Born: August 24, 1956, in New York
Lives in: Fanwood, New Jersey
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2019-20: Sports
Gerald Arthur Cooney only lost three fights in his career as a hard-hitting professional boxer. Unfortunately, two of those loses came in much-publicized challenges for the world heavyweight title.
Cooney grew up in the Long Island town of Huntington. He has described his blue-collar father as “a pretty rough guy” who was physically abusive to Cooney, his mother and his five siblings. But it was his father who encouraged Cooney to become a fighter.
Fighting as an amateur, Cooney amassed a record of 55 wins and only three losses. He won numerous international tournaments, as well as two New York Golden Gloves titles in 1973 and 1976.
Turning pro in 1977, the 6-foot-6 Cooney won fight after fight, including televised knockouts of Jimmy Young and Ron Lyle, both marquee names. In 1981, he put his powerful left hook to the test against Ken Norton, defeating the former heavyweight champion by a knockout just 54 seconds into the first round.
On June 11, 1982, Cooney, with a record of 25-0, got his chance to fight Larry Holmes for the WBC heavyweight title. The heavily promoted fight was accompanied by racial overtones (Cooney is white, Holmes an African American) and what was then the largest purse ever for a challenger at $10 million. Cooney lost the fight in the 13th round by a TKO. (He later claimed no animosity toward Holmes and the two became close friends.)
Cooney fought sporadically in the ensuing years, until getting a second chance at the heavyweight crown in a June 15, 1987, fight against Michael Spinks at Convention Hall in Atlantic City. Spinks knocked out Cooney in the 5th round. In his final fight, Cooney faced former world champion George Foreman, who knocked him out in the 2nd round.
After his boxing career, Cooney founded the Fighters’ Initiative for Support and Training, an organization that helps retired boxers with job placement. He is also involved with JAB, the first boxers’ union, and the Hands Are Not for Hitting program, which aims to prevent domestic violence. Ever the celebrity, Cooney has appeared in films and on TV, starting with a 1986 episode of “Spenser: For Hire.” He even voiced himself in a 1993 episode of “The Simpsons.”