Though the fight was much maligned, and though plenty of experts refused to take the fight seriously going in, the heavy, accurate and eye-catching piece of punching George Foreman delivered in knocking out Gerry Cooney in the 2nd round of their pay-per-view fight sure got “Big George” respect. It was on this day in 1990 when Foreman, 19 fights into his unlikely, much-maligned comeback, took his first risk.
Having hammered blown up cruiserweights, even light-heavyweights, to defeat, the former heavyweight ruler was, in facing Cooney, meeting someone his own size, or even taller, and the 41-year-old was going in with a legit puncher. Cooney had sorted his life out, quitting the booze and fighting himself into shape in the gym. In an added twist, Cooney had hired the sage Gil Clancy to train him for the Foreman fight; Clancy having worked with Foreman back in the 1970s, after George had been shocked by Muhammad Ali.
The curiosity factor surrounding Foreman Vs. Cooney ensured a large crowd turned up to fill The Convention Centre in New Jersey, Atlantic City; with millions watching the fight on TV (I can recall watching the fight here in the UK, offered as it was by a still-new Sky Sports. Frank Warren was in the studio, and the promoter, not long recovered from having been shot and almost killed, was firmly against the fight, whereas fellow guest Frank Bruno was as fascinated as many of us were when it came to how far Foreman’s crunching punching power could take him – the two later having a friendly bet over who would win if Foreman fought Mike Tyson).
It was in many ways an unmissable fight. Brilliantly promoted and sold by Foreman and Cooney, each man having a genuinely enthralling life story to tell, the fight was one that could go either way. It would be bombs away, it would be who lands first wins. There would not be any dancing, only punching. It was “The Preacher Vs. The Puncher.”
But as it turned out, preacher Foreman was the puncher – the monster all-devouring puncher. Cooney had some success in the opening round, briefly wobbling Foreman with a left hook to the head, but in the second, Foreman’s crisp and accurate combination punching wrecked Cooney. And the way George put Gerry away impressed many; Clancy included. Foreman, calm, patient and deadly, scored the most impressive KO of his entire comeback. Indeed, it wasn’t until his historic title-regaining KO win over Michael Moorer in November of 1994 that Foreman scored a more exquisite knockout.
Foreman-Cooney had got people talking, and now the KO “Big George” had scored over “Gentleman Gerry” had even more people talking – about what would happen if Foreman fought Tyson mostly. As we know, it never happened. Warren and Bruno never got to see who would be giving who a fiver.
Cooney retired for good, while Foreman bagged himself a shot at Evander Holyfield. Tyson, of course, had sensationally lost the crown to massive underdog James Douglas a month after Foreman had set Cooney packing; Douglas then belly-flopping against Holyfield in his first defence. The heavyweight division really was buzzing at the time. Nobody knew what might come next.
Was a 41-year-old former champ the most dangerous big man on the scene? Foreman had proven in grand style how he had indeed retained the zinging punching power of his youth. No-one was laughing anymore.