Great White Hype: Cooney vs. Morrison

By Brent Matteo Alderson
Gerry Cooney 28-3 (24KOs) 1977-1990 - I didn’t get a chance to follow Gerry Cooney’s career as closely as Morrison’s due to the fact that I was only a year-old when he turned pro in 1977, but as a boxing fan through the late 80’s and the 90’s I was regularly exposed to references about Gerry and most of them were negative.  For instant whenever there was a new up and coming prospect knocking out stiffs, all the cynics would say, “He’s just another Gerry Cooney,” referring to the fact that the prospect would probably fall on his face the first time he raised his level of competition. 

Despite the negative aura surrounding his image as a fighter, the fighter who is Gerry Cooney has intrigued me and is a very important part of boxing history because his fight with Holmes is often sighted as the Champ’s greatest hour and his knock out losses to Spinks and Foreman helped lead those two into historical title fights against Tyson and Holyfield.   

Gerry was a tall New Yorker of Irish decent and won two New York Golden Gloves titles before turning pro in 1977.  He then went on to rack up 25 consecutive wins, which included stoppage victories over Ron Lyle, Jimmy Young, and Ken Norton, but by the time he fought that famed trio they were washed up and so over the hill they were under it.  Still the Norton win opened up a lot of eyes because at the time Ken was still ranked in the top ten by Ring Magazine and was coming off of a win over Randal Tex Cobb.  Plus the knockout was devastating, Norton was helplessly setting on the ropes while Cooney pummeled him with full leverage left hooks in a scene which was similar to when Razor Ruddock knocked out Michael Dokes at the Garden ten years later.  

The fight with Norton catapulted Gerry into a title fight with probably one of the seven best heavyweights in history and Gerry fought gallantly before being outclassed and stopped in the 13th. 

After the fight, Cooney didn’t fight for two-years and came back in 84 and stopped the undefeated yet unproven Phillip Brown as well as George Chaplin, who had gone the distance with Greg Page and Michael Dokes.  Then a series of managerial and personal problems kept him out of the ring until 1986 when he came back and knocked out Eddie Gregg in one round who was coming off of victories over Tex Cobb as well as undefeated Carlos Hernandez.  That win along with the notoriety of being “white, bright, and polite,” threw him right into the heavyweight mix. 

The problem was that Cooney probably negotiated more than he fought and right when HBO’s heavyweight tournament was winding down, Cooney threw his name into the mix and Spinks pulled out of the heavyweight tournament to fight Gerry.  Lawsuits ensued and the IBF stripped Spinks of the title. Tony Tucker knocked out Buster Douglas for the vacant IBF title and then immediately lost it to a prime Mike Tyson. 

Ring Magazine continued to recognize Spinks as champ even though Tyson had all the alphabet titles because he hadn’t lost the title in the ring and had beaten Holmes for the title.  He was the linear champ; he had beaten the man who had beaten the man. 

So Cooney fought Spinks and the two went to war in Atlantic City in what was hyped as "The War on the Shore."  Spinks opened up in the 5th and hit Gerry with at least thirty consecutive uppercuts and hooks.  The win influenced a lot of people to think that Spinks had a shot at beating Tyson and quieted critics who felt that Michael was too small to compete with Tyson since he so easily handled the giant 6’7 Cooney. 

Gerry retired right after the fight and came back three years later in 1990 to fight Big George Foreman in what the press labeled as "Geezers at Caesars."  Cooney hurt Foreman in the first with a big left hook, but Foreman came back in the second and knocked Cooney out with some pinpoint accurate punching. 

The win really legitimized Foreman’s comeback and earned him a higher ranking as well as a number of spots on the covers of sporting magazines.  Cooney never fought again and finally retired with a 28-3 (24 KOs) record.  Still it’s kind of a mystery of how good Gerry really was because he never fought a top five contender.  He would knock out guys in the fringes of the top 15 in spectacular fashion, but was dominated in his two title tries.  Still if you get a chance, watch a tape of Gerry Cooney.  He didn’t use his height to his advantage and would hunch over, but his left hook to the body, left hook to the head combination was a thing of beauty and may be one of the 25 most devastating combinations in the division’s history.

Tommy Morrison 47-3-1 (40KOs) 1988-1996 - After losing to Ray Mercer in the 1988 Olympic trials, Tommy the Duke Morrison turned professional and quickly rang off a string of impressive knockouts before taking some time off to make the fifth installment of Rocky, which made him an instant star upon his return to the sport.  So after an eight-month hiatus he returned to the ring and raised his record to an impressive 28-0 (24 KOs).  During that span he knocked out the washed up duo of Pinklon Thomas and James Tillis in less than six minutes of action. 

Then he faced his first big test in fall of 1991 against his former amateur rival, Merciless Ray Mercer.  Mercer was old for a new pro at 30, having won the heavyweight gold medal in the 1988 games at the age of 27 while Morrison came into the fight at the tender age of 22-years-old.  The fight quickly turned into Tommy’s worst nightmare.  For three rounds he hit Mercer with everything, rocking the Gold medalist repeatedly with uppercuts and hooks, but Mercer’s hall of fame caliber chin enabled him to weather the storm and in the 5th, Mercer viciously trapped Morrison against the ropes and practically assaulted him before the referee intervened. 

Moments later Morrison was on his stool bobbing and weaving while his trainers were telling him, “The fights over Tommy!” 

After this major setback, Tommy got on another win streak, which included a come from behind win over the tough Joe Hipp that helped lead him towards a lucrative date with Big George Foreman.  Most people thought Foreman-Morrison was going to be a war between two big heavyweight punchers, but Big George didn’t come into the fight in very good shape and Morrison implemented a hit and run strategy that allowed him to escape with a decision win. 

The victory over Foreman allowed Tommy to secure a fight with Lennox Lewis for the WBC title, but decided to take a tune-up against Michael Bent and was starched in one round.  According to some reports Morrison was in the hotel lobby the night before the fight trying to bring women back to his room.  

In order to get his career on track Morrison hooked up with Tony Holden and in the summer of 95 he took a risky fight with Donavan Razor Ruddock and ended up knocking out the Razor within six in one of the greatest brawls in heavyweight history. 

This war with Ruddock enabled Tommy to land a lucrative fall date with Lennox Lewis in which Morrison was outclassed in almost every possible facet.  Shortly After the 6th round knockout loss to Lewis, Morrison learned that he was HIV positive right before his comeback fight in February of 96.  He fought again that very next fall in Japan on the undercard of Foreman-Grimsley.  It’s the only time I’m aware of that a boxer who was known to be HIV positive was permitted to engage in a legally sanctioned prizefight. 

Then to the surprise of the sports world, in 2006 after more than a ten-year hiatus from the ring Morrison claimed that his original test had been inaccurate and that he had never been HIV positive and the state of West Virginia allowed him to fight and he looked horrible in knocking out a stiff in two rounds in February of 2007. Throughout the whole ordeal Morrison refused to submit to testing under the strict and impartial guidelines of a legitimate athletic commission.  Last June the Arizona Republic reported that Morrison had recently tested HIV positive, which should have put an end to a comeback that was destined to fail, but Morrison still came back in the ring last Saturday in Mexico to win another fight comeback bout with third-round knockout.

The Fight

This fight would be real interesting.  Let’s say the match involves the Cooney that fought Holmes in 82 against the Morrison that beat Joe Hip in 92.  First of all, they were both punchers with less than granite chins and both of them had known stamina problems.  You can’t really compare their performances against Foreman because Cooney was washed up by the time he fought George and had fought less than 10 rounds in 8 years.  

Cooney scores some points for trying to go after Foreman to score a knockout. Morrison ran from Foreman the entire night and literally ran away a couple of times.  Thus it’s hard to compare their performances with their only common opponent.  Also do you think Tommy Morrison could go 13 rounds with a prime Larry Holmes?  Still, all and all Morrison fought the better competition.  He came back from a broken jaw to knock out the tough Joe Hipp and had that less than scintillating win against Foreman as well as the knockdown drag out wins against the somewhat washed up, but still tough Razor Ruddock and Carl Williams.  So at least we know that Morrison could dig down and win a fight.  We never had the chance to see that quality in Cooney. 

At the end of the day I think it’s very possible that Cooney would have stopped Morrison inside of two rounds, but based on their body of work, I think Morrison stops Cooney in the fifth or the sixth in a brawl reminiscent of the Ruddock fight. 


I recently watched Ingemar Johansson’s one round knockout of Eddie Machen on the internet and it was really a brutal knockout.  Remember  Johansson’s knock out of the previously undefeated Machen legitimized him as a contender and set up his trilogy with Patterson.  I just wish Ingemar had fought more American heavyweights so we could have gauged how good he really was.

I recently heard a song that Mark Knopfler wrote about Sonny Liston and it’s a good one.  It came out on his Shangri-La album. 

I thing Lennox Lewis is one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, but I think Larry Holmes circa 1982 would have beaten Lewis circa 2000. 

Amir Khan and Naseem have a lot in common. They have both been successful British boxers that practice Islam and they both drive recklessly.  

Brent Matteo Alderson, a graduate of UCLA, has been part of the staff at since 2004 and teaches Spanish at the High School level in Southern California.  He has published articles in Ring Magazine, KO, World Boxing, Boxing 2006, and Latin Boxing Magazine.  He has also been featured on the ESPN Classic television program “Who’s Number One?”  Please e-mail any comments to [email protected]

User Comments and Feedback (Register For Free To Comment) Comment by beez721 on 02-12-2008

[QUOTE=Thread Stealer;3131641]Agreed about the mental toughness. Morrison showed the ability to rise from the canvas or being hurt (Williams, Hipp, Ruddock) and win fights when Cooney couldn't. morrison's performance against hipp was extremely courageous. dude had an injured hand and…

Comment by Thread Stealer on 02-12-2008

[QUOTE=beez721;3131637]both has suspect chins and lousy stamina but morrison was quicker and more explosive. he was also tougher. cooney was just too nice a guy. morrsion would probably have stopped cooney within 4 rounds[/QUOTE] Agreed about the mental toughness. Morrison…

Comment by beez721 on 02-12-2008

[QUOTE=BIGPOPPAPUMP;3131609]By Brent Matteo Alderson - Gerry Cooney 28-3 (24KOs) 1977-1990 - I didn’t get a chance to follow Gerry Cooney’s career as closely as Morrison’s due to the fact that I was only a year-old when he turned pro in…

Comment by Silencers on 02-12-2008

A prime Cooney would've beaten a prime Morrison IMO.

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