Up close and personal with Gerry Cooney

I don't think there was a more suited nickname in the history of 
boxing than  Gerry Cooney's.  He was nicknamed the Gentleman and 
he truly is.  Gerry is a man of such admirable qualities and you 
will see in the following interview just what I mean.  I hope that 
when you go away from reading my column you are as moved by Gerry's 
dedication to his organization and what it's doing to help ex-
fighters, as I was. People like Gerry, can be called the true 
heroes of boxing by making the difference in an ex-fighters life 
who badly need it.

The following is our interview:

Interview by: Brad Berkwitt 

Brad: I can't tell you who many countless readers of my column and fans of boxing 
      I know that are always bringing up your name when we talk about boxing. They 
      all are wondering what you're up to today?  So for the readers, what are you 
      doing today?

Gerry: Well Brad, they got some nerve Gerry said with a chuckle.  Well, you know I 
       have a very busy hectic life.  I am married and have two beautiful children.  
       I still am in the fightgame and spar about 30 - 40 rounds a week in New 
       Jersey at a gym called Rocky Marciano's.

       I am involved in minor league baseball.  I go around the country speaking 
       to troubled youths trying to help them understand that the path that they 
       choose they need to really pay attention to it.  Telling them that by the 
       time your 30 years old you can be on a no where street if your not careful.  
       I just try to get kids to look at themselves in a good light.  

       I also have my F.I.S.T. Foundation which stands for, Fighters Institution for 
       Support & Training.  What we do is help bring retired prize fighters in who 
       are unemployed.  They are usually in dire need of assistance.  You see Brad, 
       all of the sports have a safety net but boxing is the only sport that has 
       none.  So when the fighter is through he is through.  While he was fighting 
       his management was very excited for him but now that he is done, that 
       management team is moving on. 

       We help them with things like aptitude testing to find out where their 
       strengths lay in their life's.  From there we direct them to job training and 
       put them into jobs.  This is a tough goal due to the fact that guys are not 
       use to working a 9-5 job because all they did was train and fight.

Brad: Where is your organization out of?  

Gerry: We are basically out of the tri-state area of NY, NJ and CT.  In the next 
       18 - 24 months, we are taking it nationwide.  We are in the learning stages 
       of my organization so we are taking is slow to be able to help the fighters 
       with the best options we have out there.  

Brad: What can we the fans of boxing and boxers do to help your foundation?

Gerry: Well pretty soon we are going to be up on the webpage.  We are a nonprofit 
       organization with a Federal Tax, ID number.  Donations are always welcome.  
       Once we get our webpage up, everybody will be able to hook up to the F.I.S.T. 
       Foundation webpage and be able to communicate with each other. We are 
       currently in the process of putting together a big charity function at Bob 
       Guiciones mansion in Manhattan.  He has donated his place for a charity 
       event to support the foundation.  

       We will be doing this in October of this year.  HBO, Showtime, and ESPN to 
       name a few are all involved.  It's very exciting because we started from the  
       ground up.  

Brad: How does an ex-fighter get in touch with your foundation?

Gerry: Well Brad, you know boxers are a small nit group of people.  They have been 
       beat up so bad that they are very leery of others.  But through word of
       mouth, you hear someone's story about coming into F.I.S.T. and filling out 
       an application for help.  We send the application up to Albany and process 

       Then what happens is they say to other ex-fighters that Cooney is doing a 
       good job and this is how word spreads.  You know that life is a series of 
       going from room to the next.  For that period of time though when you have to 
       stand in the hallway, it's a scary place. Bottom Line is I want them to know 
       that your not alone and we are going to continue to fight for you guys.  (In 
       the upcoming weeks and months, Gerry and I will be keeping in touch. I will 
       bring you more additional information on this wonderful foundation.  If you 
       have any questions, e-mail me at bberkwitt@aol.com and I will forward it to 

Brad: Who or what inspired you to get into boxing?

Gerry: Well, I grew up in a big Irish Catholic family.  My dad was a pretty rough 
       guy.  So one of my brothers left home when he was 15 and found his way to 
       the gym.  It gave me the opportunity to go and spend some time with him 
       and workout in the gym.  But actually prior to that, my father had always 
       had a heavybag in the basement.  I use to work out on it regularly and 
       thought I was pretty good at it. So when I use to go and see my brother 
       at the gym I finally told him that I wanted to box with someone there.  

       They put me in with this little Italian guy who was half my size and he 
       punched me around that gym.  I said to myself, that this is not for me. So, 
       I went home and had a different perspective on boxing realizing now that 
       hitting the heavybag it was not going to hit me back like that kid did.  
       About three months down the road, I went back to the gym and asked to box 
       that kid again.  I knew than that I really wanted to pursue boxing.

Brad: Since you fought in the days of 15 rounds, would you like to see them come 
      back or do you favor 12 instead?

Gerry: Well, in my fight with Larry Holmes it was a 15 round fight.  That night 
       in the ring it was 115 degrees under the lights.  So even if it was 12 
       rounds it was pretty hot out there no matter what you did.  I think the 
       benefit of 12 rounds is they found that most people get hurt from the 13th 
       round to the 15th round.  By cutting it down it made you pick up the pace 
       during the fight and the fan gets a better paced, more competitive fight.  

Brad: What did you consider your best weapon in the ring?

Gerry: I was a left hooker which I loved hooking.  I also really liked to jab and 
       mix it up right away.

Brad: What big fights were you approached with but never materialized?

Gerry: John Tate was one but he was on the decline at that time.  Mike Weaver was 
       another instead of Larry Holmes. My management chose to go to Larry instead.  
       In fact, Larry and I are really good friends right now.  We are currently 
       working on some projects together.  

Brad: What are you words of wisdom to the young fighter that is just turning 

Gerry: You know I just left the gym tonight and they had this young amateur kid 
       who is 19-0.  He sparred with another guy who is ranked 5th in the world. 
       They boxed four rounds and had a good workout.  When they got out of the
       ring, the kid who was ranked 5th in the world, continued to train.

       The 19-0 amateur kid picked up the telephone and started talking to this 
       one and that one taking off his wraps.  He stopped training.  You have a 
       small period of time when you can perfect your career and become good at it.  
       Lot of guys get distracted which only hurts them.  You must stay focused and 
       work very hard at boxing.

Brad: Who are you three favorite fighters of all-time and why?

Gerry: 1.  Muhammad Ali.  He was the kind of guy you either loved or hated but 
       you wanted to see him.  I happen to really love him.  He brought boxing 
       to another level and always made you laugh.  

       2.  Roberto Duran.  When he was a lightweight.  He was the kind of guy who 
       was a true fighter and you hardly see guys like that anymore.  

       3.  Aaron Pryor.  (Of course only my favorite fighter off all-time Gerry
       named!)  I spend time with him every year and he is just a great man. 

Brad: What do you consider the greatest fight you have ever seen and why?

Gerry: Well Brad, there has been so many great fight's that I have seen over the 
       years.  I really loved all the Ali Vs Frazier fights because here was two 
       guys that just gave you their all in there.  Evander Holyfield has given 
       us some great fights and you can't go without mentioning Hearns Vs Leonard 
       and Duran Vs Leonard.

Brad: What was it like being up there fighting for the Heavyweight Championship 
      of the World?

Gerry: It was great and scary at the same time. I was a small kid from Huntington, 
       Long Island.  I never imagined that anything like that would happen to me.  
       It's one of the most impressive things when they come to your dressing room 
       and say hey Cooney you're up.  You take that walk from the dressing room
       to the ring and that's when the real man comes out.  Than you climb up 
       those four stairs and into the ring.  Than finally, you can't wait for the 
       bell to ring.

Brad: In my opinion, you gave a good account of yourself when you challenged Larry 
      Holmes for the title. In hindsight, would you have fought him differently?

Gerry: Yes!  I would have fought my fight instead of being concerned with going 
       the distance.  I would have come out to swarm him instead.

Brad: The one thing that I remember after that fight was when you addressed the 
      fans.  It moved me how sincere you were and felt that you had let them down.  
      I don't think you did but explain what you were trying to get across to them 
      when you spoke to them.

Gerry: I have always been a people person.  I was also disappointed for not 
       succeeding in my attempt to win the title against Holmes.  I had never lost 
       a fight before that. But back to the people side of it. Growing up training 
       I use to get up so early I would wave to the garbage men going by. So I 
       had this relationship with Blue Collar America and I really liked it. I 
       felt that lots of those people looked forward to me winning that night for 
       nothing other than they just liked me.  

Brad: What do you think of females in boxing?

Gerry: I have seen some women that can fight but I don't think there is a place 
       for me to see women in there getting punched around.

Brad: If you could have chosen any other profession besides for boxing, what would 
      it have been?

Gerry: Boxing really was it for me.  I started at the young age of 15.  I liked 
       it very much and went into the Golden Gloves at 16.  There I won the Middle-
       weight Title.  After every fight, I saw my picture on the back of the Daily 
       News one of the largest papers in New York.  I really liked that.

Brad: I feel the current Heavyweight division lacks the excitement of when you 
      were in it.  What do you think of the Heavyweight division today?

Gerry: Right now it's kind of at a mixed up state. I think it's getting itself 
       worked out and your going to see an exciting fight with Lennox Lewis and 
       Michael Grant.

Brad: Who do you pick in that fight?

Gerry: I think Lennox is going to come out with the win.

Brad: With all the hype and big bucks heavyweights are getting today.  How do you 
      feel they would have faired against the fighters of your era?

Gerry: That's a good question.  If you really want to talk to someone about that 
       should ask Larry Holmes who said these guys really couldn't have shined 
       our shoes.  That is the one thing about boxing that people have tried to
       do which is compare fighters through history. It's like the track stars 
       from years ago couldn't really compete with the runners of today, because 
       training is so different.  Today, they are adding weight training that is 
       making their muscles compete better.  It's just too hard to say who would 
       beat who.

Brad: Who nicknamed you the "Gentleman"?

Gerry: When I got out of High School I worked at a gas station. There was a fellow 
       I worked for name Harry God rest his soul.  I worked for him for a while 
       and he told me that I reminded him of Gentleman Jim Corbett.

Brad: Have you stayed friendly with any of the fighters from your era?

Gerry: Yes.  In fact, I just spoke today with Eddie "The Animal" Lopez.  I am 
       seeing all the guys like Earnie Shavers, Tex Cobb, and Larry Holmes all 
       the time.

Brad: Do you have any funny stories about boxing that you were involved in or been 

Gerry: Yes when I fought Jimmy Young in Atlantic City.  If you know anything about 
       Jimmy it was that he always made you look bad in there. He was a true 
       spoiler who was always in shape and came strong.  This was my first 
       nationally televised bout.  I was thinking this guy is going to kill me.  

       When I trained I use to knock myself down and build myself back up by hard 
       training. So, it was kind of a funny thing I was on the third floor of the 
       hotel in Atlantic City and thinking to myself what am I gonna do here 
       tonight? I am fighting on national TV and this guy is going to make me look 
       terrible. I was thinking maybe I should just jump out of this window here 
       Gerry said with a chuckle. I finally get in the ring with Young and the 
       fight was easier than I thought it would be. Young was so worried about my 
       left hook that everytime I threw a hook he bent forward. I caught on to 
       this, stepped to my right and threw a left uppercut. This opened a big gash 
       on his nose and I was able to take him out in four.

       When I was fighting Kenny Norton I thought he was unbelievable.  I had 
       remembered how big he was in Mandingo.  I did a Warner Wolfe show in New York 
       a few days before the bout and he asked me how did I feel? I looked Kenny 
       right in the eyes and told him I wished we were fighting right now. I assure 
       you though that I could wait the time. Finally I get into the ring with him 
       and realize he really is not that big.  I had built him up to be this big guy 
       but in reality, he was not bigger than me.  

       One more story I want to tell you.  One time in Detroit I went to see Larry 
       Holmes fight Leon Spinks. We both were sitting with Howard Cosell and Larry 
       knocked off Howard's wig. I thought to myself this is getting serious now.

Brad: After the Holmes fight you were very inconsistent in your getting into the 
      ring.  Why was that?

Gerry: I was mixed up and not happy with the people I was with at the time. Boxing 
       was not the sport that I thought is was due to all the politics.  If you 
       look at my career towards the end you will see I was fighting like once 
       a year.  I was not part of the Don King top heavyweights so I was kind of 
       kept out.  His guys were getting three to four fights a year and I could
       only get one.  It's hard to build your skills like this and on top of that, 
       I was catching lots of bad press for it.

       The bad press came because they thought I should fight more. I couldn't get 
       the fights because if I would sign to fight one of Kings guys I would be 
       signed to him. I chose not to do that.  It's a free country and I did not 
       want that. In hindsight, that might have been a mistake.  I should have 
       found some other way around it.  

Brad: Going into the Michael Spinks fight, what did you think the outcome would 

Gerry: Going into that fight, I was at the worse point in my life. I was heavily 
       drinking and taking some kind of drugs.  The fight was on and off several 
       times and I didn't think it was going to happen.  I went into that fight 
       drinking heavily.  I am ashamed about that fight to this day.  I lost three 
       times in my career.  Losing to Holmes I could deal with because I lost 
       to a true champion.  

       In the Foreman fight I caught George in the first round and had him hurt. I 
       thought I hurt him and wanted to take him out. Gil Clancy wanted me to move 
       around for six or seven rounds. I hadn't fought for a while and got excited 
       with trying to take him out of there and got caught with a shot. I have no 
       shame in that fight with George because I picked up myself and dusted off
       my pants.  I said to myself its time to move on to something else.

       But in the fight with Spinks, he did not belong in the ring with me in my 

Brad: Finally now that you are retired from the ring, what you like your fans to
      remember you for?

Gerry: That I always fought from my heart.  When that bell rung, I wanted to go 
       out there and do my thing.  I want them to know that I always have time to  
       say hello to that person that is walking down the street sees me and says is 
       that Gerry Cooney?  They usually are uncomfortable to approach me so I 
       approach them and say hello.  I am spending lots of time with the youth of 
       America like I told you earlier and only wish when I was a kid, that I had 
       someone to talk too.

       In closing, Gerry asked me to let all the folks out there know that his 
       foundation is not ever going to give up on these ex-fighters that have 
       fought, sweat and bleed their hearts out in the ring for the boxing fans 
       around the world. They need help and I mean great champions who need to get 
       their dignity back and enjoy what they did in the ring.  I am in this fight 
       and any help is greatly appreciated it.

Final notes: As you can tell from our interview Gerry is very dedicated to his 
             Foundation. I would like to see you the boxing fans that I talk to
             and read my column on a daily basis to get behind Gerry on this. We 
             all have that fighter that we care about even if we never met him 
             in person but only through television. We want the best for him. 
             They gave boxing fans everything and I think we should give something 
             back to them.

             I would like to personally thank Alex Ramos of the Retired Boxers 
             Foundation for making this interview possible.  Look for an upcoming 
             interview with Alex and I about his career, thoughts on boxing and
             information on his wonderful foundation to help fighters.  

As always fight fans, keep reaching for the stars and all your dreams can be 

Brad Berkwitt