If you mentioned the name of Henry Cooper to anyone, more likely than not they’d reply with the words “our ‘Enry”.Henry Cooper was regarded as a true gentleman of boxing. A former British, Commonwealth and European Heavyweight Champion Cooper was Britain’s best known heavyweight. This despite the fact that he only had one shot at the World title.
Born on May 3rd, 1934 along with his twin brother George, Cooper was a left handed fighter who, unlike other left handers, fought in an orthodox stance. After a successful amateur career which saw him win the ABA title and compete in the 1952 Olympics Cooper turned professional.
During a storied career he fought the likes of Ingamar Johannsen, Zora Folley, Brian London and Floyd Patterson. His most famous fights however were against none other than Muhammad Ali.
It was at Wembley Stadium in London in 1963 that Cooper first fought a young Cassius Clay. In the fourth round Cooper unleashed his trademark punch, “‘Enry’s Hammer”, a left hook that sent Clay crashing down to the canvas.
Legend has it that Clay’s trainer, Angelo Dundee, used a few tricks to buy his man some recovery time, such as cutting his gloves so he’d need a replacement. When the fifth round eventually began Clay hit Cooper with a hard right that opened up a nasty cut under his eye, and even though Cooper was ahead on points the referee stopped the fight, giving the TKO win to Clay.
Three years later Cooper challenged the now-Muhammad Ali for the World Heavyweight title at Arsenal’s Highbury stadium. Ali was now more weary of Cooper’s skills, although Cooper once again cut up badly as Ali was given another TKO win. Again, Cooper was ahead on points.
After losing to Floyd Patterson in his next fight Cooper went undefeated until March 1971, where he defended his British, European and Commonwealth titles against the young up-and-comer Joe Bugner. Bugner defeated Cooper on points, winning all three titles and ending Cooper’s career. Cooper was so beloved by the British public that they never took to Bugner afterwards, despite the fact that he twice challenged Muhammad Ali for the World title in the 70’s.
Along with his in-ring achievements, Cooper is one of only three people to have been voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year, in 1967 and 1970. He was awarded an OBE in 1969, and knighted in 2000. He kept a high public profile after his retirement, most notably for his appearances in Brut aftershave commercials.
Cooper passed away this past Sunday at the age of 76.
Sir Henry Cooper will always be regarded as one of Britain’s greatest ever sportsmen. He was always held in high regard not just by the fans but by his peers. In all my years of watching and reading about boxing I’ve never heard or seen a bad word about him. His death is a great loss to the sport he loved and served so well.
Rest in peace Sir ‘Enry.