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Friday, 31 December, 1999, 00:10 GMT
Arise, Our 'Enery

Muhammad Ali and Henry Cooper His two defeats by Muhammad Ali were Cooper's most famous fights

From now on "Our 'Enery" will be known as "Sir 'Enery".

Henry Cooper, one of the UK's most popular sporting figures, has been knighted in the New Year's Honours.

Henry Cooper career highlights
1934: Born, May 3
1952: Wins ABA light-heavyweight title
1959: Beats Brian London to win British and Empire championships
1961: Wins first of record three Lonsdale Belts
1963: Knocks down Cassius Clay at Wembley but loses in five rounds
1966: Beaten by Muhammad Ali again, on cuts, in world title fight at Highbury
1968: Wins European title
1971: Controversially loses to Joe Bugner and announces retirement after 40 wins, 14 losses and one draw
Lennox Lewis may be Britain's only undisputed world heavyweight champion of the 20th century, but Cooper, with his distinctive Londoner's dropped aitches, easy going humour and craggy features, remains the people's favourite.

His record-breaking achievements in boxing's blue riband division - which were based on a fabled left hook, known as 'Enery's 'Ammer - made him a sporting icon of the 1960s.

And his famous showdowns with the great Muhammad Ali - recently voted by BBC viewers as the sportsman of the millennium - captured the imagination of boxing fans everywhere.

But above all else it was the way Cooper carried himself that cemented his place in the British public's heart.

Because for Cooper, who at 13st 8lbs was small for a heavyweight, how he won was always more important than whether he won.

Henry Cooper These days Cooper is a familiar media figure
"Boxing must be a sport in which its dignity is always to the forefront," he said.

"It's a rough, tough old game as it is - one all about courage and athleticism and fitness and skill.

"And, as we know only too well, sportsmen can get seriously hurt. That's why the dignity of boxing must be maintained."

Cooper the gentleman admits he is exasperated with the behaviour of many modern proponents of the noble art.

He has condemned the shenanigans surrounding Naseem Hamed's fights and the manic excesses of Mike Tyson.

But one of boxing's more arrogant figures is exempt from his criticism - Ali himself, who would predict what round he would win in and loved to taunt his opponents.

1966 world title fight Deep cuts ended Cooper's 1966 world title fight with Ali
"Ali was different," Cooper explained. "He did it with some wit for a start. And he knew that you knew his antics were just his way of scoring a psychological point.

"He always did it with a little twinkle in his eye. You could always see his tongue in his cheek, and he meant you to."

Cooper fought Ali twice. First, as Cassius Clay, the great young American was knocked to the floor by Cooper at Wembley in 1963.

It remains the most famous punch in British boxing history.

Cooper already had a bad gash above his left eye, but with blood streaming down his face and Clay toying with him in the fourth round, he launched a left hook that sent Clay sprawling into the ropes.

Cassius Clay Cooper sends Cassius Clay to the floor in 1963
But with 44,000 Englishmen screaming for the end of the fight, the bell sounded instead for the end of the round just as the count reached four.

Clay had survived and insisde a minute of the fifth round the bout had been stopped, with Cooper blinded by his own blood.

Then in 1966 he fought Ali again, this time at Highbury.

But there was to be no fairytale rematch, as Cooper's tendency to cut cost him the world heavyweight title when the fight was halted in the sixth.

Cooper finally brought the curtain down on his illustrious career in 1971 at the age of 37, but only after one final disappointment when he lost his British, European and Commonwealth titles to Joe Bugner in a fight that to this day he believes he won by a round.

But if he is more famous for his defeats than for his numerous victories it matters little, because Henry Cooper will always be remembered as a genuine sporting hero.

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