Today, May 11, marks the anniversary of Gerry Cooney’s most brutal career KO – the one he scored over former WBC heavyweight champ Ken Norton in 1981. Taking Norton out in 54 seconds, Cooney almost killed the 35 year old (some saying Norton was actually a few years older). Today, fans still recoil in horror when they watch the fight; the way the towering Cooney was allowed to blast away with both hands as an out of it Norton was stuck, half-sitting on the ropes.
It looked for all the world that Cooney, then aged 24 and approaching his peak, would become world champion soon enough. At least plenty of people felt this way; certainly Cooney’s army of fans. Many people list the Norton KO as Cooney’s most impressive. It was his most devastating, of that there is no argument. But was it really the best Gerry Cooney we ever saw that night at Madison Square Garden?
Others point to Cooney’s one-round destruction of Ron Lyle as his most impressive win; Cooney’s body shot sending the former world title challenger clean out of the ropes. But Norton and Lyle had something in common: they were both shot by the time they faced Cooney. But was Jimmy Young all washed up when he got stopped by Cooney?
Young was 31 years old on the night of May 25, 1980, and he was coming off two decent wins (over John L. Gardner and Don Halpin). Young was in good shape for Cooney and he had been stopped just once in his career (by Earnie Shavers way back in 1973, Jimmy boxing a draw with Earnie the following year). This fight was a very good test for the 23 year old from Long Island, and Cooney passed it in great style.
His punches crisp and accurate, Cooney bossed the fight. Facing as tricky a guy as Young – who had in 1976 made Muhammad Ali look far from his best and who had in 1977 beaten the murderous-punching George Foreman with his slippery, hard to nail style – Cooney could have been made to look clumsy and raw. Instead, boxing with patience and maturity, Cooney cut the ring off on Young and beat him up. Cut badly – as in horrifically; Young suffering an eye injury that absolutely poured with blood – Young was stopped at the end of the fourth.
The fight could have been stopped much sooner; should have been stopped sooner. Unable to see, Young could have been badly hurt by the vicious puncher with the awesome left hook. As would also be the case in the Cooney-Norton fight, referee Tony Perez covered himself in anything but glory with his handling of the fight.
Cooney was now 23-0, Young was now 25-10-2. It’s easy to say Cooney beat yet another “old man,” a faded fighter that night. Yet Young was neither. In fact, Jimmy came back in 1981, winning five in a row and winning Ring Magazine’s Comeback of the Year award for ’81. Young was then decisioned by Greg Page in May of 1982, before going on to lose eight of his final 14 fights. But Young was never stopped during this time. In fact, only Shavers and Cooney ever managed to stop the Philly slickster.
This was Gerry Cooney’s most impressive career win, no doubt about it. Indeed, the manner in which Cooney defeated Young makes a fan wonder all the more why “Gentleman Gerry” was never able to win at least a portion of the world title. He was certainly good enough.