Heavyweight puncher Gerry Cooney was in Ireland over the weekend, doing a meet and greet with the fans and promoting his new autobiography ‘Gentleman Gerry: A Contender in the Ring, a Champion in Recovery.’ Cooney really did shine brightly for a time in the early 1980s, blitzing veteran big names like Ken Norton, Ron Lyle and Jimmy Young.
But then, after his brave but losing fight with defending heavyweight king Larry Holmes, Cooney, at age 25, all but vanished from the ring; fighting just five more times. But today, in speaking with The Irish Post, 62 year old Cooney says his career, for all intents and purposes, came to an end in May of 1981 – the night he scored that chillingly brutal 54-second KO of former WBC heavyweight champ Norton.
Cooney has stated many times that he needed further fights, further experience before going in with the great Holmes, but that as he would not sign up with the all-powerful Don King he could not get any fights. Today, Cooney says that if he had actually managed to defeat Holmes in their 1982 super-fight he “wouldn’t be here today.”
“Don King wouldn’t give me anyone to fight. Because I wouldn’t sign for him,” Gerry told The Irish Post. “He had everybody on his books back then apart from me. So he was keeping me out for as long as he could. He was a nightmare to deal with, but I don’t know who was worse, him or my management. All they cared about was money. I needed that extra experience before facing Larry. The night I fought Kenny Norton – my career ended that night. That was the night I started to drink heavily. That’s when the fear really kicked in. Was I really good enough? Could I make it? So alcohol filled that hole.”
Gerry says writing his book took him back to some tough times but that the whole experience of revealing his demons on the written page has been a good thing for him. The towering Irish/American with the pulverising left hook feels strongly that his life would have seriously unravelled had he beaten Holmes and become world champion.
“But I do honestly believe, had I beat Holmes that evening, I wouldn’t be here with you today,” Gerry said. “Life was going so fast for me at the time. As angry as I was at the events back then, looking back, it needed to play out the way it did.”
For many fans, Cooney is one of the biggest ‘what ifs?’ in modern day heavyweight history. Cooney really did look to have greatness in his sights – for a short time at least. The new book promises to be a fascinating read.