Famous Ring Wars – Sir Henry Cooper vs. Cassius Clay
By John F. McKenna (McJack): Sir Henry Cooper who died on May 1, 2011 at the age of 76, was the most popular British boxer of the post war era. He held the British Heavyweight Title for twelve years. Cooper’s most memorable fight was against Cassius Clay two years before he became Muhammad Ali. The fight took place at Wembley Stadium in June of 1963 before 35,000 pro Cooper fans. Clay had predicted to the press that he would knock Cooper out in five rounds. Cooper had a reputation for being a “bleeder” and when blood started flowing from his eyes in the third round Clay’s bragging seemed to be justified.
It was apparent however in the third round that the young Clay had badly misjudged his opponent as Cooper began to land his dangerous left hook. In the fourth round Cooper’s left hook repeatedly found it’s mark. Surprisingly Cooper also appeared to be physically stronger than his larger rival and began to use his ring experience to rough up Clay.
The only question for Cooper and his loyal fans was would he be able to nail Clay before the blood from his eyes started gushing out forcing a stoppage. As the round progressed Clay back pedaled away from the advancing Cooper. Just before the end of round four, Cooper caught Clay with a powerful left hook along the ropes. Clay fell to the canvas as if being pole axed. It was a textbook perfect left hook thrown with speed and power. Clay was totally out of it as he was directed back to his corner and his trainer Angelo Dundee started administering smelling salts to revive his fighter. It is alleged that at this point Angelo, who knew every trick in the book, sliced one of Clay’s gloves with a razor to buy more time for Cassius who was still very groggy and in no condition to continue. Dundee then called the referee’s attention to the glove. Of course the glove had to be replaced. This gave Cassius the time he needed to recover. In the next round Clay danced around and targeted Cooper’s eyes which started to bleed profusely. The referee was forced to stop the fight giving Clay a TKO victory.
Cooper had given Clay a lot more than he bargained for and it was the closest he would ever come to being knocked out. Clay would go on to win the Heavyweight Title from Sonny Liston in 1964 when Liston quit on his stool between rounds. He would again defeat Liston a year later when Sonny fell down in the first round after being hit with the “Phantom Punch” While Clay was backing up. When Clay became Muhammad Ali he would achieve fistic greatness and become one of the greatest Heavyweight Champions of all time. He would fight Joe Frazier and Kenny Norton three times each and cap off his brilliant career with the “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire when he knocked out George Foreman in the eighth round. Nobody ever hit Ali the way Sir Henry Cooper did back at Wembley in 1963. Cooper came very close to derailing the career of the young Cassius Clay. He can thank Angelo Dundee’s quick thinking for that.
Cooper was much loved in his native England and was honored with Knighthood in 2000, becoming the first and only boxer to be so honored. He was Knighted mostly for his charitable work but also for the manner in which he conducted himself as a fighter.
Always courteous, the thought of hype and trash talking that goes on with today’s fighters was repulsive to Cooper.
Cooper’s loyal fans had a pet name for his famed Left hook. They called it “Enery’s Ammer”. Muhammad Ali had the utmost respect for Cooper. Whenever he spoke with British scribes he would always ask how he was doing. The boxing world will surely miss Sir Henry Cooper and the gentleman that he was.