Suddenly and violently, it all ended on Monday night for Gerry Cooney, midway through the fifth round. Cooney, plodding forward, dipped and threw that vaunted left hook, the punch for which he is best known. Parrying the blow, Michael Spinks quickly countered with a slashing overhand right that struck Cooney flush on the jaw.
For an instant Cooney appeared simply shocked, just as he had five years before when then heavyweight champion Larry Holmes dropped him with a crisp right hand in the second round of their title fight in Las Vegas. This time the blow merely wobbled him, but Spinks had found the opening he was looking for and in an instant he was all over Cooney. Where Holmes had once hesitated, Spinks did not.
Spinks surged forward. He banged Cooney with a sharp left. Cooney tried to cover, but Spinks caught him with a flurry in the middle of the ring: left, right, left, right. Sensing the kill, the sellout crowd of 15,732 at the Atlantic City Convention Hall came roaring from their seats. Then Spinks connected with another left and right to the head.
Cooney staggered left. Spinks pursued. He launched a rapid volley of rights, each landing on Cooney's face, until the last one sent him crumpling to the canvas. Dazed, his eyes glazing over, Cooney came to his feet at the count of three, took referee Frank Cappuccino's mandatory eight count and then raised his hands to defend himself as Spinks rushed in to finish him off.
June 21, 1987
What was happening here came as no great surprise. The 6'7" Cooney had fought only three times since Holmes stopped him in the 13th round on June 11, 1982, each time against a nonentity. And those three jousts had lasted a total of less than seven full rounds. Spinks had fought nine times during that same period. He whipped Dwight Braxton to win the undisputed light heavyweight title, and twice he beat Larry Holmes, winning and then defending the International Boxing Federation's heavyweight championship. The IBF stripped Spinks of that title this spring, when he decided to pass up his mandatory defense against Tony Tucker to go after Cooney and a $4 million guarantee (to Cooney's $2.5 million).
The fight was billed as The War at the Shore, but aside from his massive presence, the 238-pound Cooney had nothing. Once a savage attacker, with a left hand that broke ribs and cut faces, he stalked Spinks with an almost sheepish reserve, as if he had forgotten how to fight. Gone were the old ferocity and the love of the hunt. Cooney scored most with the left jab, but he never landed a really telling hook and never caught the 208¾-pound Spinks on the ropes.
"That is where he really wanted me," Spinks said. "With the lateral movement I used, he wasn't able to do what he wanted—to corner me and get me trapped."
As Cooney trudged forward, Spinks moved left and right, ducking away whenever Cooney got close. Spinks countered with a snappy jab of his own, and occasionally with a left hook and right hand that reddened Cooney's nose by the third round. Spinks suffered a cut under the right eye in the third—the result, he said, of a head butt—but that was the worst of the damage Cooney inflicted. By the fourth round it was clear that Cooney was in trouble and that Spinks would make a target of him soon enough.
Then came that barrage in the fifth, beginning with the flurry that dropped Cooney in a heap. From there it was only a question of whether Spinks could finish him before the end of the round. Cooney tried to defend himself, but he needed a third hand to deflect what Spinks threw at him. As Cooney listed left, near his own corner, Spinks was all over him, throwing punches in bunches: lefts and rights, hooks to the head and right hands over the top.
Unable to defend himself, unable to throw a punch in return, Cooney finally toppled over again. He rose more slowly this time. Cappuccino gave him another eight count and looked at him straight on. Cooney nodded. By now he was utterly helpless. Racing the timer, Spinks charged again. Two overhand rights had Cooney reeling about drunkenly, and a final volley of lefts and rights left him out on his feet and defenseless.
In an act of mercy, Cappuccino jumped between the fighters and waved the bout to a halt with nine seconds remaining in the round. In all, Spinks threw 101 punches in the fifth and landed 84 of them. Cooney attempted 26 punches in that round and landed just five. "I threw so many punches," Spinks said. "I slammed him with everything that would take him out. I slammed him with a lot of good right hands on the side of the jaw and left hooks and jabs and he went down."
And finally out.
Among the witnesses on the Boardwalk was Mike Tyson, the heavyweight champion recognized by the World Boxing Council and the World Boxing Association. On Aug. 1, Tyson fights Tucker, the newly crowned IBF champion, to unify all the heavyweight titles. That simple task aside, his next big, big bout will doubtless be against Michael Spinks. Tyson fights Tyrell Biggs in the fall, but he should dispose of Biggs as quickly as Spinks did Cooney.
Tyson's comanager, Jimmy Jacobs, hoped that the fight would have a dramatic ending, thereby setting up a big gate between Tyson and the winner. "I just want someone to knock out someone," Jacobs said before the bout.
In sending Cooney into almost certain retirement, Spinks did just that.