Foreman vs Cooney: When people started taking notice

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George Foreman fought Gerry Cooney in the 20th fight of his improbable comeback in January 1990.


Prior to that bout, George was the laughing stock of boxing. But afterwards, some - including me - started taking him seriously.

Let's cycle back to 1987 when Big George Foreman launched his improbable comeback after a 10 year hiatus. Most boxing insiders and experts scoffed at the idea of George Foreman, now 39, bald, fat, and years past his prime, ever lacing up the gloves again and fighting.

When he returned to the ring, most thought George was a complete joke. And despite accumulating a 19-0, 18 KO record on his comeback, few gave him any credit because he hadn't defeated any top guys yet and was fighting small heavyweights (mostly club fighters) with unimpressive ring records.

Nevertheless, we followed Foreman. And when he kept winning, the curiosity grew.

Nearly 3 years after his comeback George was still knocking everyone out and we wondered how far he could take his (supposed) freak show.

Enter Gerry Cooney.

In late 1989 it was announced the then-41 year old George Foreman would face Cooney, 33, on January 15, 1990.

Finally, George was facing a big name. Now granted, Gerry, who hadn't fought in 2 1/2 years, was bringing some ring rust with him. However, he was a mainstream athlete who'd defeated some big names, sported a pristine record of 28-2 with 24 knockouts and, at 6′7" 233 pounds, was a large heavyweight Foreman couldn't toy with.

Moreover, if you were a boxing die-hard you knew Cooney's left hook was one of the most devastating punches in the history of the sport.

Rusty or not, Cooney was a threat to any heavyweight due to his size, pedigree and punching power.

foreman cooney tot

Over 12,000 packed the Atlantic City Convention Center to see the fight and the combatants didn't disappoint them.

Fireworks started in the first round as both fighters threw big shots early. Towards the end of the opening stanza, Cooney's famous left hook staggered Big George. The public hadn't seen Foreman punched that hard since the 70s.

Foreman, despite looking awkward and amateurish, never lost his composure. The slug-fest ensued in Round 2 but Cooney, who stuck and moved most of the first round, was now more stationary and elected to trade with the heavy-handed Foreman.

Showing a bit more speed than we were accustomed to seeing on his comeback, Foreman started landing thudding shots. Cooney fired back but Foreman's punches were clearly having more of an impact. Foreman would brutally floor Cooney twice, forcing referee Joe Cortez to halt the action at 1:57 of Round 2.

A courageous Cooney somehow rose from the first knockdown but there would be no getting up after the second.

With the victory, George Foreman's three year comeback had finally gained a measure credibility.

No, many of us at the time still weren't convinced he could beat a top 10 heavyweight but we considered him formidable at the very least and were impressed with his punching power and ability to absorb punishment.

Of course, Foreman would go on to regain the lineal heavyweight title at 45, culminating one of the greatest comeback stories in the history of sports.

Foreman vs Cooney facts & stats

  • The fight was promoted by Bob Arum and hosted by Caesars Atlantic City at the Convention Center.
  • A mainstream affair, Foreman vs Cooney was billed as "The Preacher vs. The Puncher." Critics called it "The Geezers at Caesars."
  • The fight was shown on closed-circuit TV and pay-per-view.
  • ESPN interrupted their programming to offer round by round updates
  • Each boxer was guaranteed $1 million.
  • Gil Clancy trained Cooney for the fight.


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