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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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A few weeks after the Holmes fight. Jones started leaving messages of increasing urgency, from "Gerry, this is Mike, call me" to "Gerry, this is Mike, please call me" to "Gerry, please call me, it's important." For weeks there was nothing but silence.

"I'd try to call three or four days in a row," Jones says. "I knew he was depressed, and I wanted to sit down with him, one on one, and talk to him. I'd leave a message with his mother, or with his brothers, Michael and Steve, but he never got back to me."

Cooney felt pressure everywhere, even at his mother's house in Huntington, where he was raised. Eileen Cooney was taking many calls for him and, because of a television commercial that she had done with Gerry, was receiving fan mail herself. He used to go there to get away, but there was no getting away. "My mother used to say, 'You have to do this. You have to do that. This one called. Call here. Call there.' "

Finally, Cooney said, "Mom, I come to your house to see you and relax. I don't want to hear this now. I can't take it no more."

When Cooney visited his mother he sat down and stared at the television set. "He'd be very quiet," Eileen says. "I never saw him like that." At times, to cheer him, she would try to show him encouraging letters. He didn't want to see them.

Jones gave up trying to reach Cooney by telephone and began driving to Huntington, hoping to catch him at his new pub, Cooney's East Side. When he got lucky and found him there, Cooney would talk about anything but boxing. Jones recalls, anything but his past or future as a fighter.

"Mike, I don't want to talk about it," Cooney would say. Then one day in late July, Cooney hinted to Jones that he was ready to come back again. It wasn't long before Jones and Rappaport, with help from Sam Glass, whose Tiffany Productions had co-promoted the Holmes fight with Don King, lined up a bout with former heavyweight champion John Tate. He had been a spent shell since he'd been knocked face-down cold by Mike Weaver two years before. The fight was on if Cooney would agree. According to the contract, Jones had two weeks to sign his fighter—"Just in case I couldn't find him," he says.

It took Jones four days. Unable to reach Cooney by phone, Jones drove out to Cooney's East Side, and there Cooney was. "I got a hell of a deal for you," Jones said, pulling the contract out of his pocket. "John Tate. You make over $1 million." Cooney told Jones he wasn't fighting until he was ready. "And I'm not ready," he said. "Nobody, not you, Dennis, Victor, my mother, my brothers or anyone, can tell me when to fight until I'm ready to fight."

Jones decided to leave Cooney alone. He didn't try to reach him again for months. As summer became fall, no one in Cooney's circle felt more abandoned than Valle. Cooney's father had died in 1976, and Valle had since become a kind of surrogate. Gerry not only didn't visit Valle in Gleason's Gym in Manhattan, where Valle trains his fighters, he didn't call him, either. Valle became impossible to live with. He grew quiet at home, stopped playing with his grandchildren, snapped at his family and forbade Cooney's name to be mentioned in his presence.

"I saw Gerry on TV today," Victor's wife, Lola, said one day.

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