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Sir Henry Cooper remembered: Farewell to Our 'Enery

Sir Henry Cooper

BBC Sport remembers Sir Henry Cooper

By Sanjeev Shetty
BBC Sport

For the majority, he will be remembered for one punch - a thunderous left hook they called Enery's 'Ammer that put The Greatest on his backside.

But boxing fans know that there was much more to Sir Henry Cooper, who has died aged 76, than one good punch.

An identical twin, Sir Henry and his brother George both went on to ply their trades in boxing.

As an amateur, Henry won 73 of his 84 bouts, winning the ABA light-heavyweight championship at 17 and representing Great Britain at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki.

After a two-year stint in the army, Cooper decided to turn professional.

Guided by Jim Wicks, a man who managed Cooper's career on the basis of a handshake, Cooper retained his job in the plastering trade, using his spare time to train for upcoming fights.

His first big moment came in 1959, when he won the British heavyweight title after a bruising 15-round contest with Brian London.

Archive - Henry Cooper v Joe Erskine

During those early days, Cooper's three-fight series with the canny Welshman Joe Erskine made the headlines - Cooper losing the first by decision but then avenging the loss with two brutal stoppages.

By that stage, his left hook was a feared weapon - it was estimated to travel 15 times faster than a Saturn V rocket.

While it made him a threat against any class of opposition, Cooper's tendency to lacerate with ease made him vulnerable.

"If you gave Henry a rough towel, you needed a basin to catch the blood," said renowned boxing writer Hugh McIlvanney.

Cooper was also light for a heavyweight, never weighing above 14 stone, which today would have made him a natural cruiserweight.

The full range of his strengths and weaknesses was exposed on 18 June 1963 - a night which has earned a very special place in British sporting folklore.

Sir Henry Cooper
Cooper celebrates his knighthood in 2000

On that evening, a 21-year-old Cassius Clay came to London, determined to "jive in five", a prediction that looked frighteningly accurate until the fourth round, when Clay was floored by a Cooper left.

Up at four, Clay was escorted back to his corner as the bell rang, on what were very shaky legs.

Fate and a little gamesmanship deprived Cooper of his moment of glory - Clay's trainer Angelo Dundee noticed a split in his fighter's glove and made sure that it became so wide it had to be replaced.

Had Cooper landed 10 seconds earlier, the course of boxing history might have been very different.

The extra seconds that Clay got to recover allowed him to come out refreshed for the fifth round and finish the fight, opening up a hideous cut on Cooper's face which forced the stoppage.

Three years later, the two men met again, with the same ending - by now, Clay was Muhammad Ali and heavyweight champion of the world, and he no longer made mistakes.

Of his 14 defeats, including those by future world champion Ingemar Johansson in 1957 and former world champion Floyd Patterson in 1966, there was only one Cooper could not quite come to terms with.

It came on 16 March 1971, when the 36-year-old Cooper took on the 21-year-old Joe Bugner at Wembley's Empire Pool in what would be Cooper's last fight.

For 15 rounds, the pair battled on relatively even terms and it was assumed that British and European champion Cooper would get the decision.

But referee Harry Gibb stunned the sizeable crowd when he walked towards Bugner at the end and lifted his arm into the air.

For a proud man like Cooper, it was too much to take and he refused to speak to Gibb for 30 years.

In his post-fight days, Cooper devoted much of his time to charity and after-dinner speaking, and for a while he performed broadcasting duties for the BBC on their boxing coverage.

Henry Cooper (second left) with fellow competitors on A Question of Sport
Cooper (second left) became a familiar figure on British television

But for a man of honour and integrity, he found the circus nature of modern boxing abhorrent. He was also saddened by the state of the heavyweight division.

"I look at things today and think, 'Gawd blimey, what's happened?'" Cooper said a few years before his death.

"I know I sound a right old misery, but all those ring walks drove me nuts. I've even seen them bring in fighters on Harley Davidsons and magic carpets, and some of them take 40 minutes to get into the ring."

Despite this, he never dared dispute what he saw as boxing's fundamental asset to society.

"If there is a danger in anything some people want to ban it - you mustn't box, you mustn't climb mountains, you mustn't race fast cars," he wrote in his autobiography.

"Nothing would have been achieved in the world if there wasn't a determination to beat an element of danger or challenge."

Cooper was the first person to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award twice (in 1967 and 1970) and became Britain's first and only boxing knight in 2000.

He may not have been the greatest fighter Britain has ever produced, but there has never been a more popular one than Cooper.



see also
Boxing legend Cooper dies at 76
03 May 11 |  Boxing
Tributes pour in for boxer Cooper
04 May 11 |  Boxing
BBC Sport remembers Sir Henry Cooper
04 May 11 |  Boxing
Sir Henry Cooper's life in pictures
01 May 11 |  Boxing
Sports Personality roll of honour
22 Dec 10 |  Sports Personality
Henry Cooper v Joe Erskine
26 Aug 10 |  Boxing
Cooper criticises Haye behaviour
07 May 09 |  Boxing
Question of Sport - Early Days
18 Nov 08 |  A Question of Sport
Q&A: Sir Henry Cooper
27 Oct 08 |  Sports Personality
When Cooper floored Clay
18 Jun 03 |  Boxing
Cooper critical of Harrison
10 Oct 02 |  Boxing
Cooper fears for boxing
23 Jan 02 |  Boxing


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