At dawn the boxer arises and spreads his arms to the hills. "Beautiful, isn't it?" he says. "So peaceful and quiet." Then he wraps earphones around his head, turns up the rock music and begins to run.
After his three-mile roadwork the boxer enters the gleaming resort health spa to do his stomach exercises. "Being out there in a cabin in the middle of the woods, that's no good," he says. "You need something to take your mind off what you're doing. Look." He slides to one side of the workout bench, seeking the best angle in the mirror to view a young woman in leotards pumping a Nautilus machine.
After breakfast the boxer spends 20 minutes in the spa's tanning bed. "Just for a little color," he says. Then a little TV, a little lunch, a little nap, and he enters the spa gym for sparring.
There, on the wall above the richest nontitleholding boxer in history, as he prepares for a June 15 bout in Atlantic City with Michael Spinks that will earn him $5 million more, hangs a large American flag, GERRY COONEY, says the lettering on the flag, AMERICAN TRADITIONS.
"Hey, champ, how you doing? How do you feel? You look in shape. Good to see you. Thanks for coming. Have a nice day."
This is not the fan addressing the boxer. This is the boxer addressing the fan. This is the same man who a few hours earlier had slapped his right biceps, balled his fist and thrust it toward the ceiling, saying that the people who criticized him for his long layoff from boxing and his French pastry list of opponents "could stick it."
Now here he is, shaking people's hands and tousling their kids' hair and autographing his photograph as they stand in line after his workout, the champion for the suburban American middle class—from which he came and in which he still lives. "Such a likable guy," the people say as they leave, giving him their highest honor. "Such a likable guy."
"Hi, I'm Gerry Cooney, I'm fighting Michael Spinks for the heavyweight title in June," he says to people in airports who haven't asked. He gives them autographs they haven't asked for, too. The big smile. The big handshake. "I'm a happy guy," he explains. "I just want to see people laugh and smile."
In his house in suburban Huntington, N.Y., is a collection of 18 clown figurines and 3 mime's masks. They are nailed to his kitchen wall, stationed in his dining-room hutch, propped on his living-room shelves. All but one are sad or crying.
"He's cheating the public," said former heavyweight Jerry Quarry. "They paid big money to see him apply himself to his trade, then he waits all that time and demands all that money. Where the hell does he get the right? He never was a champion. He tried once and got his ass whipped."