Gerry Cooney, who was knocked out by Larry Holmes and then disappeared over the horizon for more than two years, reappeared last month near the Arctic Circle. He bobbed up with gloves on in Anchorage, where he kept an appointment to knock out Philip Brown, an old acquaintance; in fact, one of his former sparring partners.

Cooney brought this off rapidly, in the fourth round, on the third of his three knockdowns of the less than valiant Brown. Even the always cautious Associated Press described Brown's skills as "negligible." More noteworthy than the fight were the payoffs for this short night's work: $300,000 for Cooney, $100,000 for Brown.

Old sparring partners have been pretty well keyed into the current state of heavyweight boxing, which has degenerated from a widespread pollution of the title process into a stinking mess.

On Nov. 9, the most recognized of the three present heavyweight champions, Larry Holmes, will defend his title against James (Bonecrusher) Smith in Las Vegas. This epic has a certain fascination.

Holmes, in this fight, will be trying to prove that he, too, can knock out the Bonecrusher, thus gaining parity with one of his old sparring partners, James Broad, who also knocked out the Bonecrusher a while back.

Never has the choice of a heavyweight champion been so eclectic for boxing fans, those who may still be interested in the now-uglier business newly spotlighted by the illness of Muhammad Ali. It all used to be so simple. Jack Dempsey was the heavyweight champion recognized by all. So were Gene Tunney, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Ali and the others. No debates about who was king.

Now, there is Holmes, still unbeaten but saying he doesn't care to be the World Boxing Association champion any more, choosing a new throne as the International Boxing Association's first champ. Incidentally, he hasn't fought anybody in a year, an idleness that seems to satisfy public demand.

The current WBA champion is Gerrie Coetzee, the South African who was supposed to fight Holmes, but didn't. Pinklon Thomas, of small fame, is the newest World Boxing Council champion, having won that title a while back by beating a certain Tim Witherspoon, who once was robbed of a decision over the inconsistent Holmes.

The Holmes-Coetzee fight didn't come off because a judge upheld the contention of a Virginia promoter that he had prior rights to the contest that was to be promoted by Don King. Holmes pleaded his contract with the Virginian should be voided because his third-grade education didn't permit him to understand the fine print. The court said it thought Holmes understood.

Thomas defeated Witherspoon recently in a very unsatisfactory 12-rounder. One boxer, Witherspoon, was out of shape and reluctant to fight. The other, Thomas, was a one-armed gladiator with nothing more than a left jab. Neither appeared conditioned to go the usual 15 rounds. None of the pay-TV people would buy the fight, which ended up in the low-rent area of home television.

The proliferation of titles was eagerly promoted by the networks, which valued the word "title" in front of their offerings. But the process has been self-defeating, splintering viewer interest and resulting in an attitude of "who cares?"

There's even a United States Boxing Association heavyweight champion, name of David Bey. How did he win that title? When he defeated Greg Page in a preliminary on the Thomas-Witherspoon card.

Someday, of course, they will put Cooney back in there with Holmes for another title match. The reasons are powerful. Each drew an $8 million payday for their last fight, which did go 15 rounds before Cooney wound up a battered hulk.

Cooney is big and strong. And no matter how they want to play down the White Hope factor, it will be at least subliminal. Cooney's body-punching has caved in many an opponent, but, unfortunately, he is slow and has no hand speed. When they say Cooney is the owner of the mailed fist, that is true. But he dispatches it by third-class mail.

King, who promotes most of the big ones, will probably stage the Holmes-Cooney rematch. He was in Washington last month, suggesting the nation's capital could be the scene of a big title fight.

What piffle. And what a travesty that The Washington Post and other newspapers bought King's pap to the local press, he knowing well that only Vegas and Atlantic City, with their casinos, can buy a big fight.

And what a scene it was when King, now weeping at the illness and suffering of Ali, his favorite gladiator in all those matches, declared himself for boxing safety and saying, "One of the most important things they can do is not to make mismatches." Who mismatched poor Ali in his last pathetic fight that brought him a pounding from Holmes, and who was the matchmaker of the Holmes-Tex Cobb bloodbath that caused even Howard Cosell to quit the business in utter disgust? Those are decent questions.

The most easily identifiable of all the champions is Marvin Hagler, the baldheaded middleweight who looks so ferocious and is. He's due to fight Mustafa Hamsho in Madison Square Garden. But that hardly looms as an epic, either. Sometime back, when Hagler was beating a fellow once called Rocky Estafire, it was Mustafa Hamsho by another name.

In boxing, there is something rotten, too, in Seoul. When the IBF flyweight champion, Kwan Sun Chon, recently knocked out challenger Albert Castro of Panama, the latter admitted he was an imposter named Armando Torres, of somewhere else. The real Castro was still in training in Panama and had never been to Seoul.