Gerry Cooney is a retired Irish-American professional boxer from Huntington, New York. Cooney is best known for his loss to world champion Larry Holmes in 1982, and his win over ex-champion Ken Norton in 1981.
Known for his big left-hook and his imposing size, the tall, lean Cooney had his first paid fight on February 15, 1977, beating Billy Jackson by a knockout in one round. Nine wins followed and Cooney gained attention as a future contender. Although his opponents were carefully chosen. He moved up a weight class and fought future world cruiserweight champion S.T. Gordon in Las Vegas, winning by a fourth round disqualification. Cooney had 11 more wins, spanning 1978 and 1979. Among those he defeated were Charlie Polite, former US heavyweight champion Eddie Lopez, and Tom Prater. These were not rated contenders however.
By 1980, Cooney was being featured on national television. Stepping up, he beat one time title challengers Jimmy Young and Ron Lyle, both by ‘knockouts,’ although the Young fight was stopped because of cuts sustained by Young. By now he was ranked number 1 by the WBC and eager for a match with champion Larry Holmes.
In 1981, he defeated former world heavyweight champion Ken Norton by a knockout just 54 seconds into the first round with a blisteringly powerful attack. This broke the record set in 1948 by Lee Savold for the quickest knockout in a main event in Madison Square Garden. Since his management team was unwilling to risk losing a big future pay day with Holmes by having him face another viable fighter, Cooney did not fight for 13 months after defeating Norton.
The following year, Holmes agreed to fight him. With a purse of ten million dollars for the challenger, it was the richest fight in boxing history to that time. The promotion of the fight took on racial overtones that were exaggerated by the promoters, something Cooney did not agree with. He believed that skill, not race, should determine if a boxer was good. However, if Cooney won, he would have become the first Caucasian world heavyweight champion since Swede Ingemar Johansson defeated Floyd Patterson 23 years earlier. This caused Don King to label Cooney “The Great White Hope.” The bout drew attention worldwide, and Larry Holmes vs. Gerry Cooney was one of the biggest closed-circuit/pay-per-view productions in history, broadcast to over 150 countries.
Cooney fought bravely after he was knocked down briefly in the second round. Some believe he was winning until he was fined three points for repeated low blows in round 10. But, after 12 rounds, the more skillful and experienced Holmes finally wore him down. In round 13, Cooney’s trainer stepped into the ring to save his fighter from further punishment.
In June 2010, Cooney became the co-host of “Friday Night at the Fights” on SIRIUS XM Radio where he shares his views with listeners on active fighters and relevant issues in the sport.
Gerry Cooney now resides in Fanwood, New Jersey, with his wife Jennifer and two of their three children, Jackson and Sarah. His other son Chris resides in New York. He has been inducted into the Hall of Fame at Walt Whitman High School, where he graduated.
Cooney remains close friends with Holmes several years following their classic fight.