Muhammad Ali vs. Henry Cooper

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Muhammad Ali and Henry Cooper fought two boxing matches with each other. Their first match took place on 18 June 1963 (before Ali had changed his name from Cassius Clay) and the second on 21 May 1966. Ali won both matches. The first fight was stopped by the referee in the fifth round, and the second in the sixth round. Both fights were stopped after Cooper started bleeding excessively from a cut to the left eye. The first Ali-Cooper bout is remembered for being one of the four fights in which Ali was officially knocked down in the ring by his boxing opponent, as well as leading to the mandate that ringside handlers always have an extra pair of boxing gloves available.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8]

Ali (as Cassius Clay) vs Cooper I[edit]


After a close victory over Doug Jones, Ali's management decided to match him with Henry Cooper in London.[9] Prior to the fight, Ali called Cooper "a tramp, a bum, and a cripple not worth training for."[9][10] According to Ali, the Cooper fight was only a hiatus before "I demolish that ugly bear Liston."[9] Responding to Ali, Cooper said in an interview: "Let him carry on. I'm on the gate, he's selling tickets and earning me good money."[11]

The Fight[edit]

35,000 spectators witnessed the first Ali-Cooper fight in the first open-air fight at Wembley Stadium in 28 years. Ali weighed 207 pounds at this time; Cooper was about 20 pounds lighter. Ali also had a 4 1/2 inch reach advantage over Cooper.[11]

Round 1[edit]

In the first round, Cooper surprised Ali by utilizing offensive tactics, advancing on Ali and firing jabs, right jabs and double jabs. Many of Cooper's stronger punches, particularly the left hook, narrowly missed their mark due to Ali's ability to sway away from an incoming punch. Unexpectedly Ali retired to his corner at the end of the round with a slight trickle of blood flowing from his right nostril.[11]

Round 2[edit]

In the second round, Cooper continued with his aggressive tactics, but Ali's left jab now started connecting regularly with Cooper's face and a slight cut opened above Cooper's eyes.[11]

Round 3[edit]

In the third round, Ali connected with a left hook to Cooper's head, and followed this up with a right jab that opened a deep gash above Cooper's left eyebrow.[11]

Round 4[edit]

In the fourth round, with blood tricking down his face, Cooper continued with his aggressive tactics and started pursuing Ali who now started "fooling around", moving and throwing only intermittent punches at Cooper. Near the end of the round, Cooper threw three successive jabs as Ali stood against the ropes. Ali retreated further against the ropes when Cooper unleashed a left hook which struck Ali squarely on his jaw, lifting Ali on impact.[12] Two things happened simultaneously at this stage which saved Ali from a possible knockout. First, the round came to an end. Second, the ropes had cushioned Ali's fall. As Cooper later recalled:

The ropes let him down gentle. You went from the top, to the middle, to the bottom rope. Now, if that had been in the middle of the ring, and he'd gone down on his head, that would have shook him up. But unfortunately he was on the ropes. If that had just been off them bloody ropes.[13]

Round 4 - Round 5 interval[edit]

Angelo Dundee had to help Ali to his corner at the end of Round 4. Ali was clearly shaken up by the knockdown and was disoriented for a few seconds, attempting at one point to rise from his stool. Dundee appears to pop an ampule of smelling salts under Ali's nose (which would have been a disqualifying offense if he had been caught), although the film is inconclusive. Dundee then waved to referee Tommy Little and showed Little Ali's right glove which had apparently split down a seam revealing horsehair stuffing which could have injured Cooper's eyes. Officials were requested to obtain a new pair of gloves for Ali, and popular myth has it that the resulting confusion led to the interval between round 4 and round 5 to be extended by 20 seconds which gave Ali extra time to recover. In fact, there was no confusion; the referee refused to suspend the fight, and the fifth round was delayed by perhaps three seconds. [12][14]

Round 5[edit]

In the fifth round, Ali adopted aggressive tactics himself, throwing a flurry of quick punches at Cooper which resulted in photographers near the ring splashed with Cooper's blood. Two minutes and fifteen seconds into the fifth round, the fight was stopped and Ali declared the winner.[12][15]

After the fight[edit]

Immediately after the fight, Ali retracted the abuses he had directed at Cooper before the fight and declared: "Cooper's not a bum any more. I underestimated him. He's the toughest fighter I ever met and the first to really drop me. He's a real fighter."[12]

Cooper's left hook which had dropped Ali made him a celebrity after the fight. In Facing Ali, Stephen Brunt writes:

[W]hat lifted [Cooper] to a level of sports celebrity shared by only a handful of footballers was a single left hook delivered with perfect leverage and timing and aim to the jaw of [Ali] in June 1963. Not just one fight, but one punch, elevated Henry Cooper into a permanent state of grace. In the end, what he proved that day doesn't have anything to do with the joy of victory, which is why it was entirely beside the point that [Ali] got up and won, and won again the second time they fought. Instead it was a lesson about the nobility of having your finest moment--giving your best effort--when it absolutely matters most.[16]

According to Cooper:

[Ali] always said that in the fifteenth round of the Frazier fight, he went down more from exhaustion, but 'the punch Cooper hit me with, he didn't just shake me. He shook my relations back in Africa.'[17]

Ali vs Cooper II[edit]

The second Ali-Cooper fight has been described as being similar to the most one-sided moments of the first without the drama of Ali's knockdown.[18] Ali stayed away from Cooper for the first three rounds as Cooper continued to stalk him. In the next two rounds, Ali allowed Cooper to come closer; but then in the sixth round the fight was again stopped because of a cut over Cooper's eye which started bleeding profusely.[19] Reflecting on the fight Cooper observed:

I still had the style that could upset him. But I must say that he's a quick learner, Ali. The second fight he learned. He would stand no nonsense. I could not mess around inside. I've never been held so bleedin' tight in my life. In the second fight, I think that's all I can remember... Whenever I got close to him, he held me. It was just like being in a vice. He held me, and when the referee said 'Break,' he made sure he pushed me back, and he took a right step back. He'd learned well from the first experience.[20]

Viewership and revenue[edit]

The bout was fought at Arsenal Stadium, where it drew a live audience of 46,000 spectators. The fight held the record for the largest live audience at a British boxing event, up until Joe Calzaghe vs. Mikkel Kessler drew 55,000 spectators in 2007.[21]

On pay-per-view closed-circuit television, the fight drew 40,000 buys in England, where it was shown in 16 theaters, grossing $1.5 million ($11,820,000 with inflation).[22] The fight was telecast at Odeon Cinemas.[23] On pay-per-view home television, the fight drew 40,000 buys,[24] as the first fight on Britain's experimental Pay TV service, at a price of £4, grossing £160,000 ($448,004),[25][26] equivalent to £3,002,388 ($3,646,937) with inflation.

The fight was later aired on BBC, where it was watched by 21 million viewers in the United Kingdom.[27] In the United States, the fight was broadcast live to 20 million viewers via satellite.[24]


  1. ^ Felix Dennis and Don Atyeo (2003). Muhammad Ali: The Glory Years. miramax books. pp. 76–84, 146.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  2. ^ Hugh McIlvanney (1982). McIlvanney on Boxing. Beaufort books. pp. 23–32.
  3. ^ Ferdie Pacheco (1992). Muhammad Ali: A View from the Corner. Birch Lane Press. pp. 65–7.
  4. ^ Thomas Hauser (1991). Muhammad Ali:His Life and Times. Simon & Schuster. pp. 53–4, 153.
  5. ^ Stephen Brunt (2002). Facing Ali. The Lyons Press. pp. 31–41, 223.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  6. ^ "C. Marcellus Clay Esq". Sports Illustrated. 10 June 1963. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
  7. ^ "'E said 'e would and 'e did". Sports Illustrated. 1 July 1963. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
  8. ^ "Ready for the bloodletting". Sports Illustrated. 23 May 1966. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
  9. ^ a b c Felix Dennis and Don Atyeo (2003). Muhammad Ali: The Glory Years. miramax books. p. 76.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  10. ^ The Mammoth Book of Muhammad Ali. Running Press. 2012. p. 21.
  11. ^ a b c d e Felix Dennis and Don Atyeo (2003). Muhammad Ali: The Glory Years. miramax books. p. 80.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  12. ^ a b c d Felix Dennis and Don Atyeo (2003). Muhammad Ali: The Glory Years. miramax books. p. 84.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  13. ^ Stephen Brunt (2002). Facing Ali. The Lyons Press. p. 37.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  14. ^ Stephen Brunt (2002). Facing Ali. The Lyons Press. p. 38.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  15. ^ Stephen Brunt (2002). Facing Ali. The Lyons Press. p. 39.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  16. ^ Stephen Brunt (2002). Facing Ali. The Lyons Press. p. 27.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  17. ^ Stephen Brunt (2002). Facing Ali. The Lyons Press. p. 36.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  18. ^ Stephen Brunt (2002). Facing Ali. The Lyons Press. p. 41.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  19. ^ Felix Dennis and Don Atyeo (2003). Muhammad Ali: The Glory Years. miramax books. p. 146.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  20. ^ Stephen Brunt (2002). Facing Ali. The Lyons Press. pp. 40–1.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  21. ^ "British tradition of big stadium fights goes from Joshua to Ali". The Irish Times. April 29, 2017.
  22. ^ Ezra, Michael (2013). The Economic Civil Rights Movement: African Americans and the Struggle for Economic Power. Routledge. p. 114. ISBN 9781136274756.
  23. ^ Kelner, Martin (2012). Sit Down and Cheer: A History of Sport on TV. A & C Black. p. 83. ISBN 9781408171073.
  24. ^ a b Haynes, Richard (2016). BBC Sport in Black and White. Springer. p. 213. ISBN 9781137455017.
  25. ^ "BKSTS Journal". BKSTS Journal. British Kinematograph, Sound and Television Society. 55: 46. 1973. In 1966 Pay TV started a 3-year experiment in transmitting films, minority appeal programmes, sporting events and local programmes for which the viewer paid for the period of time during which he was actually viewing. This varied from six shillings for a film to £4 for the entire boxing show which included Cassius Clay v. Henry Cooper.
  26. ^ "Pacific Exchange Rate Service (0.35714 GBP per USD)" (PDF). UBC Sauder School of Business. University of British Columbia. 1966. p. 3. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  27. ^ "Papers by Command". Papers by Command. H.M. Stationery Office. 23: 29. 1966. Other outstanding sporting events carried on radio included the Commonwealth Games in Jamaica and the World Heavyweight Championship fight between Henry Cooper and Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay), which attracted an audience of twenty-one million.