Nearly 40 Years Ago Larry Holmes Disposed Of “Great White Hope”
Nearly 40 years ago one of the most anticipated Heavyweight title fights for years before or after took place. And, the man who took the Heavyweight championship Torch from “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes outworked and out-fought the man derogatorily nicknamed “the Great White Hope,” Gerry Cooney for yet another win in his massive win streak to start his career.
June 11th 1982 was the date the Caesars Palace outdoor stadium holding a record 32,000 people in the Las Vegas desert was the location for the fight billed simply “Holmes vs. Cooney.”
“The Easton Assassin” Holmes had won the WBC title in a dramatic 15-round decision over Ken Norton four years earlier. That fight still contains arguably the greatest 15th round in Heavyweight title history in terms of number of huge punches landed without either fighter going down. Holmes got the split decision over Norton.
Hear us discuss the anniversary this week of that epic 15th round for Holmes-Norton on our most recent Big Fight Weekend Podcast by clicking below.
Holmes went on to basically end the legend of an aged, diminished Ali, once and for all, in a dominant 10 round TKO in October of 1980. He defended his WBC title with wins over Trevor Berbick, Leon Spinks and Renaldo Snipes in 1981, but even at 39-0, he had more people questioning quality of his recent competition, rather than how great he truly was.
Meanwhile, the Long Island, NY-born Cooney was enjoying a meteoric rise, in part because of his massive size and big whopping left hook. However, make no pretense about the situation: rhe fact that Cooney was white in a sport that has been largely dominated by black fighters, especially at Heavyweight, for more than a decade made him even more immensely popular with the fight fan public.
Once Cooney destroyed Norton in under a minute of the first round in May of 1981 at Madison Square Garden, it put him on a collision course at 25-0 for a shot at Holmes
The fight was originally supposed to be in March of 1982, but Cooney had injured his back in training, thus, delaying things a few months. That allowed for the hype with racial overtones to build well into the summer of that year.
The fighters finally got to the ring with a guaranteed 10 million dollars each waiting on them with the fight being offered on closed-circuit TV and with delayed broadcasts on both HBO cable and ABC Sports over the air, also paying a tape right delay rights fee.
The fight had an early knockdown in round two with Holmes catching Cooney off balance and staggering him backwards along the ropes from a right hand. Clooney was down for the first time in his career.
The trademark Holmes left jab was effective and Cooney was able to land some body punches and an occasional left hook, but not able to crank up the big shot that we had seen earlier in his knockout build-up to the title shot. The fight was close by all accounts heading into the middle rounds, but clearly Holmes was the sharper fighter landing the more significant shots.
Eventually, Cooney was warned for a low blow and then, threw another one in the ninth round and had two points taken away by famed referee Mills Lane.
Holmes continued to score with the solid rights behind his jab and wear Cooney down as the fight advanced a competitive 10th round. There were times in the late rounds where the champ would score with 3 or 4 successive punches to wobbled the challenger briefly, but Cooney would use his size and weight to hang on.
Cooney was again assessed point deduction for another 11th round low blow and was now also cut over his left eye. He was taking more punishment in the the 12th round with the more seasoned and better condition Holmes taking advantage and scoring right left combos.
Finally, the end came in the 13th, as Holmes went on to land a barrage of punches virtually unanswered that eventually forced Cooney trainer Victor Valle to jump in the ring pleading with Lane to wave the fight off.
The win was the signature one of Holmes’s reign to that point to start his career and for Cooney it was the best chance he would ever have to win the Heavyweight crown.
Holmes famously continued to defend the WBC or IBF version of the crown until he was 48-0, a win from tying the magical unbeaten career of Rocky Marciano. However, former Olympian and Light Heavyweight champ Michael Spinks upset him twice in 1985 by decisions to keep him from history.
Cooney later got kayoed by Spinks himself in June 1987 and lost his final fight by KO to George Foreman.
For his part, Holmes was eventually in the ring with Mike Tyson, who lured Holmes out of retirement with a $3 million guaranteed purse in January of 1988. Tyson destroyed Holmes in a fourth round knockout in Atlantic City.
Holmes fought on into the 1990s and early 2000s losing Heavyweight Title fights to Evander Holyfield in 1992 and Oliver McCall in 1995. His final fight was a win over Eric “Butterbean” Esch by unanimous decision in 10 rounds in July of 2002. Holmes finished with a 69 – 6 record.
Holmes was later inducted in the International Boxing Hall of Fame and actually, remains friendly with his 1982 rival Cooney to this day.