RingSide Report

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Ringside Report Looks Back at Boxer Ron Cooper

By Donald “Braveheart” Stewart

As the Iron Curtain fell across Europe, the Nuremberg Trials were still a hot topic of conversation and the devastation of 6 years of World War were being repaired, the Olympics were back on the menu.

The last time that the Olympics were held, it was in Berlin. It was 1936. It was a showcase event for the Nazis. 1948 had to be better.

And for the victor, the spoils…

In a country that was trying to repair its own scars and had managed to pitch and win the Olympics, they now were scrabbling about for venues, competitors, referees, judges, officials, and events that could be reasonably filled.

We may have won the war but winning the peace became a spectacular challenge for the entire country.

London, 1948, had to be a triumph. Otherwise, the 1936 Olympics would still be held in the regard with which the Nazis had wished. There was still enough of the blitz spirit left for the Olympiad in 1948 to be held together by string but still hang gold round the necks of so many athletes. By the end, it was heralded what it needed to be – a success.

One of the young men who appeared as lightweight in the Games was cocky East Ender Ron Cooper, 16-4-4, 7 KOs. At 20 years of age, the future may have seemed bright to Ron, and in the shadow of what we had endured, the future was by itself far brighter than it once was as he took up the cause in a Team GB shirt for his country. The 1948 Amateur Boxing Association (ABA) lightweight champion managed to qualify for the Olympics.

In an interview many years later, Cooper was to reminisce about that time and what happened when he was representing his country – in a vest where all the buttons were bust! When he came out the navy in the shadow of the war he became a welder and then returned to boxing. It was a sad and joyous time as he won the ABAs and then lost his father – a guiding light in his life who had been by the ringside for most of his career up until then.

It was a tough existence as the main breadwinner and his dad no longer with them so he was, surprisingly to him at the time, but an indication of the spirit of the times, financially supported by his guvnor in the Millwall yard in which he had found work. Off he trotted to Wargrave with the British Olympic boxing team for training, having three weeks wages in advance so he did not have to worry overmuch about feeding and supporting the family he left behind.

Having boxed for Britain abroad – Switzerland in 1947 – perhaps some would have felt cheated that the next Olympics would be at “home”. But the reality was that too many had spent time away from family fighting in foreign fields so there was a perfect opportunity to spend time under the same sky, in the same country as your loved ones, whilst fighting in a sporting sense rather than a military one for your country.

Cooper’s Olympic first round saw him beat the Dutch champion, Jan Remie. Though “built like a bull”, Remie was not to outfox or bully Cooper.

Then came his second fight – and his last – of the Olympics. European champion Matthew McCullough was floored, twice, as was Cooper but only once, however the fight, a sight for all to behold, was a cracker. The European champion may have triumphed, but Cooper was ecstatic – or at least thinks he was. He talked of “coming round” and being unable to remember the details of his fight!

He had never been put down as an amateur, so the time was ripe to turn over to the professional ranks.

Post-war boxing in the United Kingdom feels black and white. Men with whiskey breath in dinner jackets, smoking in a room filled with money and menace. In the middle would be a ring where the working class were allowed to be housed for the entertainment of the moneyed men round about the ring baying for blood. It was not a time of smoking bans or health-conscious vitamin popping youngsters having arguments with their overweight and overbearing fathers about how they should cut down on their excesses. It was a time of measured excess in the country at large. Measured often by the ability of the black market to supply the goods that were luxuriously guzzled.

Perhaps it is not as I imagine it. But into the professional ranks came a man who knocked out four area champions, ended with a very decent record and did all he could to progress a career that would have been tough to get past the local area. His debut in 1948 was hardly the start he would have imagined, he was beaten and knocked out in the very first round by Ted Ansell who was also making his debut on the 4th of August at the Drill Hall in Birkenhead.

Having never been knocked down as an amateur until the Olympics, the shock of the pros would have been something he truly had to take on the chin. Though no titles came his way as a pro it was a decent record, with 16 wins and 8 divided contests fairly between losses and draws. The pinnacle of his professional career may have been fighting at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall as he did on the 20th of November 1951 where he beat Neilly Phillips on points. Thereafter his career was a bit too much of a rollercoaster until his final fight at Mill End on the 17th of June 1952 – where he beat Ricky McCulloch on points.

I am indebted to the “gentle author” who conducted the interview with Ron Cooper for some of the material above. There is not a lot out there about boxers of that era who have not made a world level splash and indebted is perhaps too little of a grateful thought, given we are talking about an Olympian, however the final word comes from Ron Cooper in that interview from 2012, “Whether it’s running or swimming, boxing, wrestling, hockey, football – you name it – you have to sacrifice things. You’ve got to do it. And to go in the ring you’ve got to have a bit of heart, haven’t you? Any sport, you’ve to have a bit of heart. When I started boxing, no way in my lifetime did I think that I’d have been boxing in the Olympic Games.”

Dedication indeed…

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