3 May 1934
Lambeth, London, England
|Died||1 May 2011 (aged 76)|
|Other names||Our 'Enry|
|Height||6 ft 1+1⁄2 in (187 cm)|
|Reach||75 in (191 cm)|
|Wins by KO||27|
Sir Henry Cooper  was a British heavyweight boxer. He was undefeated in British and Commonwealth heavyweight championship contests for twelve years and held the European heavyweight title for three years. In a 1963 fight against a young Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali), he knocked Clay down before the fight was stopped because of a cut to his eye. In 1966 he fought Clay, who was then world heavyweight champion, for a second time and again lost to an eye injury. Cooper was twice voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year and, after retiring in 1971 following a controversial loss to Joe Bugner, remained a popular public figure. He is the only British boxer to have been awarded a knighthood.(3 May 1934 – 1 May 2011)
Cooper was born on Thursday, 3 May 1934 in Lambeth, London to Henry Snr and Lily Cooper. With identical twin brother, George (1934–2010), and elder brother Bern, he grew up in a council house on Farmstead Road on the Bellingham Estate in South East London. During the Second World War they were evacuated to Lancing on the Sussex coast.
Life was tough in the latter years of the Second World War, and London life especially brought many dangers during the blackout. Cooper took up many jobs, including a paper round before school, and made money out of recycling golf balls to the clubhouse on the Beckenham course. All three of the Cooper brothers excelled in sport, with George and Henry exercising talents particularly in football and also cricket. Cooper started his boxing career in 1949, as an amateur with the Bellingham Boxing Club based at Athelney St School in Bellingham which was run and founded by Albert Colley and won seventy-three of eighty-four contests. At the age of seventeen, he won the first of two ABA light-heavyweight titles before National Service in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps as Private Service Number 22486464,
Cooper represented Great Britain as a light heavyweight boxer at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. His results were: Round of 32-bye, Round of 16-lost to Anatoly Perov (Soviet Union) by decision, 1–2.
Professional boxing career
Although Cooper was left-handed, he used the "orthodox" stance, with his strongest (left) hand and foot forward, rather than the reversed "southpaw" stance more usually adopted by a left-handed boxer. Opponents were thus hit hardest with punches which Cooper could throw from his front hand, closest to the opponent. At its most effective, his hook had an upward uppercut-like trajectory. A formidable left jab, from which he could hook quickly, completed his offensive repertoire. While cut-prone and no great defensive technician, Cooper compensated by forcing the action in his bouts. After developing a left shoulder problem in the latter half of his career, he adjusted to put more stress on right-handed punches.
Henry and his identical twin brother, George (boxing under the name Jim) turned professional together under the management of Jim Wicks. Wicks had a reputation for not overmatching his boxers and looking out for their interests; however, the very cut-prone Cooper was slow to fulfil his potential and early title challenges were unsuccessful, with losses to West Indian Joe Bygraves for the Commonwealth belt (KO 9), Ingemar Johansson for the European belt (KO 5), and the undersized but highly skilled Joe Erskine (PTS 15) for the British and Commonwealth. An impressive points win over top American heavyweight Zora Folley was followed by a second-round KO loss to Folley.
British and Commonwealth Champion
For Cooper 1959 was a banner year: he took the British and Commonwealth titles from Brian London in 15 rounds and received the last 9-carat gold Lonsdale Belt after successful defences against Dick Richardson (KO 5), Joe Erskine (TKO 5 and TKO 12), and Johnny Prescott (TKO 10). Another points win over London brought an offer to fight Floyd Patterson for his world heavyweight title, but this was turned down by Cooper (or Wicks).
In 1963 Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay and a contender for the world heavyweight title) created a great deal of ticket-selling publicity before his London bout with Cooper, who many British fans hoped would be able to humble the brash young American. In the boxing world, however, Ali was considered a future world champion and Cooper the underdog. The contest took place at Wembley Stadium, Wembley Park. According to the official weigh-in, Ali outweighed Cooper by 21 pounds, Cooper said he wore weighted clothing and was near the light heavyweight limit. Cooper had devised his own training regimen and felt that though lighter he was in the best condition of his career.
Ali's size, mobility, fast reflexes, and unorthodox defensive tactic of pulling back from punches made him a frustratingly elusive opponent, and Cooper was later accused by Ali's camp of hitting on the break. A stiff connection by Ali split open the face of Cooper in the middle of round three, beginning a gush of blood into his left eye. Ali, sensing the fight would be stopped because of the cut, began abandoning attempts of offense and instead began teasing and taunting Cooper, lowering his guard and leaving his jaw exposed to the Brit. Despite Ali's taunts and his bloody left eye, Cooper connected with a solitary left hook to the body; in the fourth's final seconds, Cooper felled Ali with an upward angled version of his trademark left hook to the jaw, "Enry's 'Ammer". Ali partly landed on the ropes, preventing his head hitting the canvas covered boards, but though up at the count of 3 he seemed hurt.
In the corner Dundee was angry and slapped Ali's legs. Ali misunderstood and tried to get off the stool. It has been claimed[by whom?] that Dundee may have used smelling salts to revive Ali. This has never been confirmed and the film is unclear if this happened. The use of smelling salts was prohibited in British boxing, and their use would have led to Ali losing by disqualification if the offence was proved. Dundee later said that he put his finger in a small tear in one of Ali's gloves to demonstrate to the referee and told the referee that his fighter needed replacements, but none were available. Cooper insisted that resulted in a delay of a minute or more in addition to the regulation time between rounds, and denied him a chance to finish off Ali while he was still dazed. A tape of the fight showed an interval extension of only an extra six seconds.
Cooper was the only person present who recalled a longer delay and because the surviving BBC tape of the bout is only of what was actually broadcast, it has been claimed a longer delay may have been edited out for transmission. Study of the tape shows no break and the commentary is also unbroken so the 6 second interval extension is correct. Ali started the 5th round aggressively, attempting to make good his prediction of a 5th-round knockout and opened a severe cut under Cooper's eye. Ali hit Cooper with a succession of hard rights knocking out his gumshield and Cooper's corner threw in the towel. Referee Tommy Little stopped the fight, and thus Ali defeated Cooper by technical knockout. Subsequently, a spare pair of gloves was always required at ringside. On the 40th anniversary of the fight, Ali telephoned Cooper to reminisce.
In 1966 Cooper fought Ali for the heavyweight championship, for a second time at Arsenal Stadium, Highbury. However, Ali was now alert to the danger posed by Cooper's left and more cautious than he had been in the previous contest; he held Cooper in a vice-like grip during clinches, and when told to break leapt backward several feet. Accumulated scar tissue around Cooper's eyes made him more vulnerable than in the previous meeting and a serious cut was opened by Ali, which led to the fight being stopped, Cooper again losing to Ali via technical knockout.
After a fourth-round knockout loss to former world heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson in 1966, Cooper went undefeated until the final contest of his career. The successful defences of his British and Commonwealth titles against the likes of uniquely awkward Jack Bodell (TKO 2 and PTS 15) and media-savvy Billy Walker (TKO 6) made Cooper the only man to win three Lonsdale Belts. With a win over Karl Mildenberger in 1968 Cooper added the European crown and made two successful defences.
In May 1971, a 36-year-old Cooper faced 21-year-old Joe Bugner, one of the biggest heavyweights in the world for the British, European, and Commonwealth belts. Referee Harry Gibbs awarded the fight to Bugner by a quarter of a point score (which was subsequently abolished partly because of the controversy that followed). An audience mainly composed of Cooper fans did not appreciate the innately cautious Bugner, and the decision was booed with commentator Harry Carpenter asking, "And how, in the world, can you take away the man's three titles, like that?" Cooper announced his retirement shortly afterwards. Cooper refused to speak to Gibbs for many years, but eventually agreed to shake his hand while they were at a charity event.
Opinion on modern boxers
In Cooper's later years, he retired from commentary on the sport as he became "disillusioned with boxing", wanting "straight, hard and fast boxing that he was used to from his times." While acknowledging that he was from a different era and would not be fighting as a heavyweight today, Cooper was nonetheless critical of the trend for heavyweights to bulk up as he thought it made for one-paced and less entertaining contests. In his final year, he said that he did not think boxing was "as good as it was", naming Joe Calzaghe, Ricky Hatton, and Amir Khan as "the best of their era", but asserting that "if you match them up with the champions of thirty or forty years ago I don't think they're as good".
Life outside boxing
In the 1960s Cooper appeared in several public information films concerning road safety, promoting the use of zebra crossings: such as "The Story of Elsie Billing". After his retirement from boxing, he maintained a public profile with appearances in the BBC quiz show A Question of Sport and various advertisements, most famously in those for Brut aftershave. He was also a frequent guest speaker for charity fund-raising events. He appeared as boxer John Gully in the 1975 film Royal Flash and in his latter years featured in a series of UK public service announcements urging vulnerable groups to go to their doctors for vaccination against influenza called Get your Jab in First!
Cooper became a "Name" at Lloyd's of London, which was a supposedly safe investment, but in the 1990s he was reportedly one of those who suffered enormous personal losses because of the unlimited liability which a "Name" was then responsible for, being forced to sell his Lonsdale belts. Subsequently, Cooper's popularity as an after dinner speaker provided a source of income, and he was in most respects a picture of contentment although becoming more subdued in the years following his wife's sudden death aged 71.
Considering his long career, Cooper had suffered relatively little boxing-related damage to his health, and apart from "a bit of arthritis" remained an imposing figure: in the words of one journalist, "the living manifestation of an age of tuxedos in ringside seats, Harry Carpenter commentaries, sponge buckets and 'seconds out'". He lived in Hildenborough, Kent, where he was the president of Nizels Golf Club.
Cooper was married to Albina Genepri from 1960 until 2008 (her death). He converted to her Catholic faith and described Albina, who "hated" his sport, as "an ideal wife for a boxer", never grumbling about his long absences before big fights and inviting journalists in for tea while they waited for Cooper to get out of bed the morning after bouts. He was survived by their sons and two grandchildren.
Cooper was a lifelong Arsenal supporter.
Awards and honours
Cooper was the first to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award twice, in 1967 for going unbeaten and in 1970, when Cooper had become the British, Commonwealth, and European heavyweight champion. He is the only British boxer to win three Lonsdale Belts outright.
Cooper was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1969 New Year Honours for services to boxing, awarded a Papal Knighthood in 1978, and was knighted in the 2000 New Year Honours, again for services to boxing. He is also celebrated as one of the great Londoners in the "London Song" by Ray Davies on his 1998 album The Storyteller. He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1970 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at Thames Television's Euston Road Studios.
Professional boxing record
|55 fights||40 wins||14 losses|
|55||Loss||40–14–1||Joe Bugner||PTS||15||16 Mar 1971||Empire Pool, London, England||Lost British, Commonwealth, and European heavyweight titles|
|54||Win||40–13–1||Jose Manuel Urtain||TKO||9 (15)||10 Nov 1970||Empire Pool, London, England||Retained European heavyweight title|
|53||Win||39–13–1||Jack Bodell||PTS||15||24 Mar 1970||Empire Pool, London, England||Retained British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles|
|52||Win||38–13–1||Piero Tomasoni||KO||5 (15)||13 Mar 1969||Palazzetto dello Sport, Rome, Italy||Retained European heavyweight title|
|51||Win||37–13–1||Karl Mildenberger||DQ||8 (15)||18 Sep 1968||Empire Pool, London, England||Won European heavyweight title|
|50||Win||36–13–1||Billy Walker||KO||6 (15)||7 Nov 1967||Empire Pool, London, England||Retained British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles|
|49||Win||35–13–1||Jack Bodell||TKO||2 (15), 2:18||13 Jun 1967||Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton, England||Retained British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles|
|48||Win||34–13–1||Boston Jacobs||PTS||10||17 Apr 1967||De Montfort Hall, Leicester, England|
|47||Loss||33–13–1||Floyd Patterson||KO||4 (10), 2:10||20 Sep 1966||Empire Pool, London, England|
|46||Loss||33–12–1||Muhammad Ali||TKO||6 (15), 1:38||21 May 1966||Arsenal Stadium, London, England||For WBA, WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles|
|45||Win||33–11–1||Jefferson Davis||KO||1 (10), 1:40||16 Feb 1966||Wolverhampton Civic Hall, Wolverhampton, England|
|44||Win||32–11–1||Hubert Hilton||TKO||2 (10), 1:20||25 Jan 1966||London Olympia, London, England|
|43||Loss||31–11–1||Amos Johnson||PTS||10||19 Oct 1965||Empire Pool, London, England|
|42||Win||31–10–1||Johnny Prescott||RTD||10 (15), 2:34||15 Jun 1965||St Andrew's, Birmingham, England||Retained British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles|
|41||Win||30–10–1||Matthew Johnson||KO||1 (10), 2:34||20 Apr 1965||Wolverhampton Civic Hall, Wolverhampton, England|
|40||Win||29–10–1||Dick Wipperman||TKO||5 (10)||12 Jan 1965||Royal Albert Hall, London, England|
|39||Loss||28–10–1||Roger Rischer||PTS||10||16 Nov 1964||Royal Albert Hall, London, England|
|38||Win||28–9–1||Brian London||PTS||15||24 Feb 1964||King's Hall, Manchester, England||Retained British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles;|
Won vacant European heavyweight title
|37||Loss||27–9–1||Muhammad Ali||TKO||5 (10), 2:15||18 June 1963||Wembley Stadium, London, England|
|36||Win||27–8–1||Dick Richardson||KO||5 (15)||26 Mar 1963||Empire Pool, London, England||Retained British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles|
|35||Win||26–8–1||Joe Erskine||TKO||9 (15)||2 Apr 1962||Nottingham Ice Stadium, Nottingham, England||Retained British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles|
|34||Win||25–8–1||Wayne Bethea||PTS||10||26 Feb 1962||King's Hall, Manchester, England|
|33||Win||24–8–1||Tony Hughes||RTD||5 (10)||23 Jan 1962||Empire Pool, London, England|
|32||Loss||23–8–1||Zora Folley||KO||2 (10), 1:06||5 Dec 1961||Empire Pool, London, England|
|31||Win||23–7–1||Joe Erskine||TKO||5 (15)||21 Mar 1961||Empire Pool, London, England||Retained British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles|
|30||Win||22–7–1||Alex Miteff||PTS||10||6 Dec 1960||Empire Pool, London, England|
|29||Win||21–7–1||Roy Harris||PTS||10||13 Sep 1960||Empire Pool, London, England|
|28||Win||20–7–1||Joe Erskine||TKO||12 (15)||17 Nov 1959||Earls Court Arena, London, England||Retained British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles|
|27||Win||19–7–1||Gawie de Klerk||TKO||5 (15)||26 Aug 1959||Coney Beach Pleasure Park, Bridgend, Wales||Retained Commonwealth heavyweight title|
|26||Win||18–7–1||Brian London||PTS||15||12 Jan 1959||Earls Court Arena, London, England||Won British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles|
|25||Win||17–7–1||Zora Folley||PTS||10||14 Oct 1958||Empire Pool, London, England|
|24||Win||16–7–1||Dick Richardson||TKO||5 (10)||3 Sep 1958||Coney Beach Pleasure Park, Bridgend, Wales|
|23||Loss||15–7–1||Erich Schoppner||DQ||6 (10)||19 Apr 1958||Festhalle Frankfurt, Frankfurt, Germany|
|22||Draw||15–6–1||Heinz Neuhaus||PTS||10||11 Jan 1958||Westfalenhallen, Dortmund, Germany|
|21||Win||15–6||Hans Kalbfell||PTS||10||16 Nov 1957||Westfalenhallen, Dortmund, Germany|
|20||Loss||14–6||Joe Erskine||PTS||15||17 Sep 1957||Harringay Arena, London, England||For British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles|
|19||Loss||14–5||Ingemar Johansson||KO||5 (15), 2:57||19 May 1957||Johanneshovs Isstadion, Stockholm, Sweden||For European heavyweight title|
|18||Loss||14–4||Joe Bygraves||KO||9 (15)||19 Feb 1957||Earls Court Arena, London, England||For Commonwealth heavyweight title|
|17||Loss||14–3||Peter Bates||TKO||5 (10), 1:01||7 Sep 1956||Belle Vue Zoological Gardens, Manchester, England|
|16||Win||14–2||Giannino Orlando Luise||TKO||7 (10)||26 Jun 1956||Empire Pool, London, England|
|15||Win||13–2||Brian London||TKO||1 (10)||1 May 1956||Empress Hall, Earl's Court, London, England|
|14||Win||12–2||Maurice Mols||TKO||4 (10)||28 Feb 1956||Royal Albert Hall, London, England|
|13||Loss||11–2||Joe Erskine||PTS||10||15 Nov 1955||Harringay Arena, London, England|
|12||Win||11–1||Uber Bacilieri||KO||7 (10)||13 Sep 1955||White City Stadium, London, England|
|11||Win||10–1||Ron Harman||TKO||7 (8)||6 Jun 1955||Nottingham Ice Stadium, Nottingham, England|
|10||Loss||9–1||Uber Bacilieri||TKO||5 (8)||26 Apr 1955||Harringay Arena, London, England|
|9||Win||9–0||Joe Bygraves||PTS||8||18 Apr 1955||Manor Place Baths, London, England|
|8||Win||8–0||Joe Crickmar||TKO||5 (8)||29 Mar 1955||Earls Court Arena, London, England|
|7||Win||7–0||Hugh Ferns||DQ||2 (6)||8 Mar 1955||Earls Court Arena, London, England|
|6||Win||6–0||Cliff Purnell||PTS||6||8 Feb 1955||Harringay Arena, London, England|
|5||Win||5–0||Colin Strauch||TKO||1 (6)||27 Jan 1955||Royal Albert Hall, London, England|
|4||Win||4–0||Denny Ball||KO||3 (6)||7 Dec 1954||Harringay Arena, London, England|
|3||Win||3–0||Eddie Keith||TKO||1 (6)||23 Nov 1954||Manor Place Baths, London, England|
|2||Win||2–0||Dinny Powell||TKO||4 (6)||19 Oct 1954||Harringay Arena, London, England|
|1||Win||1–0||Harry Painter||KO||1 (6)||14 Sep 1954||Harringay Arena, London, England|
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- "George Cooper". The Daily Telegraph. 18 April 2010.
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- Interview with Henry Cooper, 'Lads' Army' television show, Series 1 (2001)
- "'How I knuckled down to National Service': Sir Henry Cooper". Legion. Royal British Legion. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011.
- Edwards, Robert (2002). Henry Cooper: The Authorised Biography of Britain's Greatest Boxing Hero. Helter Skelter. ISBN 0-563-48831-X.
- Lewis, Mike (29 January 2006). "Harrison out to prove his manager wrong". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 18 September 2012.
- Matthew Taylor (January 2015). "Cooper, Sir Henry (1934–2011)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/103746. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- "Clay v Cooper – The Final Word on the Torn Glove Story". East Side Boxing. 17 March 2006. Archived from the original on 20 March 2008.
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- McEntee, John (June 2011). "Still With Us – Henry Cooper". The Oldie.
- The Story of Elsie Billing, rebroadcast, Talking Pictures TV 20 May 2020
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- "Henry Cooper launches flu offensive". BBC News. 21 September 2000.
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- "No. 55710". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1999. p. 1.
- "New Years Honours List – United Kingdom". The London Gazette (55710): 1. 30 December 1999.
- "People's champions knighted". BBC Sport. 31 December 1999. Retrieved 4 May 2010.
- "BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2016: Andy Murray wins for a record third time". BBC Sport. 18 December 2016.