Foreman Vs. Cooney – Three Comebacks For The Price Of One

By James Slater - 01/15/2023 - Comments

George Foreman had ruled, in fact terrorised, the heavyweight division in 1973 and 1974. Gerry Cooney had been a genuine heavyweight superstar sensation of a murderous left hooker in 1980/1981/1982. Gil Clancy was a retired, and much respected, Trainer of Champions. Now, on January 15th, 1990, all three men, each of them recognized today as a legend of the sport, were launching a comeback.

Foreman had in fact returned to the ring in March of 1987, his ring return laughed at by almost everyone, but now, having “feasted on cruiserweights and light-heavyweights,” as one publication put it at the time, 41 year old Foreman was about to take a genuine risk. 33 year old Cooney, who had not fought since being whacked out by Michael Spinks in June of the year “Big George” shocked everyone by coming back, was clean and sober and he wanted to, as he put it, “see what I could do.”

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Clancy was 67 and he had not trained a fighter since the 1970s. It was seen by all as a major plus for Cooney that Gil – who had trained the likes of Emile Griffith, Ken Buchanan, Rodrigo Valdez, Juan LaPorte, and Foreman – had agreed to return to train the one-time “Great White Hope.”

In fact, another boxing publication of the day wrote how Clancy’s involvement in the much-maligned fight that had been officially dubbed “The Preacher Vs. The Puncher,” but had been handed the unofficial tag-line of “Two Geezers at Caesars,” added a touch of badly needed class. “Clancy can’t save it,” the article read,” but his involvement stops it from being nothing short of a WWF event.”

Clancy had been mightily impressed by Cooney aver since he came out of the amateurs, and was now impressed at the way Gerry had turned his life around in getting clean and sober. Gil was eager to see what Cooney had left just as much as his fighter was keen to find out what he still had. In Cooney, Clancy said, he had a big, mobile guy who could punch with either hand and who could take a punch. “I don’t know what more you want in a fighter,” Gil said in the run-up to the Foreman fight. “George Foreman is used to being big George Foreman, but in this fight he’s going to be little George Foreman,” Clancy added, pointing to the fact that the 6’7” Cooney would enjoy a height advantage over the 6’3” Foreman.

And Cooney, who had been sober for eight months, worked hard in the gym. Clancy was sure his faster, quicker, more mobile fighter would be able to stick and move against the lumbering Foreman, that he could tire him out and then, after then “around six or seven rounds,” as Cooney later recalled the game plan, he could move in and knock Foreman out.

It didn’t turn out that way.

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Cooney, 28-2(25) came in the lighter fighter, as expected. At 231, Cooney was giving up 22 pounds against the 253 pound, 64-2(60) Foreman. A huge crowd, made up mostly of curiosity seekers, filled The Boarwalk in Atlantic City, while a big pay-per-view audience (later reported to be to the tune of 400,000, the fight going out at $20.00) watched from home. Yes, the fight had allowed critics to engage in a field day, but the fight had attracted serious fan attention and interest.

And the fight delivered, in a short and sweet fashion.

Cooney was the faster, nimbler fighter and, towards the end of the opening round, the Irish-American who had once, for a short time been the darling of white America, cranked off a left hook that crashed into Foreman’s shaven skull, the shot briefly wobbling the former champ. Some screams could be heard from the crowd. But Foreman, though buzzed, pumped out some punches of his own up to the sound of the bell.

In round two, Foreman showed us all how much he had left as far as his timing, accuracy and raw power were concerned. Backing Cooney up, Foreman split through his rival’s guard – a rival who had once promoted some of his earlier comeback fights – as he proceeded to blast Cooney’s head around with hard, deadly accurate shots. Cooney, his legs no longer capable of movement, ate some heavy leather before falling. Showing heart/instinct, Cooney got back up but a calm and assured Foreman, walking to his wounded prey, uncorked a monster left uppercut that violently blasted into Cooney’s exposed jaw. There was no need for the following right hand shot Foreman landed, Cooney already tumbling towards the canvas. Foreman winked at someone at ringside.

Clancy was of course disappointed, yet at the same time he spoke about how impressed he had been by Foreman’s accuracy. Cooney never fought again. Clancy did train again, coming back to work with Oscar De La Hoya. While we all know what Foreman went on to accomplish.

Foreman-Cooney really was quite a story, one that compromised of an eventful promotion, a short, savage slugfest ending in a highlight reel KO, and the comeback of three boxing giants.

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