Former heavyweight contender Gerry Cooney reflects on life after boxing in this installment of Boxing 101's four-part anniversary special. Cooney openly shares his personal struggles with alcohol abuse, the value of family and his commitment to support others.
Cooney suffered his first career loss after losing to champion Larry Holmes in June 1982, still sporting a respectable record of 25-1 with 21 KO's at that time. However, he was inactive throughout 1983 and did not fight again until September 1984. Cooney reflects on this period of his life when he was abusing alcohol:
"I was handling the problems of others and not taking care of myself… I started partying and I lost a few years. If someone had pulled me in, I would have been great," reflects Cooney. "It took the fight out of me and I didn't know where I fit in. Everything caught up with me."
Cooney did not have the support of his father nor was he given the tools to cope with the challenges he faced in his life before, during and after boxing.
"My father taught me five things," Cooney said. "You are no good, you are a failure, you will not amount to anything, don't trust anyone and don't tell anyone your business."
Today, this drives Cooney to be a better father to his own three children, Christopher, 23, Jackson, 14 and Sarah, 10.
"My father didn't teach me about life. I want my kids to have opportunity. 99% of the world is trying to knock them down. I want to be the 1% to pick them up and keep them strong."
The fighter in Cooney picked himself up and he has now been sober for 24 years, taking his last drink on April 21, 1988. He is happily married and resides in central New Jersey with his wife and family. At 55, he continues to box two to three days a week for roughly 30 rounds to stay in shape, with his daughter and oldest son often accompanying him to the gym. While Christopher is big, tough and strong, his famous father points out that he gets mad instead of even which is a detriment in the ring.
"In the fight game, you must get even," explains Cooney. "You've gotta have 2-4 plans and adjust them throughout the fight. Otherwise, the other guy will make you pay when he sees you at your weakest."
Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson said in the 2008 documentary, 'Tyson' by James Toback, that his fear was the root of his motivation from which he built supreme confidence as he approached the ring on fight night. Tyson indicated that once he lost that base fear, he began to lose the psychological edge and, ultimately, the fights. When asked if he had any such fear before a fight and how he managed it effectively, Cooney responded:
"I didn't have confidence. I was insecure and did not have support from my father, but you can't let fear wear you out. You have to keep going or life passes before you….. Once the bell rings and the first punch is thrown, it all goes away. It's all over."
Although Cooney's boxing career is over, he remains closely involved with it today as the co-host of 'Friday Night at the Fights' on Sirius XM radio for the last year and a half with Randy Gordon, the former editor-in-chief of The Ring magazine and a former Chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission. Cooney was asked to co-host the program by Sirius XM President Scott Greenstein after Cooney appeared as a guest. The format of the show includes boxing recaps, live guest appearances from boxers and trainers such as Tomasz Adamek, 'Kid Chocolate' Peter Quillin and Kevin Cunningham, and phone calls from hundreds of fight fans to talk the sweet science.
Cooney, having never done radio work before, told Boxing 101:
"I am very good live and like to feed off of others, so radio was an adjustment… I never had to follow boxing that closely but the more research I did online, it got easier over time. I had to learn about the little guys coming up now. [Nonito] Donaire is unbelievable."
In addition to his weekly radio show, Cooney is actively involved with at least 50 different charities. 'The Great White Hope', as he was branded by Don King during the promotion of the Holmes fight, is now very busy serving as true hope for countless people in need. He also helps former fighters acquire skills training and find jobs. The empathetic Cooney realizes the difficulties of life after a fight career is over without the roar of the crowd cheering him on.
"It's been a great run," reflects Cooney. "Like everybody else, I made some mistakes and wish I hadn't. But given what I was given and the cards that I was dealt, I did OK. I made a commitment to helping people and to live life to the fullest."
One has to wonder how many people's lives would be different today if any of the five lessons taught by Cooney's father were remotely true and lived out. Many would say he has done better than OK.
In the next installment of our series tomorrow, Boxing 101 talks with Gerry Cooney about the world of boxing today.
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