2) Gerry Cooney, 23, of Northport, N.Y. Weight: 222 pounds. Height: 6'5". Pro record: 22-0. If Page has it over the other prospects in talent, Cooney stands above his peers, including Page, as a one-punch banger in the tradition of Sonny Liston and Shavers. In fact, aside from Shavers, who is nearing retirement, probably no active heavyweight throws a more devastating punch than Cooney. Cooney is a converted southpaw, and his left hook, equally punishing to the body and to the head, has done most of the damage to the 19 opponents he has laid out since he left the amateur ranks in early 1977.
Unlike Page, Cooney has no weight problem and the intensity of his desire is unquestioned, but there are other matters that raise doubts as to exactly how far he can go. His color has unavoidably given rise to the suspicion that he will turn out to be just another White Hope who'll get his soon enough, just wait and see, in the way of the Quarrys and Bobicks. And there are boxers, Page among them, who scoff at Cooney, calling him a one-punch fighter who lacks the diversity to beat them. "If you kill his left hook he's dead," Page says. "It's like killing the battery of a car. All you have to do is go back to the fundamentals to beat him." Some experts think Cooney is too tall and too awkward to be taken seriously. But Dundee likes the clumsiness and says that Cooney handles his height well. " Ali had a little bit of awkwardness about him and I left it alone," Dundee says. " Victor Valle, Cooney's trainer, is leaving it alone, too. His height is a big asset. You have to reach for him. That's why he's developed a left upper-cut. If you make a mistake he'll hit you on the chin with that uppercut, and that's the best punch in the book."
Cooney grew up on Long Island, the son of construction worker Tony Cooney, who pushed Gerry into boxing in his teens, forcing him to do roadwork, exhorting him to train. He taught his son discipline. "I had to be in bed early, up early, and run, run, run," Cooney says. "After school I'd have to catch the train for a gym in Queens. I'd get home at 9:30. Even on Sunday I'd go to the gym. I couldn't even think about not showing up." Though Cooney bridled at the discipline, he went along. Tony died four years ago of lung cancer, at age 55, and today Gerry sees his drive toward the heavyweight title as a kind of imperative; he must do it to fulfill the promise his dad had seen in him.
Cooney's managers, Mike Jones and Dennis Rappaport, have come under attack for the way they have handled him, just as they've drawn fire for picking spots for the other star of their stable, Lightweight Howard Davis. "I hope Cooney doesn't have his managers' guts," Braverman says. "They're always treading on camphor balls. If they're that careful they must be scared of something we don't know about. Perhaps he's got a potato for a chin."
Jones bristles at that. "When we signed Gerry he was 19," he says. "It takes time for a heavyweight to develop his confidence and skills. It would have been a terrible mistake to succumb to the constant pressure to rush Gerry into fights we didn't feel he was ready for." For the most part, Cooney's record is a roll call of sausages, but some of the victims could fight a little, notably Dino Dennis, who had a 38-2 record and an iron chin. Dennis was coming off a long lay-off, and there is doubt whether he was anywhere near ready. "Dennis trained with me five weeks for that fight, and he had no excuses," says Braverman. None other than George Foreman had once pounded Dennis mercilessly, but he didn't drop him. Cooney, who cut up Dino in the second round, knocked him down with a left hook in the third to finish it. "I'm not on his bandwagon, but I've got to admit that Cooney is one of the most devastating left-hookers since Joe Louis," Braverman says. "This guy can rip with a hook, under and over. Dennis always took a great punch. He took murderous punches from Foreman. Nobody, but nobody, put down Dennis—except Cooney."
3) Michael Dokes, 21, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Weight: 217. Height: 6'3". Pro record: 17-0. He's called Dynamite Dokes by publicists, but don't be misled by the appellation. Before his last fight, a February victory over French heavyweight champion Lucien Rodriguez, Dokes' followers and promoters made much of the nickname, suggesting that he was one of the biggest bangers in the division. Even Dokes extolled his own prowess, but less biased observers were not so sure. And the Rodriguez fight did nothing to dispel the doubts. In fact it reinforced them. Dokes throws a punch that keeps your attention, but he couldn't take out Rodriguez, though he hit him with triplicate lefts and rights.
Ray Arcel, the venerable trainer of Roberto Duran, sees in Dokes a heavyweight of considerable promise who, like Cooney and Page, continues to learn from fight to fight. "That fight against Rodriguez did Dokes more good than any other fight he could have had," Arcel says. "You don't knock a guy out hitting him with a right hand; you knock him out by setting him up with the left hand. Dokes has one thought-bang-bang-bang. He gets ahead of himself. He loses direction. You have to know how and where to hit a guy, how to set a man up. Deep down he had to learn something from that fight."
Dokes has the gifts. While he isn't the puncher he thinks he is, he has exceptional hand speed and reflexes and is among the better natural athletes in the division. He's a clever boxer who works hard at his job. He tended toward flamboyance in his early days as a pro, but that's no longer part of his style.
The turning point for Dokes came last year when he decisioned contender Jimmy Young in Las Vegas. "I had to show everybody I could fight," Dokes says.
If he stays on schedule, Dokes should be making a run at the title by the end of the year. He has some flair. He throws roses before every fight, a tribute to his mother, Sopora, and dresses immaculately. He is even able to make his own clothes. "I learned how to do it in school," he says. "Instead of taking auto mechanics, I took home economics. But I haven't had the opportunity to sew in some time."