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The Apparition That Was Larry Holmes

Holmescooneypostersigned06_medium Like most Sundays here at Bad Left Hook, it's time to give your attention over to Ted "The Bull" Sares, who's back with another feature. Today, Ted looks back on the famous Larry Holmes-Gerry Cooney story.

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It [rage] was the part of me that always scared me a little because I never completely accepted the fact that I had it in me.

--Larry Holmes

I lost three times in my career. Losing to Holmes I could deal with, because I lost to a true champion.

--Gerry Cooney

I have to make him drunk before I mug him.


It was a hot Boston night in June 1982 and I was with friends at a ball room in Natick, Mass to watch the Larry Holmes-Gerry Cooney fight on large screen TV. It was being held at a steaming hot Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada and was the richest fight in boxing history to that time. The fight had been super-hyped. Cooney (25-0) was billed, cunningly and shamelessly by Don King, as the "Great White Hope," but he admittedly was very uncomfortable with that label. Holmes was 39-0. Someone's "0" had to go.

The fight polarized American boxing fans because a lot had been made about race. Don King made it about race. Don knew, of course, that white plus black equals green. Cooney was made into the good guy who was going to win the "title for America." But the affable and sensitive Cooney wanted nothing to do with it. He just wanted to be champion. Holmes did not buy in. Instead, he used the hype to work for him.

I'll never forget an incredibly fit and ready Holmes coming quickly down the aisle to the sound of McFadden & Whitehead's appropriate Ain't No Stopping Me Now. He seemed focused-perhaps by controlled anger-- and was looking straight ahead free of any glitz; he also looked somewhat vulnerable and solitary-almost like an apparition. The crowd seemed to be totally for Cooney. It wasn't that they booed Larry as much as their cheers for Gentleman Jerry were deafening.. And that was the case in The Natick ball room as well. Hell, Holmes looked almost ghost-like (at least to me) and that's when I began to do some introspection as to why I was rooting for Cooney.

Holmes, the WBC Champion who had fought under the shadow of Ali, had the great jab to go with his marvelous overhand right and deadly uppercut, while Gentleman Gerry Cooney had the devastating left hook. And when it landed flush, it could be measured by a seismograph. Both had taken the measure of Ken Norton, but the Norton that Cooney sent to Mandingo Dreamland was a shot fighter. Clearly, Holmes had fought the far better opposition. Moreover, Jerry's two prior fights against Norton and a faded Ron Lyle lasted a total of 183 seconds. In fact, he had KO'd his last nine opponents and while this was impressive, it could serve to his disadvantage if the fight went into the later rounds.

The Fight

The "Easton Assassin" started fast establishing his great jab, while Jerry was shooting out one jab at a time. In the second round, Cooney was decked and hurt by an overhand right, but Holmes wisely took his time because he knew Cooney's left could be dangerous if he moved in for the kill.

A patient Holmes continued to pepper Cooney with his jab, but Cooney came back in the third with some solid left hooks. Jerry was now closing the gap and the crowd was up and roaring at every Cooney punch. Both smiled at each other after the third showing what I interpreted to be mutual respect. Through the fourth canto, Cooney proved that he belonged in the same ring with Holmes as they both gave and took. The crowd was chanting, "Cooney, Cooney, Cooney," and the audience in the ball room was screaming as loud as it could. Jerry responded by whacking Holmes with several great hooks.

Amazingly, in the fifth round, Cooney's jab began to compliment his hooks and he became the aggressor, but Holmes remained patient. At the end of round five, the fight appeared to be dead even, but smart money people and aficionados knew that Holmes always took the long route.

Holmes was back on his toes in the sixth using good movement, but he was rocked by a Cooney right upstairs and then a later hook to the body. Then, with seconds left in the round, Holmes caught Cooney with six hard rights that almost sent Jerry threw the ropes and also rendered a nasty cut over his left eye. Cooney did land three solid hooks at the very end of the round, but clearly, Holmes had seized the momentum.

After seven rounds, Holmes seemed the more confident fighter. Trainer Victor Valle implored Cooney to get in close and end things. He was worried that the cut and swollen eye might become a decisive, fight ending factor.

In the eighth stanza, Larry began to get into cruise control using his jab to fight smartly, but toward the end of the round, both men exchanged heavy shots. Holmes had now taken Cooney into deep waters for the first time in Cooney's career, but the tall Irishman appeared to be up to the task notwithstanding his eye which had begun to bleed again.

After having a solid ninth round, Cooney hit Holmes with a brutal low blow (the first of three for which he would be deducted points in the fight). Gentlemen Jerry had been warned and it had to take something out of Holmes. But it gave Jerry time to rest. On balance, the advantage was to Cooney

A Show of Respect

The tenth round was a good one for Cooney as he delivered several punishing shots to the body, but Holmes countered with great stuff upstairs. Wow, what a round! Cooney simple would not go away. At the bell, Holmes tapped Cooney on his back in a show of respect and right there and then I switched over to cheering for Holmes. I really can't say why, but I think it might have been that he was the champion and he was fighting like a champion seemingly against all odds. Or maybe it was because I was not going to fall victim to a promoter's carefully orchestrated hype job based on the wrong variables.

At any rate and in the eleventh, both exchanged shots and both seemed to be holding up well. But then referee Mills Lane (who essentially had no clinches to worry about) deducted another point from Cooney for a low blow.

In the twelfth round, Cooney began to show sign of running out of gas though he was able to land some good shots early. Holmes seized on this and was up on his toes again shooting out his jab just as effectively as he had in round one. At the end of the round, Cooney took several hard rights and his now bleeding eye may have impacted his vision. Meanwhile the crowd picked up the chant again, "Jerry, Jerry, Jerry." But the beginning of the end was at hand. And even die-hard Cooney fans could sense it.

In the thirteenth round, Holmes began to measure Cooney whose legs were now rubbery. Then, with just seconds left, Holmes walked though his valiant opponent and landed a number of vicious shots (I counted ten in all). Some came by combination and most were rights. Finally, Jerry stumbled in stages like he was drunk and then he collapsed against the ropes-though he never really hit the canvas. But Victor Valle had seen enough and entered the ring to save his fighter from further punishment thus allowing Mills Lane to halt the mugging.

Cooney fought skillfully and bravely and had absolutely nothing for which to be ashamed. Some even believe he was winning until he was deducted the points for repeated low blows. In fact, despite the deductions, Cooney was not that far behind on the cards. Judge Duane Ford had it 113-111, Dave Moretti also had it 113-111, but Jerry Roth scored it a more realistic 115-109. But after 12 rounds, the more skillful and experienced Holmes finally wore him down.

Larry Holmes would go on to a glorious career. The late historian Herb Goldman ranked him as the number three among the all-time heavyweights. Larry was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2008.

For me, the fight was an indelible memory because it remained just that-a fight.

Visit the author's website at and sign his guest book

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