The CBZ Newswire

Touching Gloves with… Gerry Cooney

by on Dec.21, 2016, under Boxing News

By Dan Hanley


Gerry Cooney appeared on the left on this Time Magazine cover.

Gerry Cooney appeared on the left on this Time Magazine cover.

Growing up in an Irish-Catholic household that always displayed their yen for the sweet science, I became accustomed to the compulsory picture of the Pope on one wall and a picture of ‘Irish’ Jerry Quarry on the other. Having said that, it was a foregone conclusion that I was going to be enamored when ‘Gentleman’ Gerry Cooney – clad in shamrock-laden trunks – arrived on the scene in the late ’70s. And let me tell ya, this son of Erin soon had the Hanley household making room on another wall.


DH: Gerry, where are you from originally?

GC: I was actually born in Manhattan, but we moved to Long Island when I was about 2 years old.

DH: Tell me about life growing up in Long Island.

GC: Dan, I had…a very rough childhood. I had 5 brothers and sisters and a very abusive, alcoholic father. He was from St. Johns, New Foundland and had left home when he was about 13 or 14 and joined the Merchant Marines. He was a big, tough guy who just beat my ass growing up.

DH: How did you find your way into boxing?

GC: My Dad had built a ring in the backyard, so us kids were always going at it. But I grew up with a dismal view of myself. I had no encouragement and I think I provided my own…self-sabotage for lack of a better term. But boxing was an outlet for me to express my anger. I can really say now that it was boxing that kept me alive back then.

DH: Where did you start out formally?

GC: The Huntington Recreational Center. It was John Capobianco who was running it.

 DH: I remember a middleweight by that name.

GC: That middleweight was his son, John Jr. The funny thing with John Sr. was that he would never let me cut loose in sparring. Just a lot of touching and slapping. And with good reason. (laughing) All my sparring partners were his sons. But one day when John wasn’t around, the assistant coach, Otto Giovanelli says to me, “Gerry, fuck that! Let’s see what you can do.” (laughing) Oh, man, I put the hurt on all the Capobiancos. I tell ya, their old man was pissed.

 DH: How did you make out as an amateur?

GC: I won the 1973 160 lb. New York Golden Gloves at Sub-Novice and the 1976 heavyweight title in the Open division. I also fought for the U.S. in Europe and knocked out the Russian champ in a competition here.

DH: Did you make the Olympic Trials in ’76?

GC: I was invited but my father was sick and so I just didn’t go. He died shortly after and I was just numb trying to process everything. I thought it best to take some time off and spend it with my mother.

DH: The decision to go pro, was this something you always wanted?

GC: Oh, yeah! I was in the Garden the night of Ali – Frazier and I just fell in love with the sport.

DH: You had to have been sought after on the east coast at this point. What kind of offers were you getting to turn pro?

GC: Well, to tell you the truth I don’t remember too much about the offers we were receiving, but I signed on with Dennis Rappaport and Mike Jones. Mainly because they were managing Howard Davis and Ronnie Harris. But they had absolutely no background in the business. On the bright side, Victor Valle became my trainer.

DH: You turned pro in February of ’77 and you were kept very busy in ’77, ’78 and ’79 before your first fight of notoriety in November of ’79 against the very hot John ‘Dino’ Denis. I understand there was a bit of bad blood between you two.

GC: There was. He had a real attitude. I don’t know what his problem was but he put his hand over my face at the weigh-in and I slapped it away. We scuffled a bit but it was enough to irritate me. I took him out with one left hook in the 3rd round.

DH: Let’s talk about your corner for a moment. Specifically, Rappaport and Jones. Who coined the phrase, ‘The Whacko Twins’?

GC: For the life of me, I don’t remember. There was always some kind of nicknames being thrown out there about those two. Realistically, with Rappaport and Jones, I made money, but in the long term I was getting fucked! I was just a naive kid trying to move up the ladder whose growth was really stunted by inactivity.

DH: Let’s talk Victor Valle. You appeared to have a great relationship with him. How did he alter your style from the amateurs?

GC: Well, Victor was a teacher. He taught me the fundamentals I didn’t have as an amateur and he was great at toughening me up.

DH: Gerry, in May of ’80 you took on a greatly rejuvenated Jimmy Young and I never thought you looked better. Tell me about that fight.

GC: Oh, yeah! Jimmy was on like a 9-bout winning streak when we met in Atlantic City. I remember he was looking for my hook, but I came up with an uppercut that split his nose and it was stopped in the 4th. Jimmy was a good fighter.

 DH: Who was promoting you at this time?

GC: It was an outfit called Tiffany Promotions and run officially by Sam Glass. A manager can’t hold a promoters license, but Rappaport and Jones were Glass’ partners unofficially.

DH: I understand you were signed to fight Earnie Shavers in August of ’80. Why did this fight not take place?

GC: Dan, that was a myth. I have heard it so many times over the years. But actually Shavers was signed to fight ‘Tex’ Cobb at that time. He and I actually never signed a fight contract.

 DH: In October of ’80 in the Nassau Coliseum, you took on Ron Lyle in an all-puncher duel. Lyle may have been a veteran at this time, but I was still impressed at how you maneuvered him to the ropes. Still, this had to be a dangerous tactic against a guy like Lyle.

GC: Y’know, I was confident, took it right to him, caught him in a corner and broke his ribs. See, leading up to this fight I was sparring steadily with Tim Witherspoon. He didn’t stay in camp after the fight, which was a shame, because this was exactly the kind of work I needed.

DH: May of ’81 was the fight that had everyone glued to their sets – even if it was a delayed telecast – to see if you were for real. You and Ken Norton in Madison Square Garden. Although brief, tell me how it unfolded.

GC: Dan, I took him out in the first round and I swear, I could have beaten anyone that night. That’s how hot I was.

DH: In October of ’81 it appeared you would be fighting Mike Weaver for the WBA heavyweight title. What was the WBA’s problem? You were their #1 contender, yet they insisted he fight their #3 man ‘Quick’ Tillis.

GC: I don’t know what happened, but it happened. Having that title would have been a great boost of confidence going into the Holmes fight, but it is what it is. Y’know, these kind of fights falling through was what hindered my progress as a fighter.

DH: At this time your name was on the tongue of every boxing wag and fan all over the world. How was a kid from the Huntington Recreational Center handling this kind of notoriety?

GC: (laughing) Oh, man, it was great! For a kid that grew up out of sight – out of mind, I was suddenly cast in a light that said, ‘Everybody loves Gerry Cooney’.

Cooney lands a ponderous right to the jaw of Larry Holmes.

Cooney lands a ponderous right to the jaw of Larry Holmes (photo courtesy of Ring Magazine).

DH: Your moment finally arrived on June 11, 1982 at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. First of all I gotta ask you. After a very active first couple of years in the business, you had dwindled down to only 2 rounds of action in the last 2 years going into your biggest fight. Was this preying on everyone’s mind in the Cooney camp?

GC: Well, let me put it to you this way, (laughing) it wasn’t preying on Rappaport or Jones’ mind. Now Victor was another story. He was doing everything to get me in the kind of shape for what lay ahead and had me sparring 15 rounds in the gym. Dan, I fought my ass off that night, it just wasn’t enough.

 DH: I’m sure you’ve been asked many times about the racial overtones on the fight, but to tell you the truth, I always thought it was the media that had created it and drove it home for good copy. What was your thoughts on the pre-fight swirl?

GC: I would absolutely agree with you. All this black and white bullshit that they spun had a real effect on everyone. To give you an example, I love Larry Holmes but he was bitter at me during the whole promotion. See, Larry came up hard, always in the shadow of Ali. And now he’s the champion, but he’s fighting a kid who’s on the cover of Time/Life. Whatever was going through his head, the media didn’t help matters. But I’ll tell you one thing about Larry, when the referee finished his instructions and we tapped gloves, Larry says to me, “Let’s have a good fight.” That statement alone took all the tension away and we were just two professionals in there.

DH: Tell me about the fight.

GC: Well, I got dropped in the second round and I had one of those awakening moments where I actually said aloud, (laughing) “What the hell are you doing down here?” But like I said, I gave it everything I had, but I was coming apart as the fight progressed and it was stopped in the 13th. I simply lacked the experience for the job at hand.

DH: I always felt the ram-rod jab that ripped up Jimmy Young was missing. Did your corner feel that way?

GC: Well…I still thought I did alright with the jab, but Jimmy was very stationary that night, whereas, Larry stayed on the move. But the truth of the matter is that I just needed 5 or 6 more fights under my belt.

DH: We all heard at the time of the near-mythical $10 million apiece for this fight. Was this true?

GC: I don’t know how much Larry got for the fight, but I received $8.5 million. I should also mention that Larry and I are great today. We hang out all the time.

DH: You were off for over 2 years after that fight. What was going through the mind of Gerry Cooney.

GC: (laughing) Very little, I’m afraid. I had lost a bit of interest after losing the fight and dealing with all that racism garbage, which I found distasteful. Plus I was still dealing with Rappaport and Jones, who – in case no one knows this – really hated each other and here I was in the middle. I just took to drinking and I mean heavily.

DH: When you did return to the ring in ’84, you returned with a couple of stepping-stone wins over Phil Brown and George Chaplin. The Chaplin fight in particular was impressive, as he was such a spoiler. But just when it seemed you were back, you were gone again for another year and a half. What was going on?

GC: I bounced around for a bit doing other things and enjoying myself a little bit too much, but the camp was really in turmoil.

DH: You looked very composed in May of ’86 with a first round stoppage of the very capable Eddie Gregg. I recall you discussing your ring rust. What kind of paces did Victor Valle have you going through in order to shed the rust?

GC: We still had a crazy camp at this time. Jones was gone by now, so it was only Rappaport. But Victor did the best he could with what we had. But let me tell you about the Eddie Gregg fight. I knew Gregg and he was a very nice boxer, just not much of a puncher. But his management actually sent him out there in that first round to slug it out with me. I don’t know what they were thinking, but what a mistake!

DH: In June of ’87 you took on IBF heavyweight champ Michael Spinks. But this fight almost didn’t come off. Wasn’t the IBF pushing Tony Tucker for Spinks?

GC: I’m not sure, but I do remember it took us about 2 1/2 years to get this fight.

DH: What did Spinks have that gave you trouble?

GC: Nothing! Michael Spinks could never have stood up to me – even today. But I was a walking dead man in those days. I was drinking every day and I was a mess.

DH: It was a couple of more years before you got in the ring again. This time during the George Foreman comeback. How did this come about?

GC: I had been doing a bit of promoting at this time. We had promoted The Roberto Duran – Davey Moore fight, the third Leonard – Duran bout, several Hector Camacho fights and several on the Foreman comeback tour. Well, it was George himself that came to us and suggested a bout between he and I.

DH: I believe this was your first and only fight without Victor Valle in the corner. Did you have a falling out?

GC: No, we were still good, but I needed a change. I was clean and sober now and just did a clean slate. I hired Gil Clancy to train me.

DH: Gerry, with two big bangers in there someone was going to go early. Tell me about the fight.

GC: Well, the funny thing was, Gil wanted me to box, but I hurt George in the first round and then of course the Irish in me came out. (laughing) I just said, “Fuck it, I’m going for it.” Unfortunately I got caught in the second round. What can you do?

DH: You packed it in for good after that bout. What did you get into after hanging them up for good?

GC: I ran a foundation for a few years called F.I.S.T., which was set up to help retired boxers mentally, spiritually and to educate them when the career ended. Unfortunately a member raided the finances and we had to shut down. Today, I’m on Sirius XM radio doing a boxing show with former Ring Magazine editor Randy Gordon called ‘Monday and Friday night at the fights.’ I also make a lot of charitable appearances in golf tournaments. I should also mention that ESPN has been talking about doing a documentary on me. So, I’m keeping busy.

DH: What regrets do you have from your career?

GC: (laughing) Oh, man, where do I start? The Spinks fight was just a flat-out embarrassment. I always wanted a Holmes rematch but could never secure that. I have to say my management was about as dysfunctional as my family life growing up. The inactivity I experienced from how I was managed really prevented me from reaching my full potential. Of course, crawling inside a bottle didn’t help matters either, but I accept everything that happened to me and have no more demons in my life.

Gerry Cooney, at right, with his trainer, Victor Valle.

Gerry Cooney, at right, with his trainer, Victor Valle (photo courtesy of International Boxing magazine).

DH: How is life today for Gerry Cooney?

GC: I have been sober since April of ’88. I’ve been married to my wife Jennifer for 23 years. We have 2 children together and I have an older son from a previous relationship. We reside today in New Jersey and Dan, I gotta tell you…life is good.


Gerry Cooney was always such an enigma to me. A fighter with the talent to take the hill, but lacking the vehicle of experience to get him there. A fighter who always seemed to be involved in a mega-fight rather than the career-carving 10 rounders that could realize success on the mega-level.

Still, the image of his grimacing opponents – picture unanesthetized organ extraction – from his sweeping left hook is indelibly etched into my memory. A memory which I would consider a fitting epitaph to the uncanny career of Gerry Cooney.

See ya next round,


Dan Hanley





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