Heavyweight legends Larry Holmes and Gerry Cooney are currently touring the UK, primarily to recall and to celebrate their huge June 1982 showdown that took place in Las Vegas. Cooney was at the time one of the biggest names in boxing, his stardom to become complete with his winning of the world title. It wasn’t to be. The then almost criminally underrated Holmes (underrated by plenty of people, if not all) knew too much for the man eight years and a whole lot of fights/rounds his junior, stopping his game challenger in the 13th.
Cooney’s career went into a tailspin and it never fully recovered. Today, Cooney is rightfully proud of the effort he gave almost 40 long years ago – fighting in the sweltering heat, with unimaginable pressure to win pushing down hard on both shoulders – yet he also laments the fact that he was not given more fights, and with them more experience, before climbing into the ring with such an accomplished fighter. And Cooney today says he wishes there had been a rematch.
Speaking at the weekend, as heard by The Scotsman, Cooney and Holmes, today great friends, went back in time to relive the monster fight they engaged in.
“I don’t know why, for the life of me, we didn’t get a rematch? I do not know why,” Cooney said. “Today’s times we would’ve fought three or four times. If the fight was that good – we had a great time that night. I was also struggling with some things, and I didn’t have the experience, but I learned so much that night from being in the ring with such a great champion. I would’ve loved to have got motivated to go right back to the gym. But I had two managers I couldn’t stand (the late Mike Jones and Dennis Rappaport, still very much with us), Don King I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t trust nobody. I had nobody in my corner really.”
It is an interesting question from heavyweight history: what might have happened had Cooney got right back on the horse after losing to Holmes, if he had indeed been able to brush himself off and get right back in the gym? But then again, if Cooney was “unable to get any fights because I wouldn’t sign with Don King,” would anything have been different if Gerry had not vanished the way he did for long months? Who could Cooney have fought in, say, November or December of 1982?
In terms of an immediate rematch with Holmes (who instead faced another “White Hope” in his next fight, this being Randy Tex Cobb that November), would Cooney possibly have been able to do any better? It seems doubtful, the inner demons Cooney was carrying with him at the time. No wonder Gerry Cooney presents us with one of the biggest “what ifs?” in modern day heavyweight history. It all looked so great for Gerry once, yet the downward spiral was swifter in coming than his rise to glory, and it was devastating. Can Cooney really put all the blame, or most if it, at the feet of King, Jones and Rappaport?
In any case, as “badly managed” as he was, Gerry is today a very wealthy man and he is in great physical and mental shape. Maybe he wasn’t so badly managed, this by two people he “couldn’t stand,” after all?
Holmes and Cooney do have a darn good fight to look back on today.