Larry Holmes vs. Gerry Cooney

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1982-06-11 : Larry Holmes 212½ lbs beat Gerry Cooney 225½ lbs by TKO at 2:52 in round 13 of 15

  • Unofficial AP scorecard: 116-109 Holmes
  • Unofficial KO magazine scorecard: 118-107 Holmes

World Boxing Council Heavyweight Title (Holmes defending)

Larry Holmes defended the World Heavyweight Championship against Gerry Cooney on June 11, 1982. It was one of the most highly anticipated fights of all time.

Larry Holmes had been the WBC heavyweight champion since 1978, when he beat Ken Norton by a fifteen-round split decision at the Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. He had defended the title eleven times, winning ten by knockout. Trevor Berbick was the only challenger to go the distance with the champion. Among the challengers who failed to hear the final bell were Mike Weaver, Earnie Shavers, Leon Spinks and, most notably, Muhammad Ali. The fact that Holmes stopped the legendary, but badly faded, Ali did not help his popularity with boxing fans, many of whom resented Holmes for beating up their idol.

Gerry Cooney won the New York Golden Gloves in 1976 and turned professional on February 15, 1977, knocking his opponent out in the first round. In 1980, after twenty-two consecutive victories, Cooney stopped Jimmy Young on cuts in four rounds and then knocked out Ron Lyle in one round. On May 11, 1981, Cooney viciously knocked out former WBC champion Ken Norton in round one at the Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was the biggest and most impressive win of his short career. Many were impressed with Cooney, but some criticized his opposition, pointing out that his biggest wins were against fighters who had clearly seen their better days.

Cooney had a tentative agreement to meet WBA champion Mike Weaver on October 22, 1981, but the WBA said Weaver had to fight James "Quick" Tillis next or be stripped of the title. Cooney was ranked #1 by the WBA and Tillis was ranked #3, but the organization said that Tillis was the highest ranked contender when Weaver was due for a mandatory defense in March 1981.

On June 12, 1981, Holmes defended his title for the tenth time by knocking out former champion Leon Spinks in three rounds. While Holmes was doing a post-fight interview with ABC's Howard Cosell, he spotted Cooney being steered in their direction by an ABC aide. Holmes' eyes flared. When Cosell mentioned Cooney, Holmes said, "Howard, I'm going to slap his face if you bring him over here." Holmes then stood up and went after Cooney. During the melee, Holmes accidentally elbowed Cosell in the mouth, slightly cutting his lower lip.

At the post-fight press conference, Holmes went off on Cooney. "Who the hell is Gerry Cooney?" Holmes asked. "I've proved over and over again that I'm the baddest heavyweight in the world. I've beaten everyone. He's the Great White Dope. Who's he ever beaten. He ain't never fought anybody. If he wasn't white, he wouldn't be anywhere. If he was black, nobody would know who he is."

After the Weaver fight fell through, Cooney's managers set their sights on Holmes. In September, it was announced that Holmes and Cooney had agreed to fight. However, Holmes first had to defended his title against Renaldo Snipes on November 6, 1981. Snipes put a scare into everyone when he dropped Holmes in the seventh round, but Holmes came back to stop Snipes in the eleventh and preserve the Cooney fight.

Holmes and Cooney were each guaranteed $10 million dollars. The fight would take place at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada, and be televised live on closed-circuit and pay-per-view television all over the world. A week after the bout, it would re-broadcast on HBO, and later still, on ABC-TV. The fight was originally scheduled for March 15, 1982, but the bout was postponed after Cooney tore muscle fibers in his left shoulder. It was rescheduled for June 11.

Promoter Don King began one of the most massive promotional campaigns in boxing history to raise public interest for the fight. Holmes and Cooney attended press conferences in several U.S. cities, boxed exhibitions, and sat for numerous interviews. Also, since there had not been a white World Heavyweight Champion in twenty-two years, King put a lot of emphasis on race. “This is a white and black fight,” King said. “Anyway you look at it, you cannot change that. Gerry Cooney: Irish, white, Catholic.” Cooney’s managers, Mike Jones and Dennis Rappaport (known in the media as the Whacko Twins) fanned the flames, too. “I do not respect Larry Holmes as a human being,” Rappaport said. “I don’t think he’s carried the championship with dignity.” They pushed Cooney, with little subtlety, as white America’s champion. “He’s not the white man, he’s the right man,” Rappaport liked to say.

Holmes began receiving death threats in the run-up to the fight and his property was vandalized. Also, the Ku Klux Klan staged rallies in support of Cooney. On the night of the fight, snipers were put on rooftops overlooking the outdoor ring in.

A record Las Vegas crowd of 29,284 attended the fight at the 32,000-seat outdoor arena at Caesars Palace and created a record live gate of $7,293,600. There were many celebrities in attendance, including Joe DiMaggio, Farrah Fawcett, Ryan O'Neal, Wayne Gretzky, and Jack Nicholson.

After Wilfredo Gomez knocked out Juan Antonio Lopez in ten rounds to retain the WBC super bantamweight title in the semi-final fight, Holmes and Cooney took center stage without any incidents. However, there was certainly tension in the air. "I don't think I've ever been around a fight where the opinions were so divided," HBO commentator Barry Tompkins said years later. "There was a whole undercurrent of anger."

The ring announcer, Chuck Hull, introduced Holmes first. This was unusual, as it is tradition in boxing that the challenger be introduced first and the champion last. The announcement was considered shameful and intensely disrespectful toward Holmes. It was one of many slights Holmes had to endure. Leading up to the fight, it was Cooney who was on the cover of Time magazine with Sylvester Stallone, who played fictional heavyweight champ Rocky Balboa in that summer's Rocky III, and it was Cooney who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, while Holmes was relegated to the inside flap. Also, in anticipation of victory, a special hot-line was installed in Cooney's dressing room so he could receive a congratulatory phone call from President Ronald Reagan. No such hot-line was installed in Holmes' dressing room.

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When the boxers touched gloves before the first round, Holmes told Cooney, "Let's have a good fight." It looked like it might be a quick fight when Holmes, an 8 to 5 favorite, dropped Cooney in round two, but Cooney survived and came back to win the next two rounds, and the crowd began to chant, "Cooney! Cooney!" Late in the fourth round, Cooney landed a hard left hook to the body. By Holmes' own account, he felt lucky the punch landed at the end of the round.

Holmes and Cooney fought closely from rounds five to eight, trading punches in mid-ring. In the ninth round, Cooney had a point deducted for a low blow. Moments later, Cooney landed another low blow, which caused the champion to double over. Another point was deducted. In round eleven, Cooney landed another low blow and the referee took away another point. In all, Cooney lost three points because of low blows.

In the thirteenth round, Holmes began to land at will against his exhausted opponent. After taking a straight right hand, Cooney, who was bleeding from the nose and a cut left eye, staggered against the ropes and clutched the top rope in an attempt to remain upright. The referee counted it as a knockdown and started to give Cooney a count. Cooney's trainer, Victor Valle, then came into the ring and stopped the fight. Holmes was the winner by a TKO at 2:52 of round thirteen.

At the end of the fight, the only real shocker was the announcement of the scoring. After twelve rounds, two of the three judges, Dave Moretti (who the Holmes camp tried to have replaced before the fight) and Duane Ford, had Holmes ahead by only two points, 113-111. Had the referee not deducted three points from the challenger, Ford and Moretti would have had Cooney ahead on points going into the thirteenth round. The third judge, Jerry Roth (who was substituted the day of the fight for Herb Santos due to objections from the Holmes camp), had Holmes ahead 115-109, a far more reasonable reflection of the events in the ring. "I've seen so much bad scoring out here I knew what I had to do," said Holmes. "I was prepared for anything."

After the fight, Cooney repeatedly apologized to his supporters. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he said. "I tried with all my heart." He felt that he let down a lot of people.

Cooney didn't fight again for over two years. After two knockout wins in 1984, he retired. He came back with a first-round knockout win in 1986 and then fought Michael Spinks for the lineal World Heavyweight Championship in 1987. Cooney was stopped in five rounds and retired again. In 1990, he came back one final time and was stopped by George Foreman in two rounds. He finished with a record of 28-3, with 24 knockouts.

Holmes remained champion until 1985, when he lost the title to Michael Spinks on a close decision. After losing a controversial decision in a rematch with Spinks the following year, Holmes retired. He returned in 1988 to face Mike Tyson for the WBA/WBC/IBF heavyweight titles. Holmes was stopped in the fourth round, the only knockout loss of his career. He retired again but returned in 1991. He got two more title shots, losing decisions to Evander Holyfield and Oliver McCall. Holmes retired for good after defeating Butterbean in 2002. He finished with a record of 69-6, with 44 knockouts. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2008.

Holmes and Cooney are now friends, and Holmes has helped Cooney with F.I.S.T. (Fighters’ Initiative for Support and Training), an organization Cooney founded to help retired boxers.