Foreman V Cooney: The Fight That Forced The Critics To Take George’s Comeback Seriously

10.04.06 - By James Slater: Prior to January 1990, most boxing experts laughed at George Foreman’s attempt to once again rise to the top of his profession. They were insulted that a man of forty years of age was participating in the toughest sport of all. Many people either feared for Foreman’s health or they feared for the integrity of boxing as a whole. What if George, who was much overweight they claimed, got seriously hurt in the ring? Allegedly, one casino owner even went as far as insisting that George would never fight at his place for fear of Big George suffering a heart attack!

Who knew then, that George was in superb shape, not only for his age, but in superb shape period? We all know now that Foreman was, and is, something of a freak of nature. He is one of the strongest, best preserved and flat out incredible sportsmen to ever have walked the earth. What George told us all along - namely that it should be his opponents we should fear for, and not him - turned out to be true. The first respectable name on George’s resume to testify to this fact was Gerry Cooney.

When the Foreman v Cooney fight was first announced, in late summer 1989, there was yet more derision aimed at Foreman’s comeback. Cooney, a major disappointment from the early to mid 1980’s, was coming off a two and a half year layoff himself, and his challenge of Foreman was considered a joke by many. However, the experts had to concede that at the very least George would be in with a genuine heavyweight, and not a cruiserweight this time. Cooney was even taller than Foreman. He was also a proven puncher, especially with the left hook. For the first time in his ridiculed comeback, Foreman would be in the ring with a guy capable of hurting him. Another important factor concerned Cooney’s new trainer. For this comeback Gerry would have the wise and respected Gil Clancy, a one time trainer of Foreman, in his corner. Even the harshest of critics admitted that Clancy’s involvement in the fight added a touch of class. Still, this didn’t stop one scribe from dubbing the bout “Two Geezers at Caesars.”

Some opinions were divided as to the outcome of the match. For example, KO magazine predicted a Cooney win, whereas Big George was the bookmaker’s favourite. A sell-out crowd turned out to watch one of the most intriguing curiosities in recent heavyweight history, proving to everyone that Foreman’s, (now twenty fight) comeback had certainly attracted its followers. He was now back on the big stage as a result of the fight fans’ interest in whether or not old man George could make it back in the sport he once dominated. Beating Gerry Cooney would be the first serious step towards fighting for his old title.

On the night of January the 15th 1990, Michael Buffer introduced both men and then the huge crowd at Caesars Palace in Atlantic City sat back and awaited the action that would satisfy much of their curiosity regarding Foreman’s chances of reigning again. The atmosphere was one of excitement and intrigue.

Round one started and Big George came lumbering out of his corner in exactly the same way he had done nineteen times previously in a comeback that followed a ten year retirement. He had a cross armed defence, taught to him by his legendary trainer Archie Moore, and he went on the attack cutting the ring off on Gerry. Cooney looked in good shape, at 231 he was much lighter than his opponent who had tipped the scales at 253. Gerry jabbed well and used his legs to give George plenty of movement. The first real drama came near the end of the round. Cooney caught Foreman with his trademark punch, the left hook, and George appeared to wobble. Some screams were heard from the crowd as maybe they were expecting a massive crash to the canvas from Big George. He pressed ever forwards though, and Cooney’s big chance passed. Then the bell came. Between rounds Clancy scolded Gerry for not following up when he’d had George hurt. How shaken George was we cannot be sure, but whatever the case, this was certainly the first sign he had yet shown in his comeback of even being hurt. He had taken a fair left hook and hadn’t fallen, which may in itself have swayed a few critics towards giving him some respect. As was his custom throughout his comeback, George stood between rounds.

Round two started and George pressed on. He was always a fighter who had a strong and accurate jab in his arsenal and not much had changed in this department. In fact Foreman’s jab may even have improved with age! He was adept too at cutting the ring off on Gerry. With nowhere to go but into a corner, Cooney was about to suffer a brutal KO loss. Foreman, displaying incredible accuracy, cracked a shot through Gerry’s guard and then let loose with a superb combination that sent him crumpling to the floor. Gerry showed great bravery as he beat the count at six but he was out on his feet. Foreman wasted no time putting the finishing touches on his handiwork. He walked to Cooney, planted his feet and threw an absolutely perfect left uppercut that produced a finish that was nothing short of chilling! Cooney crashed head first to the mat, completely out. He had no chance whatsoever of beating the count and referee Joe Cortez, immediately seeing this, waved matters to a close and removed Gerry’s mouthpiece. Foreman walked over to someone at ringside and gave them a big wink. He was a very happy man, and rightly so. His comeback, for however long it would last, would now be played out on a very big stage. The big money would now come, as would talk of a title fight.

As we know, George never got the fight he really wanted - against then champion Mike Tyson- but did get a shot at Evander Holyfield, who had beaten the man who had beaten the man (the Douglas v Tyson affair) and George shocked everyone by going the full twelve rounds in a gallant effort. This fine showing was itself to be outdone some three and a half years later when Foreman’s dream finally came true courtesy of a huge right hand that collided with new champion Michael Moorer’s fragile chin.

As for Cooney, he never fought again. But he can take solace from the fact that he straightened out his life while training for the Foreman fight and today, with his money well invested, he has a nice life.

There was a time when Gerry Cooney made his name by beating up old men. Back in his prime he destroyed what was left of Ken Norton, Ron Lyle and Jimmy Young. However, defeating the old man he faced on January the 15th proved to be a very different prospect. And a prospect Big George proved he still was, even at the age of forty one!

Article posted on 11.04.2006

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