Lincoln Navigator rolling down Pennsylvania's Route 22 on this balmy June day
is a major hunk of luxury automotive engineering, but the two men sitting up
front make it feel almost cozy. Twenty-five years before, to the very week,
they fought for the heavyweight title, under the harshest of public spotlights.
But today Larry Holmes and Gerry Cooney are just a couple of old pals heading
out for lunch.
"Gerry, I'm driving, so you know you better put on your belt," says
Holmes, showing more concern for the well-being of his passenger than he did on
the night of June 11, 1982, when he hammered out a 13th-round TKO of Cooney to
defend his title in Las Vegas.
"I hear that,
bro," says Cooney with a broad grin, clicking his shoulder strap into place
as Holmes guns the Navigator around a dawdling Toyota. Cooney shakes his head.
"I keep telling you, Larry, you got to take up golf. Relax a
The two old foes
see each other every few months at boxing events and charity functions. Today
it's a photo shoot at Holmes's office in Easton, Pa.--sandwiched between
Cooney's round of golf ("Thirty-eight on the front nine!") and Holmes's
flight to Atlantic City for an evening at the casinos. Their verbal sparring
continues as Holmes, 57, and Cooney, 50, catch up on mutual friends and family
and compare notes on the state of their sport. Ultimate Fighting comes up.
"It's on TV every day," notes Holmes. Says Cooney, his jaw clenched and
eyes wide in mock ferocity, "Yeah? I'd like to get you in that
is in marked contrast to the vitriol that surrounded their 1982 bout, when
Holmes was the undefeated but largely unappreciated champion and the
hard-punching Cooney--also undefeated but untested in his 25 bouts--was cast as
the Great White Hope. A disdainful Holmes called him the Great White Dope,
while Cooney declared the champ had "no class." The promotion was
marked by bad blood all around. "White people would come up to me and say,
'You gotta beat him,' " recalls Cooney over cheeseburgers at a modest
eatery in a Bethlehem, Pa., strip mall. Holmes laughs. "White people were
coming up to me saying, 'Gerry's gonna knock you out,' " he says.
approach the fighters and ask if they'd pose for a photo. "No problem,"
says Cooney, jumping up to stand beside Holmes. "That'll be five
Back on their
stools, Holmes says, "People should take a page out of our book and realize
you can get along with anyone."
Cooney in what he calls his best performance, Holmes would defend his world
title eight times before losing in 1985 on a controversial decision to Michael
Spinks. After another loss to Spinks the following year, Holmes retired, only
to make an ill-fated comeback in '88, when he got knocked out (for the only
time in his career) by Mike Tyson. Two years later Holmes returned to the ring,
and he boxed until 2000, his last fight a 10-round decision over 334-pound
sideshow Eric Esch, a.k.a. Butterbean. "I wanted to get to 75 fights,"
Holmes says. (His final record was 69-6, with 44 KOs.) Was it worth it?
"Hell, yes," he says. "I made an extra $11 million."
liked his money--and he kept more of it than most fighters. "Every time I
made a title defense I bought a piece of property," he says. He acquired so
much real estate in and around his hometown of Easton that at one time it felt
a little like a Larry Holmes theme park. Though he has sold some of his
holdings, he still owns a gym there, the Larry Holmes Training Center, as well
as the Larry Holmes Ringside Restaurant and Lounge, which occupies the ground
floor of the Larry Holmes Enterprises building, which stands on Larry Holmes
Drive, which runs along a river somehow still known as the Delaware.
"Hey, I'm 57,
I'm alive and well and hanging in," says Holmes, who lives in Easton with
Diane, his wife of 27 years. "While I'm here on this earth I'm going to
is a firm believer in�savoring life--he moves through the world with
seemingly unquenchable goodwill, greeting even strangers with playful banter.
It has not always been easy, though. After the loss to Holmes he battled
depression and abused alcohol. He fought only five more bouts, winning three
but losing by KO to Spinks in 1987 and to George Foreman in 1990. Sober since
'88,�he has devoted much of his time over the past decade to FIST
(Fighters' Initiative for Support and Training), a foundation he and his wife
of 13 years, Jennifer, created in '98 to provide job training and placement for
struggling former fighters. Says Cooney, who lives in Fanwood, N.J., "I'm
just glad to be in the picture."