Cooney acknowledges the shift within boxing that has negatively impacted its popularity since his fighting days. However, he remains optimistic about the future of the sport he loves.
"I think boxing for the last 20 years was raped and robbed from different promoters and managers. They took the heart out of the game," laments Cooney. "In the 1970's, we were a force to be reckoned with. But [boxing] is on the comeback. People want to see fights."
NBC's resurrection of network televised fights this year with their Friday Night Fights program is a positive sign of the sport's comeback.
"CBS and ABC will come right behind," predicts Cooney.
[ EDITOR’S NOTE: Subsequent to this interview, FOX Sports announced its multi-year, multi-media deal with Golden Boy Promotions that it will air at least one live boxing event per month on Fox Deportes, Fuel TV and Fox Sports regional networks in the United States.]
While the rise of UFC has created additional pressure for boxing, its excessive violence is expected to inevitably lead to a relatively short-lived career for those athletes who participate in it. This, however, does not alleviate the demands placed on boxing to deliver better quality fights for the fans. Cooney believes this is critical to the survival of the sport and maintains that better fights are being arranged, even though belts are not being unified.
"Russell Peltz and those guys are matchmaking better fights. They know we need competitive fights. Fight fans are smart, the public wants to see a fight," Cooney said." Boxing has been so off track, so it has to right itself or else it will be gone."
Boxing also requires better overall talent to further strengthen its popularity and maintain long-term relevance. Cooney suspects the fighter talent pool in America may be limited, in part, due to the quality of trainers working in the sport today.
"A lot of talented trainers in the pros have died," Cooney points out. "Those [trainers] coming out now are watered down versions of trainers so they are not really teaching the game anymore like we used to learn it. That has to change or the game will not hold up."
Cooney tries to do his part to guide aspiring young fighters in the gym, many of whom only look for the 'easy' knockout as he once did during his career.
"I try to tell them that when the bell rings, it's a whole different world. It's my world.", says the big and tall heavyweight.
In summing up the last 30 years of his life as we approach the anniversary of his historic championship fight with Larry Holmes, Cooney shared a saying he once heard from a friend:
"In life, there is no destination. It is all the stops along the way."
Gerry Cooney is making the best of the stops along the way of his life. He has touched the lives of countless people, including those he has met both inside and out of the sport, with his generosity, sincerity and kindness. Millions of fight fans will also always remember the several knockout stops he made in the ring, thanks to one of the greatest left hooks in the history of the game.
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