The most hyped heavyweight fight of the decade
The absolute monster of a heavyweight fight that took place 40 years ago today, between defending champion Larry Holmes and lethal-punching challenger Gerry Cooney, truly had it all: rooftop snipers, enormous racial tensions, death threats thrown against Holmes, a Time Magazine cover with Cooney and the king of big screen heavyweights Sly Stallone, divided opinions, a ton of money made, and, perhaps most memorably, a lifetime of trampled tradition before the bell rang. opening bell, when Cooney, the challenger, was introduced to Holmes, the defending champion.
Cooney was poised to become boxing’s next superstar. Holmes was angry at the disrespect presented to him. Don King enjoyed calling the fight a “black and white fight”. Cooney hated her “Great White Hope Label”. Holmes stated that if Cooney had been black “no one would have heard of him.” Every fight fan in the world wanted to see what would happen when the fight started in Las Vegas.
It was 40 years ago today that the biggest heavyweight fight of the 1980s took place. It might seem pretty amazing all these years later when we realize what a great, great fighter Holmes was, but at the time of the fight enormously hyped, one that pitted an established champion against a powerful superstar in the making, many people felt that Cooney would beat Holmes, by KO.
“The dream is here, gentleman Gerry Cooney,” bellowed the banner of a ring player at Caesars Palace. Cooney may not have fully learned how to fight yet (this is something he was honest enough to admit when he recalled the fight he had rushed into, the money at stake was nothing short of enormous) but his adoring fans they believed in him. . And why not? In the opinion of the average fan, Cooney was the real deal: his crushing knockouts of Ron Lyle and Ken Norton proved it.
Cooney gave everything he had against Holmes, and with his distinct lack of experience (only 86 pro boxed rounds) he managed to give the 32-year-old Holmes, who was making his 12th title defense, a very good fight. At the time of his crushing loss (the thirteenth-round TKO loss was more crushing from a mental standpoint compared to a physical one, with the 25-year-old Cooney handling his physical bulges much better than his psychological ones), Cooney didn’t he could stop apologizing to his fans.
Still, it was thought that Cooney would bounce back, return to his wrecking ball style and string another series of KOs before a second shot at the title. After all, Cooney had been beaten by a great champion and had nothing to be ashamed of. But Cooney disappeared, being a more frequent visitor to bars than to the gym. Cooney fought again, just five times in all before George Foreman forced him into permanent retirement in 1990, but he was never quite the young, strong, power-packed sensation he once had been.
Two of the biggest questions to ask about the Holmes-Cooney fight are: What if Cooney had taken the fight a year later, having had three, maybe four additional fights? What if Cooney hadn’t taken the loss so hard and, instead of hiding in self-pity, he’d gotten back in the ring pretty quickly and stayed there?
As for the second question, maybe the damage Gerry suffered, mainly to his psyche, was too much. They say that boxing is about 90 percent mental and maybe Gerry Cooney never had the mental strength to be a great fighter.
But as for the first question, if Cooney had taken the fight from Holmes in 1983, with three or four additional wins under his belt, then maybe this would have made all the difference in the world. Cooney said a while back how he felt about it, “with another year of experience, I really think he would have beaten it,” and he probably still feels the same way today. “With three or four [more] fights, against the best, he would have beaten Holmes,” Cooney told this writer a few years ago.
Of course, the timing of a fight is crucial. If Cooney was too green in June 1982, might a 33-year-old Holmes have been a little closer to being mature enough to be taken over by a 26-year-old Cooney, who was 28-0 or 29-0? ? Of course, we will never know. But such was the enormous promise Cooney once had: His left hook was a thing of devastating beauty. We find ourselves asking questions like this all these years later.
Is Holmes TKO13 Cooney a great fight? It was huge, that’s for sure. But cool? Ultimately, this fight falls short of the best of the best. Holmes’ highly prized battle with Ken Norton remains the highlight of his career; in the opinion of most fans and in the opinion of Larry himself. Cooney for a time threatened greatness, but ultimately fell short.