Wednesday 16 August 2017

Sir Henry Cooper

Boxing champion whose many claims to fame included flooring a young Cassius Clay in 1963

Sir Henry Cooper, who died last week aged 76, was the most popular and respected British boxer of the post-war era, known to millions of fans as "our 'Enry".

Cooper was the only man ever to win three Lonsdale belts, each awarded for threee successful defences of the British heavyweight title he held for 12 years. His most celebrated fight took place before a crowd of 35,000 at Wembley in June 1963. Cassius Clay, not yet world champion, had predicted he would win inside five rounds. Cooper had acquired a reputation for cutting easily, and when blood appeared around his eye in the third round, Clay's bragging seemed justified.

But the American had seriously underestimated Cooper. At the end of the next round he caught Clay with his celebrated left hook. It was the first time Clay had ever been knocked down and he was only saved by the bell. His canny trainer, Angelo Dundee, made the most of a split in one of Clay's gloves, giving him time to recover. When he emerged he was able to pepper Cooper's eye with the torn glove, and as blood poured down Cooper's face the referee ended the fight.

When Cooper challenged him for the world title three years later, Muhammad Ali paid due respect. His mobility proved too much for Cooper and, cut by the heel of a glove, he was again forced to retire, honour intact. Cooper later fought the former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, but was knocked out in the fourth round.

Henry Cooper was born in Westminster, London, on May 3, 1934. He was 20 minutes older than his twin brother, George. Their father, a tram driver, was an amateur boxer, while their grandfather was a bare-knuckle fighter. Even their grandmother was said to have boxed like a man.

Henry was brought up at Bellingham in London and during the Second World War he and George were evacuated to Sussex. From the age of nine, the pair were learning to box, and at 15 they joined the noted Eltham club.

On leaving school, plastering work developed Henry's physique and he won his first competition at 17. Cooper was to win 73 of his 84 amateur fights, although he lost the first four. .

He represented Britain at the Helsinki Olympics but lost his first fight. He and George then joined the British army. Both were sent to the so-called Boxers' Battalion, which each year dominated the Army Championships.

They turned professional in 1954. From the outset, their manager, Jim Wicks, realised their publicity potential, even televising their signing to him. Wicks was soon content to trust Henry's judgement as to his training regime and ideal fighting weight.

Wicks never overboxed Cooper, considerably prolonging his career. Cooper had a difficult two years from September 1956, winning only one of seven fights. An open air challenge for the European heavyweight title was lost when Ingemar Johansson knocked him out while the sun was in his eyes. He considered quitting boxing, but in 1958 outpunched Zora Folley, ranked third in the world, to restore his confidence. In 1959 he won his first British and Empire titles.

Cooper's victories were built on technique, aggression and his ferocious left hook. When filmed it proved to be 40 times too fast for the eye to see.Cooper had already decided to retire when be lost to Joe Bugner on a controversial points decision in March 1971. He had won 40 and lost 14 of his professional contests, with one drawn.

An earlier venture as a greengrocer had proved a financial disaster, but in retirement Cooper became a familiar face on TV, both as a commentator and as a promoter of everything from cereal to paint.When he lost money in Lloyds, he was forced, to his great sadness, to auction his Lonsdale belts in 1993.

Henry Cooper married, in 1960, Albina Genepri, an Italian waitress at his favourite restaurant. He adopted her Catholic faith and it was an extremely happy marriage, though she could never bring herself to watch him fight. They had two sons.

© Telegraph

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