Jean-Pierre Coopman

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Jean-Pierre Coopman
Real nameJean-Pierre Coopman
Nickname(s)Lion of Flanders
Height5 ft 11.5 in (1.82 m)
Born (1946-07-11) 11 July 1946 (age 74)
Ingelmunster, West Flanders, Belgium
Boxing record
Total fights54
Wins by KO20
No contests0

Jean-Pierre Coopman (born 11 July 1946 in Ingelmunster) is a retired Belgian boxer who is best known for his title fight against Muhammad Ali in 1976 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, 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 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 won an early match versus Harald Skog, in Oslo, Norway. Coopman lost (via decision) to Rudie Lubbers of The Netherlands, in 1973. Coopman's earlier record 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.

Coopman was said to have been one of the least-deserving boxers to fight for the heavyweight title. Ali had recently had his third fight with Joe Frazier, the "Thrilla in Manila", 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 thus the match was made. Coopman, unknown outside Belgium, was overwhelmed by the sudden fame. Ali was a hero to him, and he was grateful for a title shot.

Coopman was dubbed "The Lion of Flanders" by the Western press, but he had never called himself that. The name was thought to be related to Coopman's birthday, 11 July, which is a national holiday in Flanders marking a military victory over the French, in 1302.

The fight took place in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on 20 February 1976 at Roberto Clemente Coliseum; the fight was not broadcast by Belgian media, as Coopman's native land was the first nation to ban boxing broadcasts. CBS Sports broadcast the bout in the US for free, in prime time. The bout was easy for Ali, who knocked out Coopman in round five.

After the Ali fight, Coopman became European champion after beating a 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 Freddy De Kerpel while acting in the film Camping Cosmos.

As of 2007, Coopman was painting oil paintings of famous boxers. He was awarded a contract to sculpt a statue of fellow Belgian fighter Cyril Delannoit.

Coopman was 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 36-16-2 Belgium Freddy De Kerpel MD 6 1999-04-05 Belgium Ghent, East Flanders 57-57, 58–58, 57–58.
Loss 36-16-1 Luxembourg Dragomir Milo Popovic TKO 5 1981-05-16 Belgium Liege
Win 36-15-1 Italy Vincenzo Pesapane TKO 3 1981-04-03 Italy Piacenza, Emilia Romagna
Loss 35-15-1 Zaire Pierre Babo Kabassu PTS 8 1980-12-25 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Loss 35-14-1 Netherlands Rudie Lubbers TKO 5 1980-09-29 Netherlands Energiehal, Rotterdam
Loss 35-13-1 Belgium Albert Syben PTS 10 1980-06-27 Belgium Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, Brussels
Loss 35-12-1 Wales Winston Allenq KO 1 1980-05-01 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 35-11-1 England Denton Ruddock PTS 10 1980-02-02 Belgium Turnhout, Antwerp
Loss 34-11-1 Argentina Avenamar Peralta PTS 10 1979-12-25 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Loss 34-10-1 Germany George Butzbach PTS 10 1979-11-01 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Loss 34-9-1 Belgium Rudy Gauwe PTS 12 1978-09-30 Belgium Turnhout, Antwerp Belgium Heavyweight Title.
Win 34-8-1 Canada Scotty Welsh DQ 1 1978-09-02 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 33-8-1 Italy Mario Baruzzi TKO 6 1978-04-22 Belgium La Louviere, Hainaut
Win 32-8-1 Argentina Santiago Alberto Lovell TKO 3 1978-02-11 Belgium Liege
Loss 31-8-1 Uruguay Alfredo Evangelista KO 1 1977-11-26 Belgium Brussels EBU Heavyweight Title.
Draw 31-7-1 England Tony Moore PTS 10 1977-11-01 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 31–7 Germany Kurt Luedecke PTS 10 1977-09-09 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Loss 30–7 France Lucien Rodriguez UD 15 1977-05-07 Belgium Antwerp EBU Heavyweight Title. 139–150, 139–150, 142–150.
Win 30–6 Spain Jose Manuel Urtain KO 4 1977-03-12 Belgium Sportpaleis, Antwerp EBU Heavyweight Title.
Loss 29–6 France Lucien Rodriguez PTS 10 1977-01-15 Belgium Brussels
Win 29–5 Wales Neville Meade PTS 10 1976-12-25 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 28–5 United States Roy Wallace PTS 10 1976-11-20 Belgium Liege
Win 27–5 Canada George Jerome KO 4 1976-11-01 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 26–5 Netherlands Hennie Thoonen TKO 6 1976-10-09 Belgium Antwerp
Loss 25–5 Netherlands Hennie Thoonen DQ 5 1976-05-31 Netherlands Rotterdam Ahoy Sportpaleis, Rotterdam
Win 25–4 Mali Ba Sounkalo PTS 10 1976-05-07 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Loss 24–4 United States Muhammad Ali KO 5 1976-02-20 Puerto Rico Roberto Clemente Coliseum, Hato Rey WBC/WBA World Heavyweight Titles. Coopman knocked out at 2:46 of the fifth round.
Win 24–3 Zaire Lisimo Obutobe TKO 7 1975-11-01 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 23–3 Uruguay Domingo Silveira PTS 10 1975-10-04 Belgium Antwerp
Win 22–3 United States Terry Daniels DQ 7 1975-05-17 Belgium Antwerp
Win 21–3 Germany Karsten Honhold TKO 6 1975-04-12 Belgium Menen, West Flanders
Win 20–3 Netherlands Jan Lubbers PTS 10 1975-03-14 Belgium Bruges, West Flanders
Win 19–3 Italy Adriano Rosati TKO 5 1975-02-21 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 18–3 United States Charley Green KO 8 1975-01-17 Belgium Ghent, East Flanders
Win 17–3 Italy Vasco Faustino PTS 10 1974-12-25 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 16–3 Germany Bernd August PTS 10 1974-11-22 Belgium Ghent, East Flanders
Win 15–3 Italy Lino Finotti KO 4 1974-11-01 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 14–3 Antigua and Barbuda Rocky Campbell KO 6 1974-09-27 Belgium Turnhout, Antwerp
Loss 13–3 Netherlands Rudie Lubbers PTS 10 1974-04-27 Belgium Ghent, East Flanders
Win 13–2 Hungary Ferenc Kristofcsak DQ 3 1974-02-22 Belgium Roulers, West Flanders
Win 12–2 Aruba Ireno Werleman KO 1 1974-01-25 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 11–2 France Jean Belval PTS 6 1973-12-23 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 10–2 Germany Horst Lang KO 3 1973-11-16 Belgium Ghent, East Flanders
Win 9–2 Netherlands Antilles Erwin Josefa KO 3 1973-11-01 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 8–2 Spain Juan Rodriguez TKO 3 1973-09-08 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Loss 7–2 Aruba Ireno Werleman KO 2 1973-05-18 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 7–1 Luxembourg Ray Philippe KO 5 1973-05-05 Belgium Ghent, East Flanders
Win 6–1 Italy Ermanno Festorazzi PTS 6 1973-03-16 Belgium Ingelmunster, West Flanders
Win 5–1 Italy Gino Martinis PTS 6 1973-02-16 Belgium Ingelmunster, West Flanders
Loss 4–1 Norway Harald Skog PTS 6 1973-01-25 Norway Messehallen, Oslo
Win 4–0 Tunisia Kilani Ramdani PTS 6 1972-12-25 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 3–0 Italy Antonio Rimasti KO 4 1972-12-08 Belgium Tournai, Hainaut
Win 2–0 Germany Siegfried Ackers TKO 2 1972-11-01 Belgium Izegem, West Flanders
Win 1–0 Germany Norbert Suehrig TKO 3 1972-09-29 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. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 April 2015. Retrieved 21 January 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)