Back for the First Time in a Long Time: Gerry Cooney on the Heavyweight Scene

Gerry Cooney meets with Dillian Whyte at Whyte’s training camp at Loughborough University, Leicestershire, UK. (Image Credit, Instagram, @gerryacooney)
Gerry Cooney meets with Dillian Whyte at Whyte’s training camp at Loughborough University, Leicestershire, UK. (Image Credit, Instagram, @gerryacooney)

During a recent UK tour to promote his new memoir, “Gentleman” Gerry Cooney, a former two-time world-title challenger, spoke to Hannibal Boxing about the current heavyweight division, which has not been this exciting or stacked since the late nineties. In addition to being an author, Cooney is also the co-host (along with Randy Gordon), of the popular Sirius XM radio show At the Fights.

The fight fan in Cooney is relishing the prospect of some of the potential matchups.

“You got [Tyson] Fury with [Bob] Arum on ESPN+, you got [Deontay] Wilder with Showtime and you got [Anthony] Joshua with DAZN, and now you got [Andy] Ruiz [Jr], you got Joe Joyce, you got a couple of tough African guys coming up [too]. The picture is coming into focus, the talented heavyweight division is coming back for the first time in a long time, and that’s going to be exciting. Now we got to see these guys fight and that’s a very exciting proposition.”

To begin his trip to the UK, Cooney visited WBC number-one contender Dillian Whyte, deep in camp at Loughborough University. Cooney drew similarities between Whyte and a younger version of himself from his fighting days.

“I got with Dillian Whyte, I love the kid, and we had great conversations about his left hook and tightening up, you know, slipping off to the side. I loved that guy! I identify with him so much. He was the guy that Eddie Hearn put in to test out all of these guys, and now it’s his time to get a shot, and they’re ducking him. When I was fighting, Don King owned everybody, and they wouldn’t give me anybody because I wouldn’t sign with him, so I kinda felt left out. It’s frustrating, and what it did to me was wore me out, I think. It’s on, it’s off, it’s on, it’s off. So I identify with him [Whyte], but he’s got the great training camp, he’s got great people around him, and quite frankly he’s been the busiest of all the guys. Obviously, someone’s directing somebody; I hate to say that.”

White finds himself facing off against undefeated Colombian Oscar Rivas, who boasts a record of 26-0, with 18 knockouts. The bout will take place at the O2 Arena in London on July 16.

“I like Dillian Whyte; I think Dillian Whyte is going to be too tough for him [Rivas]. He’s grown a lot out of all the heavyweights. When I fought [Larry] Holmes back in my day, I didn’t get the experience until I fought Holmes. Larry Holmes gave me all the experience I needed, but until then, I didn’t have any experience, I was just knocking everybody out. Dillian Whyte has boxed with all these guys, [Joseph] Parker, Joshua—all these fights while everybody else was waiting around, and he’s got the most ability. I was in his . . . training camp, and it’s phenomenal what they’re putting him through. The conditioning boxing program is what really takes you over the top. It gives you the conditioning for ten, eleven, and twelve [rounds] that most of these guys don’t have.

“The Rivas fight is something to do about nothing. Dillian Whyte will be tested for a couple of rounds; he will come on strong and, if not knock him out, he’ll win the decision. I would’ve loved to see Dillian Whyte get a shot with Andy Ruiz, who’s a beast of a guy himself. He’s been wanting to fight Wilder, too! Although I think Fury will get Wilder first. I think, finally, since everybody saw what happened to Joshua, I think that everybody’s kind of gotta pull the trigger and put in Fury and Wilder to make that big payday.”

Former heavyweight kingpin (and Dillian Whyte conqueror) Anthony Joshua suffered a fall from grace with a crash when he lost to Ruiz on June 1 at Madison Square Garden, shocking Cooney along with the world.

“It was [a shock] all around the world! Listen, everybody feels good that Ruiz—this guy who doesn’t look like a heavyweight champion— he’s a heavy-set guy, it’s just that’s who he is—but he got up. I said on-air that I picked Joshua to stop him later on in the fight, but I said that Ruiz is a tough guy, and he’s going to test Joshua, and we will find out a lot of things about Joshua, and we did.

“Joshua is going to have to learn how to fight again. He’s going to have to get away from those sharks and tie up in there and hold on, use that jab more effectively, get his head out of the way. Those things are what the pros learn. Now he’s got tested, he said it himself: you can’t always win, you will lose at some point. Now what does he do with that, does he get somebody else as a trainer to teach you how to really fight in the pros or does he be the nice guy and keep the same set of trainers? I don’t think that’s in his best interests. I think he has the ability, and he’s got to get the ring back and it’s not going to be easy getting it [back] off Ruiz because when you win the heavyweight championship of the world, you become a better fighter just by winning the title. You become more confident, you want to hold on to that belt, so it makes it harder for the other guys.”

Anthony Joshua and Eddie Hearn have exercised a rematch clause to face Ruiz again, and Cooney believes that this is the best step for Joshua to take right now.

“I think it is [the right move], I think if he waits, waits, and waits, it just leaves for more speculation about him getting dropped in the gyms and getting knocked out by that small kid [rumored to be Joey Dawejko]. He has to get somebody in his camp now to teach him how to stay away from those punches, to fight effectively, to use his abilities and negate Ruiz’s abilities. When Ruiz comes in throwing ten, fifteen punches, he needs to hold on and stop him from punching. You have to use your good jab where you get your head out of the way so you’re not catching right hands and left hooks while they come in.”

As someone who has fought at the highest level in the sport (and suffered losses at the highest level), Cooney feels he could steer Joshua in the direction of victory once more.

“I’d love to get with Joshua, I’d love to give him some information that he’s not getting right now. This is the heavyweight championship of the world, the most prestigious award in boxing and these guys are just not having the best guys in their corner, in my opinion, to help them. You have to fight on your terms; don’t stay at a distance where Ruiz is most powerful. You need to take his power away from him by tying him up or getting inside him using your jab; and staying outside and get your head out of the way. You can’t jab with your head straight up in front of the guy. You got to move off to the right and use the jab, weave to the side and bang the body to slow the other guy down, take some of those skills away. When you are finished punching, you hold him, don’t let him fire back at you. It’s simple math. Boxing is simple. There are answers for all those questions, but you got to get somebody in the corner who can give them to you, to make you aware of that.”

Andy Ruiz Jr. was not meant to have the opportunity to end Joshua’s reign; however, an act of stupidity from Jarrell Miller gave Ruiz a chance to score the upset. Cooney feels there should be stricter punishments for drug cheats.

“Listen, Jarrell Miller made such an ass of himself and American boxing. He had an opportunity to make seven million dollars to fight Joshua, and he did a stupid thing and tried to hide it, but he tested positive three times until he finally surrendered and said he did it. What an ass to do such a thing to your family, to yourself and to boxing! That was very disappointing; he’s a great promoter, he’s got a great mouthpiece, but you don’t take drugs to be better.

“I think there should be a two-year suspension so these guys will listen. Canelo Alvarez, they gave him six months. It takes six months to train for a fight! What kind of spanking is that—except on the wrist?”

One man who has done slightly better than Joshua in America is Tyson Fury. Cooney places “The Gypsy King” at the top of the tree.

“I think the toughest guy out there is Fury. Fury is the guy we saw fight Schwarz, whatever his name was, but you see him getting a lot better . . . Schwarz wasn’t of the caliber he needs, but he just looked better. His fight with Wilder and getting off the canvas, I spoke to Jack Reiss [the referee in the Fury–Wilder fight] and he said he got to five and Fury was sleeping. He opened his eyes and jumped off the mat, and if you remember that twelfth round, Wilder jumped up on the ropes like he got a knockout and, when he turned around, Fury was up again. When Fury came back after the knockdown, he rocked Wilder twice! So he’s grown a lot, and he’s got a lot better in that fight and, hopefully, Wilder did too, but Wilder needs to learn how to fight now, too.

“I think Fury gives everybody fits because he’s so awkward and long. I was shocked at what he did to [Wladimir] Klitschko because he took all of Klitschko’s power away by feinting him all night, keeping him off balance, that’s a great gift he has.”

However, with all of that said, Cooney still does not think Tyson Fury has completely won over the American audience. Not yet, at least.

“People are still not sure. He’s a great promoter, he’s got a great voice, but you can’t put on 150 pounds and get on cocaine and booze and come back. I got to respect him for coming back and saying. ‘I want Wilder,’ when nobody wanted to fight Wilder.

“He also got dropped in the Garden by Stevie Cunningham, who was a cruiserweight, who is not known to be a puncher. Remember that? Listen, I’m proud to know him, I’m proud of what he’s doing in the fight game and in himself, and I hope he keeps it going. This is professional boxing, world class, at its best. You got to perform.”

Fury recently announced that he has signed a contract for a rematch against Deontay Wilder that will take place on February 22, 2020. This is yet to be confirmed officially by Queensberry Promotions or Top Rank, but both Fury and Wilder will have an interim fight before facing each other again. Cooney has some advice for “The Bronze Bomber.”

“All he really has in his arsenal is that right hand. You got to have a body shot, you need to make adjustments, you can’t keep throwing the right hand at the head of Fury; you got to aim for the chest, you got to have somebody in the corner telling you [that information]. [It’s as if] he didn’t have anybody in the corner because he never had to before, but at this level of the game, you got to fight now. Now I’m giving you some of my best shit!

“Here’s the deal: when I was a fighter, it wasn’t ‘Maybe I can get inside and work the body, I think I can do it.’ You have to do it. You can’t think of maybe, or ‘I’ll try.’ No, your job is to get inside and make the other guy uncomfortable; you can’t stay inside his comfort zone, you got to make him uncomfortable. They don’t do that today; we need that. Listen, if I’m fighting a Fury, I got to get to his body—twos and threes at a time, get back out, get back inside again, then his hands will come down and, when they do, you hit him on the chin with the hook or the right hand.

“Emanuel Steward once told Lennox Lewis, ‘When you throw the right and don’t throw it straight, throw it six inches to the right,’ and Lennox Lewis went out the next round and threw the right hand six inches to the right and knocked the guy out because he made the adjustments, but you need to have a good corner teaching you that.”

We are yet to see whom Fury will face next, but we do know that Wilder will be in another rematch in September against once-feared Cuban, Luis Ortiz.

“It’s a tough fight for Wilder because Ortiz was winning all the way and he finally got tired. Wilder has got better stamina and caught him and knocked him out. Ortiz also hurt him; he walked away from that fight with confidence, too.”

Cooney also gave honorable mentions to Daniel Dubois and Oleksandr Usyk. “I love Dubois; he’s a beast! He’s a killer puncher and he’s pretty talented, too. It’s B-rated fighters fighting to move up the ladder to A-rated. I think it’s exciting. I don’t know if [Usyk] will be able to hold out against the guys who can punch. He’s a tough kid, he has a lot of endurance, a lot of guts and it’s going to be interesting to see who he’s going to fight. Takam is somewhat of a B-rated fighter.”

One of the other names Cooney mentioned was Joe Joyce. Cooney spoke of Joyce, who faces Bryant Jennings this Saturday, as being too much like an amateur, and does not rate his upcoming opponent.

“I don’t think Bryant Jennings is all that anymore. I think Joe Joyce is a good, tough kid; the only thing is, he stands right in front of you. Some of these guys like Wilder can punch. . . . They hit you three or four times—you can take their shots for a while, but you’re going to go down. He’s got to learn to fight, too; he stands right up in front of the guys, a very amateur fighter. You gotta move your head, you gotta move your body, you gotta set the guy up, and you can’t punch with just your arms, you got to use your body when you’re punching. You punch twice as hard when you do that. So far, he’s gotten away with standing straight up and punching, but you can’t [do] that forever.

“You’ve got to develop a toolbox in the fight game; you gotta have other options; you got to make adjustments; and you have to become aware of those adjustments and how to do it. If you don’t have the corner to help you with that, you got to get rid of the corner. This is the big deal right now, this is A-rate fighting, these guys don’t bring that, and the big problem is that most of the great trainers have passed away. The guys that came in are the younger, watered-down version of it, in my opinion. We got to find some good teachers out there. You got to have a rapport with your trainer like no other; you got that one minute to come back and sit to listen to your corner because he’s seen what you can’t see.”

“I love the game,” Cooney concluded. “I’m on Sirius XM channel 156 every Monday, every Friday 6–8pm. I have a book coming out called Gentleman Gerry: A Contender in the Ring, and it goes over my whole life span growing up, how I became a fighter, the ups and downs, and the trials and tribulations.”

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