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Last January, Cooney went back to Palm Springs, this time with Victor Valle, his trainer, and Richie Barathy, a black belt in seven styles of martial arts, who became Cooney's weight trainer and physical therapist.
"He couldn't box [with the hand]," says Barathy. "So we did hand exercises to bring it back. It would swell up every day after we worked out." Valle worked with Cooney on defense and tactics, and Barathy had him on a weight program designed to augment his power and enhance his flexibility. Since he couldn't use the left hand, Valle also had him working the speed and heavy bags with his right hand.
By April, Cooney was sparring and wielding the left hand as well as the right, and his knuckle was no longer troubling him. Just when he seemed ready to fight Brown in July, Cooney pulled a muscle near his left shoulder and couldn't train. The fight with Brown was postponed again, making Cooney the object of derision in the press.
"If I were sitting on the outside looking in, I could understand them saying, 'Hey, what the hell is going on with all those injuries?' " he says. "But I can't see them questioning my desire to fight. I hurt my knuckle and people think it's a joke. I like fighting. What do you think I've been doing for two years? I've been training. I've been operated on. If I didn't like it, why would I take all this crap? Why would I stick with it? I don't need this. You've seen all the abuse I've taken. I could have said 'The hell with it' and packed it in. I didn't need the money. But I stuck it out. I want to win the title."
Still, most boxing observers viewed Cooney's comeback with a great deal of skepticism. And if his performance didn't impress all of his critics—Brown was little more than an ambulatory heavy bag—Cooney showed a good jab, the old slashing hook, a heftier right and, above all, a reclaimed passion and intensity for getting the job done.
"After more than two years, that's damn good what he did today," Valle said. "He's more settled than he ever was, more mature. I'm satisfied."
Fight anybody, Gerry, but please, next time make it a bear, not a lamb.