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Biofile Gerry Cooney Interview

By Scoop Malinowski

Status: Former World Heavyweight Championship challenger.

Ht: 6-6  Wt: 225

DOB: August 24, 1956  In: New York, NY

First Memory Of Boxing:  First fight here in the finals of the (Golden) Gloves 1973 (Madison Square Garden, 20,000 attendance). When I won the middleweight championship (vs. Larry Derrick as 7-1 underdog). Unbelievable. I came from Long Island, never fought before. And I had seven fights, had five knockouts to win the middleweight championship. And it set me on my path. It gave me direction. It gave me a meaning and a purpose.

Boxing Inspirations:  You know, listen, obviously Jimmy Young, Kenny Norton, Ron Lyle. Losing to Larry Holmes (for world title) was a great night for me. With the experience I had I couldn’t get the fights I needed to be prepared for him. But we had a great night, became great friends to this day and wow, magic.

First Famous Boxer You Met Or Encountered:  Muhammad Ali. Jake Lamotta. I met a lot of guys in the business that you’re always around. You got to the Hall of Fame… Willie Pep, Sandy Saddler, Gene Fullmer, Carmen Basilio. All those guys, Bob Foster. I met Ali here in New York. That’s the guy that made me want to be a fighter. Joe Frazier. Wow. This is like a dream. That’s when the magic started to happen for me.

Favorite Movies:  Rocky of course. I love that movie. I had a raw egg the next day [smiles]. The Harder They Fall. Rocky Graziano story. Raging Bull. Boxing films, I’ve seen them all.

Last Book Read:  I’m reading the Tom Hauser book now, his latest book.

First Job:  Local Steel Workers for my father. I love the Local 40. They all came to watch me fight.

Greatest Sports Moment:  I would say knocking out Ken Norton in one round (54 seconds in 1981 at Madison Square Garden). Beating Jimmy Young in four rounds (1980). Stopping him the way I did. I had some great experiences. I wish I could have fought a few more guys that meant something that could have gave me the looks so that when I fought Holmes I would have had a better shot.

Most Painful Moment:  Losing to Holmes (1982 Las Vegas Caesars Palace by TKO 14).

Funny Boxing Memory:  Bob Hope. I fought him (on the Bob Hope TV Special on NBC). He was the Kansas City Chicken. And I went to fight. I had gloves on, he had gloves on. And I went like this, and he feinted back to me. And we laughed. He was an amateur fighter. So he knew what I was doing. And it was the greatest feeling. We became great friends. He came back to New York and had his driver take me to where he was performing. Love that man. Frank Sinatra was a great moment. I was with Frank Sinatra many times. Obviously, I had (President) Ronald Reagan’s phone in my locker room the night I fought Holmes but I didn’t win. Unfortunately I didn’t get to call him. But it was fortunate to have his phone in there.

Strangest Fight:  I had some awkward guys. Guys that wanted to survive – Sam McGill early on in my career. (Eddie) Animal Lopez turned out to be easy. But he was a tough guy who did a number on John Tate (former WBA Heavyweight champion). I had the toughest sparring partners that I went through all the time because my trainer (Victor Valle) wanted me to be tough. So they made me work hard every day. And I was knocking guys out every day.

Why Do You Love Boxing: Boxing is a great life. Like what I said – I saw Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and thought: That’s what I want to do. And then when I went to the gym, the little Italian guy knocked me around the ring. I took the gloves off, I said forget it. But at 15 1/2 I went down to the basement, I realized he was going to charge me. I went back to the gym and he couldn’t do that to me anymore. That’s when I knew I was going to be a fighter. Six months later I won the middleweight championship Golden Gloves.

Which Fights Were You At Your Best:  Kenny Norton. I could have beaten anyone in the world that day. I was fit to be tied. The story is, they knock on your door, Hey Cooney, you’re next. The emotion comes over you, you walk through the empty corridor. And when you feel the energy of the fans, this magic happens. That’s a gift you have for a short window of your life. And I had it many nights and I loved it.

Embarrassing Career Memory: Michael Spinks (1987 KO 5 loss in Atlantic City). I was not in shape. The fight was off, it was on, it was off, on. I never believed it was gonna happen. I was drinking, not taking care of myself. That’s my biggest regret. Because he didn’t belong in the ring with me.

Funniest Boxers Encountered:  Jake Lamotta. Funny guy. Pep. So many guys. Jake was a comedian. But a rough guy. He fought Ray Robinson twice in three weeks back in the day. Those guys fought two or three times a month. Now they fight two times a year maybe. He said, ‘There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you my good friend Gerry Cooney.’ He said, ‘There’s nothing Gerry Cooney wouldn’t do for me.’ So he said we walk around and do nothing for each other [laughs].

People Qualities Most Admired:  I like loving, caring, sensitive people, like, to give back. Make someone, when they leave me, feel better than when I met them. And I’m afforded, as a celebrity, although I’m old, I still get a chance to go out and play Gerry Cooney. It’s the greatest feeling in the world.

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About Scoop Malinowski

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