Jean-Pierre Coopman

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Jean-Pierre Coopman
Real name Jean-Pierre Coopman
Nickname(s) Lion of Flanders
Rated at Heavyweight
Height 5 ft 11.5 in (1.82 m)
Nationality Belgian
Born (1946-07-11) 11 July 1946 (age 68)
Ingelmunster, West Flanders, Belgium
Stance Orthodox
Boxing record
Total fights 54
Wins 36
Wins by KO 20
Losses 16
Draws 2
No contests 0

Jean-Pierre Coopman (born in Ingelmunster, Belgium, 7 November 1946) is a retired Belgian boxer who is best known for his title fight against Muhammad Ali in 1976, which Ali won by KO[1] in round 5.[2]

Early life[edit]

Jean-Pierre Coopman was born on 11 July 1946, in the Flemish (northern Belgium) community of Ingelmunster. Early in life, he showed a gift for artistry. He was instructed in sculpting by his stepfather, and Coopman's first fully paid job was as a stone cutter. The stone-cutting he learned from childhood was more specifically that of an artisan. His skills were put to use, among other things, in reparations of the medieval churches of Belgium—most notably, Saint Nicholas' Church in Ghent. By having to perform a kind of historic preservation, using and applying tools from this ancient period, Coopman developed great strength in his arms and hands.

In young adulthood, he appears to have been a lover of night-life, but after sparring several times with Gilbert Montagne, a noted Belgian middleweight, Coopman was urged to pursue a ring career, or at least to try. By his own words, once the decision was made, Coopman at least gave up smoking, and cold turkey at that.

Jean-Pierre Coopman (left), the producer of Camping Cosmos in the middle and Freddy De Kerpel (right) during the shooting of the movie Camping Cosmos, August 1995, Westende, Belgium.

Fighting career[edit]

Though best known in fight circles as an opponent of Muhammad Ali, Coopman had been fighting for a half decade, before being granted his title shot at "The Greatest". He began in the amateur ranks, rising quickly enough to compete in the 1971 European Championships, where he was knocked out by a far more experienced (315 fights) Soviet fighter. He turned professional, in 1972.

Coopman fought his early bouts primarily in Belgium, though he is recorded as having lost an early match versus Harald Skog, in Oslo, Norway. Another, more tenuous connection to Ali, is Coopman's loss (via decision) to Rudie Lubbers of The Netherlands, in 1973. Coopman's earlier record, as well shows a disqualification victory over Terry Daniels, who had also received a title shot during his own career, versus Smokin' Joe Frazier, in January 1972. Despite mixed fortunes, Coopman proved popular with his fellow Belgians, and by 1975, was able to pursue boxing as a full-time career; the company which employed him to sculpt, now paid him to fight, instead.

It has often been said of Coopman, that he was one of the least deserving fighters to fight for the heavyweight title. His fight with Ali was regarded as a glorified sparring session. Ali had recently had his third fight with Joe Frazier, the "Thrilla in Manilla", a match Ali later called, "the closest thing to Death." Understandably, the champion wanted an "easy" opponent. The match was made almost by happenstance, as the promotion fell to George Kanter, a Belgian by birth. Kanter, after surveying the European scene, contacted Charles de Jager, Coopman's manager, and shortly on, the match was made. Coopman, unknown outside Belgium, was overwhelmed by the sudden notoriety. Ali, he has always admitted, was a personal hero; from the beginning, he was grateful for the opportunity.

Coopman was dubbed "The Lion of Flanders" by the Western press, but he never called himself that, nor had ever used the moniker. The sobriquet, was thought to be apropos in light of Coopman's birthday (11 July is a national holiday in Flanders, marking a military victory over the French, in 1302). The challenger looked bad enough in sparring sessions, his training was quickly closed to the press.

The fight took place in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on 20 February 1976 at Roberto Clemente Coliseum; the fight was not in any way broadcast by Belgian media as Coopman's native land was the first nation to ban boxing broadcasts. In those days long before Pay-Per-View, CBS Sports broadcast the bout to the USA for free, prime time. The bout itself, little more than a day in the gym for Ali, ended in Round Five. Though stopped, Coopman has always felt it a point of pride, that he emerged relatively unhurt and unmarked.

After the Muhammad Ali fight, Coopman became European champion after beating the Basque, Jose Urtain. Two months later, in Antwerp, he lost the title to Lucien Rodriguez of France. He retired in 1980. His last official fight was against Cookie Wallace.

In 1995 he fought another boxing legend, Freddy De Kerpel, acting in the film Camping Cosmos.

As of 2007 Coopman was painting oil paintings of famous boxers. He had, long before that time, painted a portrait of Ali, taken by way of visual reference, from a celebrated photo by Neil Leifer. He was also awarded the contract to sculpt a statue of Cyril Delannoit, a Belgian fighter acclaimed in his day, for having defeated Marcel Cerdan (1948; Brussels).

Coopman is the subject of "Lion", a tongue-in-cheek tribute by songwriter Freddy Blohm.

Professional boxing record[edit]

36 Wins (20 knockouts, 13 decisions, 3 DQ), 16 Losses (6 knockouts, 9 decisions, 1 DQ), 2 Draws [3]
Result Record Opponent Type Round Date Location Notes
Draw 25-4 Belgium Freddy De Kerpel MD 6 05/04/1999 Belgium Ghent, East Flanders 57-57, 58-58, 57-58.
Loss 8-1-1 Luxembourg Dragomir Milo Popovic TKO 5 16/05/1981 Belgium Liege
Win 13-2 Italy Vincenzo Pesapane TKO 3 03/04/1981 Italy Piacenza, Emilia Romagna
Loss 9-6-1 Zaire Pierre Babo Kabassu PTS 8 25/12/1980 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Loss 26-7 Netherlands Rudie Lubbers TKO 5 29/09/1980 Netherlands Energiehal, Rotterdam
Loss 26-1-2 Belgium Albert Syben PTS 10 27/06/1980 Belgium Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, Brussels
Loss 10-7 Wales Winston Allen KO 1 01/05/1980 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 8-4 England Denton Ruddock PTS 10 02/02/1980 Belgium Turnhout, Antwerp
Loss 96-18-13 Argentina Avenamar Peralta PTS 10 25/12/1979 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Loss 12-1-3 Germany George Butzbach PTS 10 01/11/1979 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Loss 10-0-2 Belgium Rudy Gauwe PTS 12 30/09/1978 Belgium Turnhout, Antwerp Belgium Heavyweight Title.
Win 9-1 Canada Scotty Welsh DQ 1 02/09/1978 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 37-9 Italy Mario Baruzzi TKO 6 22/04/1978 Belgium La Louviere, Hainaut
Win 33-13-2 Argentina Santiago Alberto Lovell TKO 3 11/02/1978 Belgium Liege
Loss 17-2-1 Uruguay Alfredo Evangelista KO 1 26/11/1977 Belgium Brussels EBU Heavyweight Title.
Draw 18-9-2 England Tony Moore PTS 10 01/11/1977 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 12-9 Germany Kurt Luedecke PTS 10 09/09/1977 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Loss 14-4 France Lucien Rodriguez UD 15 07/05/1977 Belgium Antwerp EBU Heavyweight Title. 139-150, 139-150, 142-150.
Win 56-10-4 Spain Jose Manuel Urtain KO 4 12/03/1977 Belgium Sportpaleis, Antwerp EBU Heavyweight Title.
Loss 12-4 France Lucien Rodriguez PTS 10 15/01/1977 Belgium Brussels
Win 13-6-1 Wales Neville Meade PTS 10 25/12/1976 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 19-23-2 United States Roy Wallace PTS 10 20/11/1976 Belgium Liege
Win 10-4-3 Canada George Jerome KO 4 01/11/1976 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 8-4 Netherlands Hennie Thoonen TKO 6 09/10/1976 Belgium Antwerp
Loss 7-4 Netherlands Hennie Thoonen DQ 5 31/05/1976 Netherlands Sportpaleis Ahoy, Rotterdam
Win 18-7-1 Mali Ba Sounkalo PTS 10 07/05/1976 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Loss 49-2 United States Muhammad Ali KO 5 20/02/1976 Puerto Rico Roberto Clemente Coliseum, Hato Rey WBC/WBA World Heavyweight Titles. Coopman knocked out at 2:46 of the fifth round.
Win 2-1 Zaire Lisimo Obutobe TKO 7 01/11/1975 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 0-6 Uruguay Domingo Silveira PTS 10 04/10/1975 Belgium Antwerp
Win 34-18-1 United States Terry Daniels DQ 7 17/05/1975 Belgium Antwerp
Win 12-3 Germany Karsten Honhold TKO 6 12/04/1975 Belgium Menen, West Flanders
Win 28-8-2 Netherlands Jan Lubbers PTS 10 14/03/1975 Belgium Bruges, West Flanders
Win 19-12-4 Italy Adriano Rosati TKO 5 21/02/1975 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 13-13 United States Charley Green KO 8 17/01/1975 Belgium Ghent, East Flanders
Win 13-24-5 Italy Vasco Faustino PTS 10 25/12/1974 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 16-0-1 Germany Bernd August PTS 10 22/11/1974 Belgium Ghent, East Flanders
Win 6-2-3 Italy Lino Finotti KO 4 01/11/1974 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 22-16-3 Antigua and Barbuda Rocky Campbell KO 6 27/09/1974 Belgium Turnhout, Antwerp
Loss 21-2 Netherlands Rudie Lubbers PTS 10 27/04/1974 Belgium Ghent, East Flanders
Win 3-15-1 Hungary Ferenc Kristofcsak DQ 3 22/02/1974 Belgium Roulers, West Flanders
Win 6-21-1 Aruba Ireno Werleman KO 1 25/01/1974 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 0-1 France Jean Belval PTS 6 23/12/1973 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 5-4 Germany Horst Lang KO 3 16/11/1973 Belgium Ghent, East Flanders
Win 1-4 Netherlands Antilles Erwin Josefa KO 3 01/11/1973 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 1-6-1 Spain Juan Rodriguez TKO 3 08/09/1973 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Loss 5-17-1 Aruba Ireno Werleman KO 2 18/05/1973 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 35-21-7 Luxembourg Ray Philippe KO 5 05/05/1973 Belgium Ghent, East Flanders
Win 9-13-4 Italy Ermanno Festorazzi PTS 6 16/03/1973 Belgium Ingelmunster, West Flanders
Win 3-3 Italy Gino Martinis PTS 6 16/02/1973 Belgium Ingelmunster, West Flanders
Loss 1-0 Norway Harald Skog PTS 6 25/01/1973 Norway Messehallen, Oslo
Win 5-2-1 Tunisia Kilani Ramdani PTS 6 25/12/1972 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 1-7-2 Italy Antonio Rimasti KO 4 08/12/1972 Belgium Tournai, Hainaut
Win 0-5 Germany Siegfried Ackers TKO 2 01/11/1972 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 5-8 Germany Norbert Suehrig TKO 3 29/09/1972 Belgium Menen, West Flanders


  1. ^ Hauser, Thomas (2004). Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times. Robson Books Ltd. p. 332. ISBN 978-1-86105-738-9. Retrieved 29 December 2010. 
  2. ^ Brunt, Stephen (2002). Facing Ali. Guilford, Connecticut: The Lyons Press. p. 301. ISBN 1-58574-829-3. 
  3. ^