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Henry Cooper: The Man that Should Have Beaten Muhammad Ali

By Donald C Stewart

It was a different era and for me a fight that I heard about as I was not even born so couldn’t get to see.

Every time my father – a great Scottish boxing fan (True pessimist and proud of everyone’s boxers but ours!) – talked about the premium weight – the heavyweights – his eyes would go misty.

He believed that Henry Cooper was a one punch fighter.

Henry Cooper, 40-14-1, 27 KO’s, was the man who had the chance to become the Heavyweight Champion of the World and blew it. A great white hope that was better than any other hope because he was OUR great white hope.

Every time that Muhammad Ali was mentioned, he would shake his head and marvel at this athlete, a man that he admired and respected. Ali was a Champion from whom other champions should learn. He was the Greatest, a multiple time heavyweight champion, but for one moment in 1963, he was a bum on the floor with a trainer hatching a cunning plan.

Angelo Dundee rescued Ali.

The delay in fixing of his gloves meant that Henry Cooper – a consummate gentleman – would not be able to follow up from the knockdown and take the crown for himself.

By the time I was old enough to understand what World Champion Boxing was about, I was allowed to stay up and watch the black and white footage or the radio would be tuned so I could hear the greatness of Ali.

Cooper’s retirement in 1971 meant I would never see him in action properly though I can just about remember aged 6 watching his last fight which was against Joe Bugner.

Henry’s lights went out after that but the shadow he had created for British heavyweight boxing was cast long. Bugner was, like Cooper, to fight Ali twice. He went the distance with Ali twice (UD-12 in 1973, UD-15 in 1975) – a feat Cooper never managed in either fight with Ali (TKO by 5 in 1963, TKO by 6 in 1966) but nobody thought of Bugner in the same breath as Henry Cooper.

During the seventies, new heavyweights arrived on the United Kingdom boxing scene to challenge various people for various belts but none of them were a patch on Henry Cooper.

The decade had to pass before the rise of one future heavyweight champion (WBC) Frank Bruno and then a multiple time heavyweight champion in Lennox Lewis before we had a cause worth hoping for.

Henry’s fighting career over 55 fights included 14 losses which is a record most fighters now would be wary of. His career however was not finished when he hung up his gloves. As the only British boxer to win three Lonsdale belts outright he does deserve his place in the Hall of Fame.

He became a national treasure.

He commentated and became a media celebrity. People took him to their hearts. His views were very traditional and he gave up on the sport that gave him his fame when he felt there was a lack of hard hitting traditional boxers.

As an after dinner speaker and a name for Lloyds of London he proved there was a life beyond the ring. His honors continued with an OBE, a Knighthood and a Papal Knighthood.

People will remember that black and white vision of Cassius Clay on the ropes. They will talk of Our Henry and that vicious left hook that was called “Henery’s Hammer.”

His loss, however, is one that will be deeply felt because he was more than the sum of the many parts that was a boxing career.

The UK lost an icon.

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