Two aging bulls are set to mix it up again — but this time they’ll be trading verbal jabs instead of the real thing.
The 40th anniversary of heavyweight champion Larry Holmes’ epic defeat of slugger Gerry Cooney will be celebrated Dec. 12 with a grand event honoring the boxing icons at Russo’s On The Bay in Howard Beach, Queens.
In early 2020, Holmes and Cooney talked with famed promoter Lou DiBella about staging a rematch of their storied June 1982 bout. The former fighters hoped to lace up the gloves one more time for an exhibition benefiting charity. It was to have been a lighthearted substitute for the rematch that never came when both men were in their prime.
Boxing greats Larry Holmes and Gerry Cooney attend the premiere of “Lights Out” at Hudson Theatre on Jan. 5, 2011 in New York City. (Stephen Lovekin/)
But between the pandemic and the fighters’ advancing ages, Holmes called it off.
“Gerry hits too hard,” Holmes joked with the Daily News from his Easton, Pa., home.
One thing Holmes and Cooney won’t fight about is the notion that the Easton Assassin — a heavyweight champion who trained with and later defeated a 38-year-old Muhammad Ali — never got the credit he deserves.
Larry Holmes, right, delivers a flurry of blows to Gerry Cooney during the 13th and final round of their championship fight on June, 12, 1982 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. (Anonymous/)
“I was a bad man,” Holmes said with a laugh. “They didn’t want to give me credit. They don’t want to give me credit now.”
Cooney told The News that Holmes is clearly the most talented man to have ever punched him in the face. Repeatedly. He also ranks the 71-year-old former champ as one of “the top two, top three” greatest heavyweight fighters ever.
As impressive as Holmes was in his 13-round TKO against Cooney, his 69 victories also included taking the heavyweight title from bone-crushing Ken Norton. And no one else alive can say they beat Ali.
Holmes called his victory over “The Greatest of All Time” his biggest win, but said Cooney no doubt rates among the top guys he fought. He thinks Gentleman Gerry would have beaten Earnie Shavers, whom Holmes credits as the hardest puncher he faced.
Even though Holmes was a champ from 1978 to 1985, he said Cooney got more attention — and money — for their mega-bout because he was “The Great White Hope.”
Never mind that it was Holmes who was putting his title on the line against a relative unknown with a little more than half as many wins.
“It didn’t bother me,” Holmes said. “They gave me my money. That’s all I care about. I got paid.”
Cash aside, Cooney said he felt exploited by the divisive fashion in which the racially charged match was promoted.
“It was a sh–ty way for people to make money off of us,” he recalled. “I was angry with him. I thought it was coming from him. He thought it was coming from me.”
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Each fighter reportedly made $10 million for that bout, though Cooney and Holmes both told The News the challenger ultimately collected a bigger windfall. To this day, Cooney says he doesn’t know why there was no rematch. He saw going toe-to-toe with Holmes and losing his undefeated record as the education of a lifetime.
“I learned how to fight that night in the ring with him,” he recalled. “But it is what it is.”
Holmes said he knows why they never boxed again.
“He went crazy after I beat him,” Holmes claimed. “White people wanted him to win and he let them down.”
Holmes said he told Cooney, whom he has come to know as a friend over the years, not to let that bother him. But the 65-year-old Long Island-bred slugger said his life spiraled into alcoholism and despair after that circus. He got sober in 1988.
“When you’ve been on that stage, what do you do to follow that?” Cooney asked.
Holmes lost his title to Michael Spinks in 1985 in his first professional defeat. He would never regain the crown.
When Holmes and Cooney share the stage next month, they’ll do so as two warriors who fought hard, saved their money, raised families and still have their health.
“It doesn’t get better than that,” Cooney said.
The event, organized by fighters association Ring 8, will raise money for fighters needing help with medical costs and living expenses. It doubles as Ring 8′s 34th annual holiday party. The organization dates back to 1954.Internet Explorer Channel Network