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Starting Up The Long Road Back
William Nack
March 28, 1983
Consumed with shame at losing to champ Larry Holmes, Gerry Cooney dropped out. Now he's boxing again
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March 28, 1983

Starting Up The Long Road Back

Consumed with shame at losing to champ Larry Holmes, Gerry Cooney dropped out. Now he's boxing again

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Alarmed, Jones began pleading with his fighter. "Don't do it, Gerry. Please! Don't do it! Where are you?"

"In my kitchen," Cooney said. "On the ground floor...." Cooney chuckles when he tells that story—he remains an incurable tease—but Jones rolls his eyes when he's reminded of it. It may seem absurd now, but there was a time when some people close to Cooney genuinely feared for his well-being, feared even that he might consider self-destruction—a thought, he says, that never occurred to him.

"I went down deep," Cooney says now, holding a palm at eye level and then dropping it sharply. "I mean a deep, deep depression. I went right off the end."

Why he went into such a decline remains puzzling. His record going into the Holmes fight was 25-0, and though he hadn't fought since destroying Ken Norton in 54 seconds 13 months earlier, he was only an 8-5 underdog against the undefeated champion. He feels, in retrospect, that he could have won. "I held back, wondering if I could go the distance," he says, "and I didn't fight my fight; I didn't follow up when I had him hurt and backing up." But he isn't the first man to lose a fight he felt he could have won, and he won't be the last.

For Cooney, going "right off the end" meant not stepping inside a gym again until the last week in October, and then only working out halfheartedly. He didn't return in earnest until January and didn't begin training day in and day out until he arrived in Palm Springs on Feb. 27. But now he's thinking positively about the future. Last week Jones and Cooney's other co-manager, Dennis Rappaport, were working on a deal that would put him back in the ring in May.

But there were times when it seemed that Cooney would never fight again. "I can't say it didn't pass through my mind," he says. "I was very down on myself. It took me a while to understand what happened to me. I wanted to sort things out, to understand why I lost. I could have come back to fight right away, but it would have been for all the wrong reasons, like to make money. I wanted to wait until I knew I wanted to come back. Not just to make money. Not because of pressures. I felt I would fight again, but not until my head was right."

Cooney says he made $9 million fighting Holmes, of which Rappaport and Jones took $3 million—a standard one-third cut—and trainer Victor Valle about $600,000. That left Cooney with about $5.4 million before taxes.

"I could have had five fights since Holmes and made tons of money," he says, "but I didn't. I could have done well, but it wouldn't have been from my heart. It wouldn't have been me, really. So I just had to take time. Before I jumped into anything—before I said I wanted to go back or didn't want to go back—I wanted to sit down and take the puzzle and put it together and say. 'Now I'm positive I want to do this. Now I'm positive I can do this.' "

For months after his fight with Holmes, wherever Cooney went people asked him why he wasn't in training. "I got depressed, and it just got worse and worse," he says. "I'd go out at night, and people would bother me and I'd leave. I felt like bringing a tape recorder to answer for me."

Cooney stopped doing his roadwork in the morning. He received telephone messages but refused to return the calls. Jones remembers a recording Cooney was using on his phone answering machine: "Hi, this is Gerry Cooney. I'm not home at the moment, and Hillie don't pick up the phone no more," referring to Hillie Cohen, who was his roommate before a recent falling-out.

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