By Clive Bernath:
As soon as the Larry Holmes vs Gerry Cooney world heavyweight title fight was announced it captured the imagination of the American fight public for various reasons. Holmes (pictured with the belt), a former sparring partner of 'The Greatest,' Muhammad Ali, was indeed a fine champion. The 'Easton Assassin,' as he was known, was an impressive all-round technician with a lightning fast jab that even then was accepted as one of the finest in history.
Holmes had won the WBC crown from Ken Norton, with a hard fought points decision over 15 rounds four years previously and was defending the title for the 12th time.
The Pennsylvanian born fighter's almost piston-like straight left jab had seen off some of the best fighters of that era including Mike Weaver, the hard hitting Ernie Shavers and the 'greatest' himself Muhammad Ali, with a merciful beating inside 11 rounds.
But Cooney was the new breed. He measured 6ft 5 inches tall and had a left hook on him that had seen off 22 victims inside the distance from 25 unbeaten fights. Cooney's sheer size and frightening punching power really was seen as the acid test for Holmes, who was then a little past his best at the age of 33.
The two men's contrasting credentials should have been more than enough to keep millions of fans imagination hooked. But the real reason this fight grabbed the headlines was because Cooney was white. And whether or not either fighter cared for the race card to be played, didn't matter, it was anyway.
Apart from South African Gerry Coetzee, who briefly held the WBA crown between 1983-84, the last white man to hold the world title was Sweden's Ingemar Johansson in 1959. Countless white challengers had tried since but the feeling amongst fans was that Cooney could triumph where others had failed.
It goes without saying that there is no room for racism in a civilised society let alone sport but no matter what angle the promotion took in the build up to the fight, the race card reared it's ugly head every time. However, there was one good thing to come out of it. Because of the pigmentation of Cooney's skin both men stood to collect an incredible $10 million each. As champ, Holmes was disgusted that the challenger was receiving an equal share of the spoils but he also knew he could not earn half that against a black challenger.
And such was the interest for this fight that 30,000 crammed into the outdoor arena at Caesar Palace on a baking hot afternoon. A somewhat edgy looking Cooney, with the green, white and orange colours of the Irish flag on his waistband, arrived into the ring first, followed by champion Holmes.
The more experienced champion stamped his authority on the tall upright figure of Cooney right from the start, popping out his famous piston like jab with ridiculous ease.
Midway through the second, all the signs pointed to an early night for the champion as he reddened the challenger's nose, with a steady flow of the left jab. Then, as if things could not get any worse, Cooney was dumped on the seat of his pants from a perfectly timed short countering right. But the Irishman was up before referee Mills Lane could count to four. But fortunately for Cooney the bell sounded to end the round before Holmes could follow up.
Lesser fighters would have been perturbed at making such a poor start but not Cooney, if anything it had the opposite effect and spurred him into action. He was like a different man as he repeatedly walked through Holmes to land his trademark left hook, to take both the third and fourth rounds.
Cooney marched on in the fifth as well, creating all sorts of problems for the champion, until Holmes connected with a similar punch to the one that floored Cooney earlier in the fight. The Irishman didn't go down this time but the effect did undo all Cooney's good work up to then. That punch proved to be the turning point Holmes needed to break the will of the young pretender.
In the sixth, Holmes staggered Cooney with a looping right and uppercut, which sent Cooney's gumshield flying across the ring. This was a big, big round for Holmes as he battered Cooney from pillar to post. But Cooney again forced his way back by taking the seventh and eighth round on sheer grit and bravery alone.
By the ninth, fatigue was starting to set in as Cooney tired from the constant bombardment from Holmes and his incredible counter rallying to force his way back into the fight. Cooney was deducted a point in both the 10th and 11th rounds for low blows, mainly because of exhaustion more than anything else.
By the 13th Cooney, who had made such a valiant effort in the earlier rounds to pull the fight back was now a spent force and Holmes knew it. Cooney came out for the 13th on auto pilot and battled as hard as ever but eight seconds from the end of the round, Cooney trainer Victor Valle leapt in the ring to rescue his man from a certain stoppage. And another 'Great White Hope' had failed to claim the most prestigious prize in sport.
Larry Holmes w rtd (end of)13 Gerry Cooney. WBC heavyweight title: June 11, 1982