Henry Cooper


Henry Cooper
Sir Henry Cooper
Statistics
Nickname(s) Our 'Enery
Rated at Heavyweight
Height 6 feet 1.5 inches (1.867 m)
Reach 75 inches (190 cm)
Nationality English
Born 3 May 1934(1934-05-03)[1]
London, England
Died 1 May 2011(2011-05-01) (aged 76)[1]
Oxted, Surrey, England[2]
Stance Orthodox
Boxing record
Total fights 55
Wins 40
Wins by KO 27
Losses 14
Draws 1
No contests 0

Sir Henry Cooper OBE KSG (3 May 1934 – 1 May 2011)[2] was an English heavyweight boxer known for the effectiveness of his left hook, "Enry's 'Ammer", and his knockdown of the young Muhammad Ali. Cooper held the British, Commonwealth and European heavyweight titles several times throughout his career, and unsuccessfully challenged Ali for the world heavyweight championship in 1966.

Following his retirement from the sport, Cooper continued his career as a television and radio personality and was enormously popular in Britain: he was the first (and is today one of just three people) to twice win the public vote for BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award and the only boxer to be awarded a knighthood.

Contents

Biography

Cooper was born in Westminster, London[3] to Henry and Lily Cooper. He, his identical twin brother, George (1934–2010),[3] and elder brother Bern[1] grew up in a council house on the Bellingham Estate on Farmstead Road, South East London. During the Second World War they were evacuated to Lancing on the Sussex coast.[1]

Around 1942, their father, Henry Senior, was called up to serve in the war; the rest of the family did not see him again for almost three years. The twins attended Athelney Road School in Lewisham. The Cooper brothers were particularly close growing up and, in his biography, Henry talks of how they came to each other's aid when things turned nasty in the school playground. One particular incident landed the young Henry his first knockout in the playground. At school, the only subject that seemed to interest Henry was history, where he enjoyed acting out scenarios.[citation needed]

Life was tough in the latter years of the Second World War, and London life especially brought many dangers during the blackout. Henry 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.[4]

George Cooper, Henry's twin, who boxed as Jim Cooper, died on 11 April 2010 at the age of 75.[3]

Henry Cooper served his National Service in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps where he was recruited for his boxing ability.[5]

Although Cooper is best known for knocking down Muhammad Ali, he defeated a string of well known heavyweights during his career, including; Zora Folley, Roy Harris, Karl Mildenberger, Alex Miteff, Wayne Bethea, Brian London, Joe Erskine, Jose Manuel Urtain, Piero Tomasoni, Dick Wipperman, Dick Richardson, Billy Walker, Tony Hughes, Jack Bodell, Jefferson Davis and Gawie De Clerk. Cooper died on 1 May 2011 at his son's house in Oxted, Surrey, after a long illness.[2] He was 76.

Boxing career

Style

Although Cooper was left-handed, he used the "orthodox" stance, with his left hand and foot forward, rather than the reversed "southpaw" stance more usually adopted by a left-handed boxer. He relied on an exceptionally powerful left hook and a formidable jab for offence, being able to effectively combine the two to 'hook off the jab'.[1][6] He generally tried to force the action in his bouts, a crowd pleasing style which won him many supporters. After developing a left shoulder problem in the latter half of his career Cooper adjusted to put more stress on right-handed punches which he had hitherto neglected.[6]

Early bouts

Cooper was often regarded as the most popular of all English boxers and was affectionately known in the UK as: "Our 'Enery". He started his boxing career in 1949 as an amateur with the Eltham Amateur Boxing Club, and won seventy-three of eighty-four contests. At the age of seventeen, he won the first of two ABA light-heavyweight titles and before serving in the Army for his two years' National Service represented Britain in the 1952 Olympics (outpointed in the second stage by Russian Anatoli Petrov). Henry and his twin brother, George (boxing under the name Jim Cooper) turned professional together under the caring management of Jim Wicks, who was one of boxing's great characters and nicknamed 'The Bishop' because of his benign nature. He would never allow one of his boxers into the ring if he felt he was over-matched. He famously said when promoters were trying to match Henry with Sonny Liston: "I would not allow 'Enery into the same room as him, let alone the same ring."

Henry was at one time the British, European and Commonwealth heavyweight champion. His early title challenges were unsuccessful, losing to Joe Bygraves for the Commonwealth belt (KO 9), Ingemar Johansson for the European belt (KO 5) and Joe Erskine (PTS 15) for the British and Commonwealth. He then won on points over highly rated contender Zora Folley and took the British and Commonwealth belts from new champion Brian London in a 15 round decision in January 1959. The winner of the fight was pencilled in to get a shot at Floyd Patterson's heavyweight title, but Cooper turned down the chance and London fought and lost against Patterson in May 1959. Cooper continued to defend his British and Commonwealth belts against all comers, including Dick Richardson (KO 5), Joe Erskine (TKO 5 and TKO 12), Johnny Prescott (TKO 10), and Brian London again (PTS 15), although he suffered a setback when losing a rematch with Folley by a second round KO."[7]

Muhammad Ali

Cooper twice fought Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay), firstly in a non-title fight in 1963 at Wembley Stadium, Cooper did not have a trainer at this time and his own regime led to his losing weight; he later averred that lead was inserted in his boots for the weigh-in and estimated his true weight to have been 12 stone 12 lb,[8] making him 27 pounds lighter than Clay. Commentator Harry Carpenter remarked during the introductions on the difference in size between the boxers. Clay's mobility, fast reflexes, height and unorthodox defensive tactic of pulling back from punches made him a frustratingly elusive opponent; some of Cooper's work during the contest has been described as 'very near the knuckle' with Clay later complaining of being repeatedly hit on the break.[6] In the dying seconds of the fourth round, Cooper felled Clay with an upward angled version of his trademark left hook, "Enry's 'Ammer". Unfortunately for Cooper, his opponent's armpit caught in the ropes going down, which prevented his head from striking the canvas covered boards which made up the floor of the ring (something which could easily have knocked him unconscious).[6]

Clay stood up and started slowly towards Angelo Dundee who - in violation of the rules - guided him into the corner. At first Dundee talked and slapped Clay's legs but after a still-dazed Clay misunderstood and tried to get off the stool Dundee used smelling salts in a serious violation of the rules. (British rules did not allow any stimulant but water).[9] Dundee has since claimed to have opened a small tear in one of Clay's gloves and told the referee that his fighter needed a new pair of gloves, thus delaying the start of the 5th round. Cooper has always insisted that this delay lasted anywhere from 3–5 minutes and denied him the chance to try to knock Clay out while he was still dazed. In tapes of the fight it seems Clay received only an extra six seconds (although there are still doubters who think a longer delay was edited out), and the gloves were not replaced.[10][11][12] Cooper started the 5th round aggressively, attempting to make good his advantage, but a recovered Clay effectively countered and Cooper was hit high on the face with a hard right which opened a severe cut under his eye; referee Tommy Little was forced to stop the fight in the American's favour although Cooper was ahead on the scorecards.

After this fight, a spare pair of gloves was always required at ringside. What is certain however, is that Dundee held smelling salts under Clay's nose in an effort to revive his man, which was illegal.[13] Clay was obviously impressed by the knockdown and on the 40th anniversary telephoned Cooper to reminisce. Clay who had changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1964, later said, on British television, that Cooper "had hit him so hard that his ancestors in Africa felt it". In 1966 Cooper fought Ali, now world heavyweight champion, for a second time at Highbury.[14] 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.[6] Accumulated scar tissue around Cooper's eyes made him even more vulnerable than in the previous meeting and a serious cut was opened by Ali, which led to the fight being stopped, Cooper again suffering a technical knockout when he was ahead on the scorecards.[6]

Last fights

After the loss to Ali, Cooper fought former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, losing by a fourth round knockout. After that he went undefeated until the final fight of his career, and made more defences of his British and Commonwealth titles against Jack Bodell (TKO 2 and PTS 15) and Billy Walker (TKO 6). In 1968 Cooper added the European crown to his domestic titles with a win over Karl Mildenberger, and later made two successful defences of his title. In his last fight, 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 the narrowest of margins, a quarter of a point. An audience mainly composed of Cooper fans did not appreciate the innately cautious Bugner and the decision was booed with commentator Harry Carpenter asking, "How can they take away the man's titles like this?".[15] Cooper announced his retirement shortly afterwards. For years after the fight Cooper refused to speak to Gibbs, but eventually agreed to shake his hand for charity[16] six months before Gibbs died.

Opinion of 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."[17] 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.[18] In his final year, he said plainly that he did not "think boxing is 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".[19]

Life outside boxing

After his retirement from boxing Henry Cooper maintained a high public profile with appearances in the BBC quiz show A Question of Sport and various advertisements, most famously in those for Brut aftershave, which have been credited with removing a lingering suspicion among the British that men who wore cologne were effeminate.[18] Although generally a traditionalist,[18] Cooper abhorred racism; his grandfather was an Irish immigrant and Cooper became the first celebrity sponsor of the Anti-Nazi League, a largely left-wing campaign against far-right groups which were agitating against immigration. He was also active in charity events.[20] 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 doctor for vaccination against influenza called Get your Jab in First!.[21]

Cooper had become a 'name' at Lloyd's of London, a supposedly 'blue chip' investment, but in the Nineties he was reportedly one of those who suffered enormous personal losses because of the unlimited liability which a 'name' was then responsible for, and he was forced to sell his hard won Lonsdale belts.[18] Subsequently, Cooper's enduring popularity as an after dinner speaker provided a source of income and he was in most respects a picture of contentment until the death of his wife.[20][18]

Considering his long career, Henry Cooper had suffered relatively little boxing-related damage to his health. Apart from "a bit of arthritis", his only problem had been damage to a knee because of running several miles a day in plimsolls in the days before trainers became available.[19] Cooper remained an imposing figure into his seventies, 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'".[19] He lived in Hildenborough, Kent, and he was the chairman of Nizels Golf Club in the town until his death.[2][18]

Cooper was married to Albina Genepri,[22] an Italian Catholic,[22] from 1960 until her death from a heart attack in 2008.[1] He converted to her faith.[22] He was survived by their sons, Henry Marco and John Pietro,[1] and two grandchildren.[19] In an interview published a few days after his death, Cooper 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.[19]

Awards and honours

Cooper was the first to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award twice (in 1967 and 1970) and one of only three two-time winners in the award's history (the others being Nigel Mansell in 1986 and 1992 and Damon Hill in 1994 and 1996). Cooper was given the award in 1967 for going unbeaten throughout the year. One of the most memorable fights of the year was his defeat of challenger Jack Bodell in June. His second award came in 1970, when Cooper had become the British, Commonwealth and European heavyweight champion, cementing his reputation as one of the greatest post-war British boxers. 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 1969, awarded a Papal Knighthood in 1978, and was knighted in 2000. He is also celebrated as one of the great Londoners in the "London Song" by Ray Davies on his 1998 album The Storyteller.[23][24][22]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Samuel, John (1 May 2011). "Sir Henry Cooper obituary". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/2011/may/01/sir-henry-cooper-obituary. Retrieved 3 May 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d "British boxing legend Sir Henry Cooper dies aged 76". BBC Sport. 2 May 2011. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/boxing/13256045.stm. Retrieved 2 May 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c "George Cooper". The Daily Telegraph. 18 April 2010. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/sport-obituaries/7604279/George-Cooper.html. 
  4. ^ Edwards, Robert. Henry Cooper: The Authorised Biography Of Britain's Greatest Boxing Hero. Helter Skelter. pp. 51–58. ISBN 0563488-31-X. 
  5. ^ "'How I knuckled down to National Service': Sir Henry Cooper". Legion (Royal British Legion). http://www.legion-magazine.co.uk/features/interviews/sirhenrycooper/. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Edwards, Robert. Henry Cooper: The Authorised Biography Of Britain's Greatest Boxing Hero. Helter Skelter. ISBN 0563488-31-X. 
  7. ^ Lewis, Mike (29 January 2006). "Harrison out to prove his manager wrong". The Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/othersports/boxingandmma/2331377/Harrison-out-to-prove-his-manager-wrong.html. 
  8. ^ Mott, Sue (8 December 2007). "When Henry Cooper floored Muhammad Ali". The Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/othersports/boxingandmma/2327893/When-Henry-Cooper-floored-Muhammad-Ali.html. 
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ "The Time Tunnel: Remembering Cassius Clay- Henry Cooper". East Side Boxing. 14 November 2002. http://www.eastsideboxing.com/boxing-news/day1411.php. 
  11. ^ "Boxing History: Cassius Clay vs. Henry Cooper". Saddo Boxing. 8 June 2006. http://www.saddoboxing.com/3416-boxing-history-cassius-clay-vs-henry-cooper.html. 
  12. ^ "Sir Henry Cooper". BBC Sport. 1 October 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/in_depth/2000/wembley/934933.stm. 
  13. ^ "Clay v Cooper - The Final Word On The Torn Glove Story". East Side Boxing. 17 March 2006. http://www.eastsideboxing.com/news.php?p=6346&more=1. 
  14. ^ "Cooper and Ali's world title fight". http://www.arsenal.com/news/news-archive/cooper-and-ali-s-world-title-fight. 
  15. ^ "He Didn't Do So Bad". Boxing Monthly. August 1999. http://www.boxing-monthly.co.uk/content/9908/two.htm. 
  16. ^ "Henry hits back". BBC Sport. 1 December 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/sports_talk/forum/1686772.stm. Retrieved 4 May 2011. 
  17. ^ "BBC Sport - Tributes pour in for British boxer Henry Cooper". BBC News. 2 May 2011. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/boxing/13256051.stm. Retrieved 2 May 2011. 
  18. ^ a b c d e f "Brian Viner on Henry Cooper". The Independent. 3 May 2011. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/brian-viner-on-henry-cooper-ali-still-had-that-cheek-he-said-i-was-getting-old-2278080.html. Retrieved 4 May 2011. 
  19. ^ a b c d e McEntee, John (June 2011). "Still With Us - Henry Cooper". The Oldie. 
  20. ^ a b Lynam, Des (5 May 2011). "Des Lynam: My friend Sir Henry Cooper was modest to a fault". The Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/othersports/boxingandmma/8488204/Des-Lynam-My-friend-Sir-Henry-Cooper-was-modest-to-a-fault.html. 
  21. ^ "Henry Cooper launches flu offensive". BBC News. 21 September 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/934530.stm. 
  22. ^ a b c d "Sir Henry Cooper". 3 May 2011. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/8487333/Sir-Henry-Cooper.html. Retrieved 3 May 2011. 
  23. ^ "New Years Honours List — United Kingdom". The London Gazette (55710): 1. 30 December 1999. http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/issues/55710/supplements/1. 
  24. ^ "People's champions knighted". BBC Sport. 31 December 1999. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sport/583942.stm. Retrieved 4 May 2010. 

External links

Achievements
Preceded by
Brian London
Commonwealth Heavyweight Champion
January 12 1959March 13 1971
Succeeded by
Joe Bugner
Preceded by
Jack Bodell
British Heavyweight Champion
March 24 1970 - March 13 1971
Preceded by
Jose Manuel Urtain
European Heavyweight Champion
November 10 1970 - March 13 1971
Awards
Preceded by
Bobby Moore
BBC Sports Personality of the Year
1967
Succeeded by
David Hemery
Preceded by
Ann Jones
BBC Sports Personality of the Year
1970
Succeeded by
HRH The Princess Anne

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