LEGENDARY heavyweight Muhammad Ali led the tributes to his “old friend” Sir Henry Cooper, who died on Sunday, describing him as “a great fighter and a gentleman”.
Cooper, in more recent years, has been a popular speaker on the after dinner circuit - well known and loved by boxing fans all over South Yorkshire and the region,
Do you have any special memories of the British boxing great? Leave a comment below.
Arguably Cooper’s most famous fight was a non-title contest against Ali in London in 1963, when he knocked down the man then known as Cassius Clay in the fourth round with a terrific left hook, only for the bout to be stopped a round later because of cuts around Cooper’s eyes.
The two men fought again three years later, with Ali again victorious.
“I am at a loss for words over the death of my friend, Henry Cooper. I was not aware he was ill,” said three-time world heavyweight champion Ali in a statement.
“I visited with him two summers ago during a brief visit to Windsor as part of the Equestrian Games being held there. He was in good humour and looked quite fit.”
Ali added: “Henry always had a smile for me; a warm and embracing smile. It was always a pleasure being in Henry’s company. I will miss my old friend. He was a great fighter and a gentleman. My family and I extend our heartfelt sympathies to his family and loved ones.”
Current WBA world heavyweight champion David Haye insisted former British, European and Commonwealth champion Cooper had been a hugely positive influence on his own career.
Haye said: “He was at all the charity dinners and what-not and we’d talk to each other and he’d give me advice and wish me luck, give me his opinion on what he thought I should do and it was always sound advice.
“He’d let you know his opinion - whether you wanted to hear it or not! - and I believe the advice he’s given me over the years is working out because I’m now the heavyweight champion of the world. My parents were big fans, I used to watch his fights and the left hook that he hit Ali with, I’ve never seen a left hook thrown as punch-perfectly as that.”
WBA light-welterweight champion Amir Khan remembers Cooper, who was knighted in 2000, as someone far removed from the needle which marks the build-up to so many modern fights - with Haye’s upcoming showdown with Wladimir Klitschko a case in point.
“Nowadays you get a lot of trash talking,” said Khan. “But Henry was known for one thing, and that was when he was inside the ring he was like an animal, but when he was outside the ring he had a lot of respect for his opponents and for his fans.”
Former undisputed world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis wrote on Twitter: “R.I.P. Sir Henry Cooper. Former British, Commonwealth and European Champion. My deepest condolences to the Cooper family.”
Henry Cooper Fact File:
1934: Born, together with twin brother George, on May 3 in south east London.
1949: Begins his career as an amateur fighter at the Eltham Amateur Boxing Club.
1952: Wins first title at amateur level, the ABA light-heavyweight championship.
1952: Represents Great Britain in the light-heavyweight division at the Olympic Games in Helsinki, losing at the second-round stage to Anatoly Perov of the Soviet Union.
1954: Turns professional following two years of national service with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, also known as ‘The Boxers’ Battalion’.
1955: Suffers first professional defeat at the hands of Italy’s Uber Bacilieri.
1959: Wins the British and Commonwealth heavyweight belts with victory against Brian London. He would go on to defend the titles against Dick Richardson, Joe Erskine, Johnny Prescott and London in the years that followed.
1963: June 18 - Cooper’s serves up his most memorable moment as a ferocious left hook sends a young Cassius Clay to the deck in the fourth round of their non-title bout at Wembley Stadium. However, the Englishman would go on to lose the fight in the next round.
1964: Henry claims the vacant European heavyweight crown with a points decision against London but would relinquish the title by the end of the year.
1966: Cooper again meets Clay - now renamed Muhammad Ali - in a heavyweight title fight at Arsenal’s Highbury Stadium. The bout goes to six rounds but Cooper again emerges as the loser as cuts take their toll.
1967: Wins the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award after going unbeaten through the year in defence of his British and Commonwealth titles.
1968: Cooper adds the European crown to his British and Commonwealth titles with victory over Karl Mildenberger, the sole holder of the belt since Cooper had vacated it four years earlier.
1969: Cooper is awarded the OBE - the first ever awarded to a boxer.
1970: Becomes the first two-time winner of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.
1971: Cooper’s 55-fight career (40 wins, 27 KOs) ends when emerging talent Joe Bugner narrowly beats him to claim the British, European and Commonwealth belts. Bugner’s victory by a quarter of a point was poorly received by fans, and led commentator Harry Carpenter to ask: “How can they take away the man’s titles like this?” Cooper announces his retirement shortly after the defeat.
2000: Cooper is knighted for services to boxing.
2011: Cooper dies at his son’s house in Surrey, two days before his 77th birthday.