Holmes vs Cooney: The Good the Bad and the Ugly
By Simon Graham
As champion during the 80’s Larry Holmes continually found himself the outcast, boxing pundits, experts and fans would consistently diminish the boxing legacy that Holmes was forging for himself.
Holmes on numerous occasions would ask what more he could do to convince the boxing world he was the legitimate successor to the world heavyweight title, he hated being portrayed as the bad man the man who ended the career of the great Muhammed Ali, all he wanted was to be loved and respected as being the best man of the division.
Sadly even today Holmes has never been forgiven for battering an ageing, ailing Ali into submission in 1980.
Holmes throughout his career would be the man everyone wanted to see lose, whatever the calibre of opponent he faced, fight fans could clearly been seen and heard baying for the blood of Holmes.
Never had a fighter ever entered the ring let alone a champion that had the boxing world against him, for Holmes this only spurred him on to achieve greater glory.
Holmes had beaten Ken Norton in a very close 15 rounder in 1978 to win the WBC heavyweight title, dominating the division with his superb jab and counterpunch style.
He pushed into the 80s beating the likes of Mike Weaver, Renaldo Snipes and Leon Spinks cleaning up an ageing era.
Since Ingemar Johansson in 1960 there had not been a white heavyweight champion for 22 years so when Gerald Arthur Cooney destroyed (ironically) Ken Norton in two emphatic rounds the boxing world sat up to take notice of an emerging 6’6” white Irish American.
Gerry Cooney turned pro in 1977 and smashed his way up the heavyweight division with 25 KO’s from his first 26 fights. But it was that win over Norton that set the tone for his world title attempt a fight that would capture the imagination of fight fans, movie stars and politicians but ultimately would set light to a deep burning racial undertone that at times would burn out of control.
Holmes v Cooney was set for Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada June 1982 but the hype for the clash had started during the previous year. Promotors Don King and Dennis Rappaport embarked on one of boxings biggest campaigns in boxing history to raise public interest, it didn’t take long for it to escalate into more than a fight.
The media frenzy around Cooney to become the first white champion in 22 years was palpable, he appeared on the cover of every magazine from Ring magazine to Time magazine and quickly became known as the “Great White Hope.”
Incensed by the hype, Holmes received insult after insult, it was argued he was to old to beat the younger Cooney, the 20 million dolour purse was split equally between the two fighters which was unheard of and grossly unfair to the champion.
The Holmes camp were even accused of being racist’s at every public media event, which prompted threats of shooting from white supremacists met with threats of retaliation from black groups, the night of the fight would see Police snipers positioned in high vantage points around the venue because of those threats.
The Fight itself the richest in history at that time was pretty one-sided. Cooney gave a good account of himself after being dropped in round 2 but the gulf in class was clear to see.
By round thirteen Cooney was behind of the judges cards bleeding from a cut eye and taking heavy punishment. Holmes boxed a superb technical fight finally landing a big right on Cooney who after falling into the ropes was mercifully saved from an evitable knockout by his corner man.
Cooney distraught by his loss fought 5 more times finally retiring after losing in devastating style to George Foreman who was on the comeback trail in 1990.
Holmes defended the WBC title a further 5 times before being robbed of achieving and equalling a record of 49 fights undefeated by Michael Spinks, a further insult to a man who should be honoured and remembered for being a great champion.
Amidst all the animosity, hype and media frenzy on that night in 1982 Larry Holmes and Gerry Cooney would become great friends, Holmes would at every opportunity answer the call of Cooney to help with his boxing foundation F.I.S.T a foundation aimed at getting ex pro boxers new jobs and much needed help after the final bell had rung on their careers.
Holmes was and is genuinely a nice man he had to play the role of the bad man simply through no choice of his own, the people disrespected him and continually disrespect his legacy, all he truly wanted was to be was the ‘Peoples Champion.’