burnt bad. I went to the Hershey Medical Center and Lehigh Valley and they said I would never walk again. I went to Boston’s Shriner’s Hospital and was taught how to walk, said Myers. He is now eighteen and plays football and baseball at Lebanon H.S. “When I was eleven my Uncle John took me to Easton for an Earnie Shaver’s “roast”. The fighters there were really nice to me like Shavers, Tex Cobb, Larry Holmes and Gerry Cooney. I spent a lot of time with Cooney who was really nice to me. He even gave me his cell phone and told me to call him anytime I wanted. I called at Christmas and on other occasions,” said Myers. This is the Cooney not everyone may see even though he is a true gentleman in a sometimes brutal sport he doesn’t get specific about his reaching out to other.

Without a fight for thirteen months, I would party too much between the Norton and Holmes fight. God has saved me and in twenty years I haven’t had a drink,” said Cooney. Today, Cooney would be a champion. In many ways and in many people’s eyes he is a champion!

Ken at: kenhissner@yahoo.com

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