Both men had been in with Larry Holmes: Michael Spinks making a piece of boxing history in defeating the ageing Holmes in 1985, Gerry Cooney making a huge piece of financial security in being defeated by a still-at-his-peak (or just about) Holmes in 1982. Now the former light-heavyweight king who had proven himself at heavyweight was facing the one-time “Great White Hope” who had achieved stardom as a heavyweight but had never truly and honestly proved himself.
So much had gone on since Cooney’s brave but losing assault on Holmes and his crown in the massively hyped June 1982 Super-Fight. Cooney had gone into a funk, depressed over the loss, over the way he had “let the people down.” Cooney was still a young man at age 30, yet he had allowed serious bouts of inactivity to slow down his skills, his desire, his ability. To say Cooney was rusty when he went into the fight with Spinks and his “Jinx” was to state the obvious.
Spinks had shocked Holmes to take the title in ’85 and he had repeated the points win in 1986. There was a new star busting through the heavyweight division, sure, but Spinks was THE man. Cooney still had dreams of being the man. With Mike Tyson holding the alphabelt titles, Spinks and Cooney met in what was really a fight to the finish – the finish being a for all the marbles showdown with “Iron Mike.”
Cooney, hampered by a fondness for booze, trained as hard as he was able for the June 1987 fight, yet he was no longer the confident power-puncher who had taken out names like Ken Norton, Ron Lyle and Jimmy Young. Not that Gerry had been a genuinely confident fighter even then. Cooney was “fighting through a fog” when he tried to get the better of Spinks, and today, Gerry says he asked repeatedly to be able to withdraw from the fight.
Instead, Spinks, on top of his game at age 30 and blessed with a style all of his own combined with incredible reflexes and defensive ability to give any opponent fits, gave Cooney a beating. A short beating.
The two men who each had a limited amount of time in the ring even if they didn’t know it, met in Atlantic City and Spinks’ lineal title was on the line. Spinks came in at just 209 pounds, Cooney, who had sported a bearded appearance in the build-up, was now a clean-shaven 238. Weight and facial cleanliness were the least of it when the bell rang.
Cooney tried to blast in some powerful left hooks but Spinks was too smart to be trapped in one place. Cooney couldn’t catch the constantly moving target Spinks frustrated him with and Gerry was also being stung by crisp shots to the face. Reddened around the face and tiring, Cooney was then decked twice in the fifth and it was all over. Somewhat surprisingly, one judge had the fight all-even at 38-38 at the time of the ending.
But Cooney was done (we thought; he instead came back in 1990 to fight George Foreman) and Spinks was set to pull in millions in his “Once And For All” fight with Tyson.
No-one knew it on the night of June 15, 1987, but both Spinks and Cooney would fight once more each after their “War at the Shore.”