It was almost all in vain, though. Out at the Pleasantville Recreation Center last Thursday afternoon, a ringside chair had collapsed under Cooney. "We gave the good ones to the Senior Citizens," the janitor said, apologetically. Cooney himself sat on the ground, uninjured, holding the pieces of the chair uncomprehendingly, like King Kong holding bits of airplane on top of the Empire State Building.
That was the afternoon's only note of farce, though. After sparring, Cooney attacked the light bag so ferociously that it deflated. "Finest destroyer of a light bag in the world today," Jones said with proprietary pride. "Anybody got chewing gum?" Cooney demanded laconically. "I've got a dollar-a-day habit."
Young, meanwhile, had been laconic in the gym, too, yawning hugely and quitting the light bag a minute before Benton had him scheduled to do so. "He ain't busy enough," Benton said unhappily. But certainly Young looked far fitter than he did last year—smooth, serene, maybe a touch pudgy, but then he always looked a little pudgy. "Long as he don't come in over 230..." said Benton, a worrier.
He needn't have worried. On Saturday, Young weighed in at 223; Cooney, four inches taller, at 224�. It looked as if it would be a real test, after all.
Young must have known he had to be ready; if this fight turned out to be the big hello for Cooney, it would be the long goodby for him. His future would be fighting for smaller and smaller purses, lower and lower on the undercard. He looked glowingly fit, but from the start of the bout he made it clear that the tactics expected of him—keeping low, keeping out of trouble, lasting the 10 rounds and hoping for a decision—were not going to be used.
Don King, the promoter, had loudly announced, "I am staying just for this first round." But even though it proved as tentative as most first rounds, there was enough in it to keep King in his seat. The round was Cooney's all the way. He scored with enough lefts to win it clearly. But Young kept coming at him, pushing in short body jabs with either hand. Some of the jabs looked suspiciously low, and a second in Cooney's corner screamed, "If he hits you low again, take his head off, Gerry!" It was going to be a test, all right.
The referee seemed to see nothing, though, and in the middle of the second round, Young was able to unleash what his trainer, not so secretively, had talked of as his secret weapon—a big right coming over the top. "I've got to get out of here," said King at the end of the round. But he stayed in his seat.
What he saw in the third round was enough to keep that electrified-looking hair of his standing straight up for years to come: Cooney coming out of his corner blazing, hammering Young into the ropes, setting Young up with rights, coming down on the body, staggering Young with lefthand blows to his head. Then, about a minute into the round, Cooney threw a straight right lead followed by a left uppercut. The second might have been the more powerful blow, but the first cut Young over the right eye, toward the bridge of the nose. All through the round, Young was in deep trouble, but he courageously kept on counterpunching while Cooney showed he could swing that long body of his out of trouble in a way more speedy, more deft than had been anticipated.
There was something else new, too. That right hand of Cooney's. Where did those enormously effective rights come from?
Later, Cooney explained. He'd long known about his weakness on the right side, he said, and he'd gone to one of the New York Islanders' physicians about it. "He put me on a weight-training program," said Cooney, "and he developed my right shoulder muscle."