It was forty years ago today when massive underdog Leon Spinks upset The Greatest, in defeating Muhammad Ali to take the world heavyweight crown. Spinks, a veritable novice, shocked the world by winning a fifteen-round split decision in Las Vegas. Was Ali finished, for good? It looked like it, but as we know, The Greatest came back and scored one last win – a revenge win over “Neon Leon.”
Also in the month of February, in New York in 1977, a heavyweight power puncher began his pro career. Gerry Cooney boxed as a professional for the very first time in stopping one Bill Jackson in a single round on the February 15 in Long Island. Who knows, but had Cooney fought Spinks in 1978, the lethal left-hooker might have become world heavyweight champion himself. Cooney could whack, we all know that.
The KO of Jackson was the first in a number of devastating and quick destruction jobs the big Irish-American would score. Some good names fell at Cooney’s feet, too. Both former heavyweight title challengers Ron Lyle and Jimmy Young went out in quick time, as did former heavyweight champion Ken Norton. In fact, the Norton fight contained one of the most brutally chilling annihilations of a top class fighter in heavyweight history – albeit one against an over the hill boxer, as the former champ was at the time. Still, the genuine and absolute power in the fists of the young Cooney was again proved beyond doubt.
Unfortunately, history ultimately remembers Gerry Cooney as a failure, and unquestionably his career did all but fizzle out after his first world title shot. Boxing bravely during his big opportunity against the great Larry Holmes – in a fight that was one of the biggest promotions of its time – Cooney was stopped after 13 grueling rounds. Thereafter, Gerry only boxed sporadically – hanging the gloves up for good after being flattened in two rounds by the also come-backing George Foreman in 1990. And though he is looked upon today as a fighter who let his potential down, Cooney, at one time, was a hugely popular and exciting heavyweight sensation.
Forced into the sport by a domineering father, Cooney’s heart was never one hundred percent in boxing. His courage was admirable, however, as he showed in the Holmes fight in 1982. But, feeling as though he’d let both himself and, more importantly (in his own mind, at least) his fans down, Gerry was never to be the same again after the honorable defeat.
It was over two years before he boxed again, and when he did so it was only on five occasions. Three of those fights were wins, while the other two bouts saw Gerry lose by KO – in five one-sided rounds versus Michael Spinks in his second shot at the heavyweight championship, and in the two round blow-out to Big George almost three years later.
A very wealthy man due to his boxing career, Gerry these days gives back to the sport that made him rich and the sixty-one year old lives a happy and contented life. And though his career could have certainly turned out better than it did, the New Yorker is at peace with himself and knows now that back when he was fighting he worried too much about letting others down, when in fact, he should have concerned himself only with doing what was best for Gerry Cooney. And who knows, if he was in his prime today he just might have managed to win the title he so badly wanted in the early 1980’s.
Imagine Cooney going up against either Anthony Joshua or Deontay Wilder!
Gerry’s final record reads 28-3 (24 KO’s), which is a far better ledger than the one Spinks walked away with. Who was the better fighter: Cooney or Spinks?