On This Date in Sports June 11, 1982: The Great White Hope

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Larry Holmes remains the ruler of the boxing world, with a 13th round knockout of Gerry Cooney at Cesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. The fight was one of the most anticipated title bouts in years as Cooney unapologetically was presented as boxing’s “Great White Hope”. Both men were unbeaten going into the fight, but it was clear by anyone’s standard that Holmes was the better fighter as Cooney’s corner threw in the towel.

Larry Holmes was born November 3, 1949, in Easton, Pennsylvania. He had been a strong amateur boxer but was disqualified in the Olympic Trials for the 1972 games in Munich. A short time later, he turned professional and began marching his way up the heavyweight division. At the same time, he had worked as an occasional sparring partner for Muhammad Ali. By 1978, Holmes had become a star in his own right and was given a shot at the WBC Championship in a match with Ken Norton on June 9, 1978. Holmes who had been 27-0 before the fight won a split decision. While he had the WBC heavyweight title, most considered Ali the true champion, even though he was seemingly on the way to retirement. On October 2, 1980, an aging Ali took on Larry Holmes and suffered the first knockout loss of his career. After beating Ali, Larry Holmes continued to dominate the heavyweight division as he won three fights in 1981, to sit with a career record of 39-0.

Gentleman Gerry Cooney was born on August 4, 1956. Raised in a blue color Irish family on Long Island, he fit the bill for the champion that some had been aching for. Winning the New York Golden Gloves twice, Cooney turned profession in 1977. Seeming to knock everyone out Cooney won his first 25 fights, including in 1981 against Norton needing just one round. Gerry Cooney’s dominance made him one of the most popular fighters in America, as he was called in some circles “The Great White Hope”.

The Great White Hope angle would be played up to its max level by Don King in the lead up to the tight fight with Larry Holmes. The Easton Assassin had never quite won over the fan base, but with King making playing up the black versus white angle, he began to take on a new popularity as the promotion of the fight became racially charged. Cooney was seen in the company of Sylvester Stallone during his workouts, as he tried to become the first white heavyweight champion in 22 years.

The racially charged nature of the fight created a sense of fear around Las Vegas before the fight as Snipers were placed on the roof of Cesar’s Palace as a worldwide audience watched on Closed-Circuit television. In a controversial move, Gerry Cooney was introduced second in the fight, a position usually reserved for the champion. This sign of disrespect only seemed to add fuel to fire that was burning inside Larry Holmes. This led to the champion making an early move to win the fight as he knocked Cooney down in the second round. The challenger recovered and did some damage to Holmes with body shots in the fourth. However, as the fight went on Larry Holmes showed that he was clearly the better man. At times Gerry Cooney was warned for inactivity as the fight went into the later rounds. As the 13th round began it was clear that Holmes was well ahead on points. Cooney who had a cut on his head was on wobbly legs. Holmes went in for the kill, and land shot that put the challenger on the ropes. Sensing his fighter was in trouble, trainer Victor Valle threw in the towel ending the fight.

Larry Holmes would hold the title another three years, before losing to Michael Spinks in a controversial decision on September 21, 1985. He had won 48 straight fights, falling one short of Rocky Marciano’s iconic 49-0 record. Cooney would not fight again for two years after the loss and only fought sparingly over the remainder of his career.