- Last Updated: 11:41 AM, March 19, 2012
- Posted: 11:08 AM, March 19, 2012
When you mention the name Gerry Cooney, flashes of vicious left hooks jump to the forefront of your mind.
But despite being one of the hardest hitting fighters the sport has ever seen, Cooney’s personality is his real knockout punch.
Cooney, whose career exploits include a 28-3 record (24 KOs), is famous for his 54-second knockout of Ken Norton and for going toe-to-toe with Larry Holmes for the World Heavyweight Championship in 1982. Cooney uses his celebrity to help mentor trouble youths, visit prisons and talk to people in rehab clinics.
“I’m all about information,” Cooney told The Post. “We all have no idea how lucky we are, there are a lot of kids who have nothing. I tell them they have plenty of options, that you have to fight for your life.”
Cooney’s final fight came 22 years ago, but his legend still lives on. While in New York City for his weekly Sirius XM show “Friday Night Fights,” Cooney is regularly stopped in the streets of Manhattan by fans. Even those who are not familiar with Gentleman Gerry identify with the Long Island-raised fighter.
“Everybody identifies with the fight of life,” Cooney said. “I show [kids] a highlight reel of me and they are glued to that fight and they never forget me. Even when I see someone stop to want to take a picture or ask me a question, I appreciate it, it’s part of what we do.”
The struggles Cooney experienced growing up, and with alcoholism following his boxing career fuel the fighter’s desire to help others. Cooney visits 50-60 charities a year and doing countless other benefits year-round.
“It’s just a win-win,” Cooney said. “All of the people that come to support the charities get to hang around with us, rub elbows together, have some laughs and at the end of the day we sit down, have a dinner and say we raised this kind of money which would never have happened.”
Cooney, who now resides in central New Jersey with his wife and three children, feels guilty when he cannot attend a charity event.
“I feel bad because I want to be with my family, I want to be able to do [every event],but I can’t” Cooney said. “I have a great wife, a great family but sometimes they get put on the back too much and I don’t like that.”
In addition to the charity work he does, Cooney helps those within the boxing community and who are closest to him.
Former amateur boxer Mike Trapani has been tied to Cooney in many ways. As Trapani made a name for himself in New York City in the late 1970’s he crossed paths with Cooney in the sparring ring and the two have remained close for over 30 years.
Forced into early retirement following two retina injures, Trapani (40-3, 36 KOs) has been able to turn to Cooney when he needed him the most. Cooney has spoken at Trapani’s elementary school boxing academy, run at Villa Maria Academy in the Bronx, but it was a chance encounter at a Rochester boxing event where Cooney made the biggest impact.
“I was going through a difficult time in my life when I ran into Gerry at the event,” Trapani said. “Gerry asked me how I was doing and I said ‘I feel like Ken Norton already knocked out and lying on the ropes waiting to get nailed from a murderous puncher again.’ Gerry then told me to call him every day and that ‘we would fight this together.”
Trapani does not think his relationship with Cooney happened by chance. He calls Cooney’s presence a miracle.
“Once again having come off the canvass of life, I consider Gerry's support as being my moment of clarity,” Trapani said. “There is no doubt in my mind that God has put Gerry Cooney in my life.”
This June marks the 30-year anniversary of Cooney’s title bout with Larry Holmes. Cooney, who can recite Holmes’ phone number off the top of his head, laments the degradation of the sport over the past two decades, but does believe boxing is primed to make a comeback.
“I think boxing, for the last 20 years, was raped and robbed, from different promoters and managers. They took the heart out of the game,” Cooney said. “In the 1970’s we were a force to be reckoned with. But [boxing] is on the comeback, people want to see fights.”
Cooney admitted he could see himself as a figure in boxing’s return to prominence. With the passion for the sport still strong within him, Cooney said he would like to train a fighter, under the right circumstances.
“I would love to be able to train somebody,” Cooney said. “But the problem is if I want it more than they do, I’ve got no time for it, I’ll have to play golf instead.
“I’m a fighter, you never lose that fight, in whatever you do.”