- Category : Boxer
- Type : PSP
- Profile : 5/1 - Heretical / Investigator
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Incarnation 1
Sir Henry Cooper OBE KSG (3 May 1934 – 1 May 2011) was an English heavyweight boxer known for the effectiveness of his left hook, "Enry's 'Ammer", and his knockdown of the young Muhammad Ali. Cooper held the British, Commonwealth and European heavyweight titles several times throughout his career, and unsuccessfully challenged Ali for the world heavyweight championship in 1966.
Following his retirement from the sport, Cooper continued his career as a television and radio personality and was enormously popular in Britain: he was the first (and is today one of just three people) to twice win the public vote for BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award and is thus far the only boxer to be awarded a knighthood.
Cooper was born in Lambeth, London to Henry and Lily Cooper. He, his identical twin brother, George (1934–2010), and elder brother Bern grew up in a council house on the Bellingham Estate on Farmstead Road, South East London. During the Second World War they were evacuated to Lancing on the Sussex coast.
Around 1942, their father, Henry Senior, was called up to serve in the war; the rest of the family did not see him again for almost three years. The twins attended Athelney Road School in Lewisham. The Cooper brothers were particularly close growing up and, in his biography, Henry talks of how they came to each other's aid when things turned nasty in the school playground. One particular incident landed the young Henry his first knockout in the playground. At school, the only subject that seemed to interest Henry was history, where he enjoyed acting out scenarios.
Life was tough in the latter years of the Second World War, and London life especially brought many dangers during the blackout. Henry took up many jobs, including a paper round before school and made money out of recycling golf balls to the clubhouse on the Beckenham course. All three of the Cooper brothers excelled in sport, with George and Henry exercising talents particularly in football and also cricket.
George Cooper, Henry's twin, who boxed as Jim Cooper, died on 11 April 2010 at the age of 75.
Henry Cooper served his National Service in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps where he was recruited for his boxing ability.
Although Cooper is best known for knocking down Muhammad Ali, he defeated a string of well known heavyweights during his career, including; Zora Folley, Roy Harris, Karl Mildenberger, Alex Miteff, Wayne Bethea, Brian London, Joe Erskine, Jose Manuel Urtain, Piero Tomasoni, Dick Wipperman, Dick Richardson, Billy Walker, Tony Hughes, Jack Bodell, Jefferson Davis and Gawie De Clerk. Cooper died on 1 May 2011 at his son's house in Oxted, Surrey, after a long illness, 2 days before his 77th birthday.
Although Cooper was left-handed, he used the "orthodox" stance, with his left hand and foot forward, rather than the reversed "southpaw" stance more usually adopted by a left-handed boxer. Opponents were thus hit hardest with left handed punches which Cooper could throw from his front hand, closest to the opponent. Cooper's left hook has been described as the best of any heavyweight. At its most effective the so-called left hook had an upward uppercut-like trajectory; frequently resulting in opponents being knocked out. A formidable left jab completed his offensive repertoire; often combined to 'hook off the jab'. He generally tried to force the action in his bouts, a crowd pleasing style which won him many supporters. After developing a left shoulder problem in the latter half of his career Cooper adjusted to put more stress on right-handed punches which he had hitherto neglected.
Cooper was often regarded as the most popular of all English boxers and was affectionately known in the UK as: "Our 'Enery". He started his boxing career in 1949 as an amateur with the Eltham Amateur Boxing Club, and won seventy-three of eighty-four contests. At the age of seventeen, he won the first of two ABA light-heavyweight titles and before serving in the Army for his two years' National Service represented Britain in the 1952 Olympics (outpointed in the second stage by Russian Anatoli Petrov). Henry and his twin brother, George (boxing under the name Jim Cooper) turned professional together under the management of Jim Wicks, nicknamed 'The Bishop' because of his benign nature, which was a considerable contrast to the leading promoter of the time. Wicks never allowed his boxer to be the victim of a mis-match. When promoters were trying to match Henry with Sonny Liston Wicks said: "I would not allow 'Enery into the same room as him, let alone the same ring."
Henry was at one time the British, European and Commonwealth heavyweight champion. His early title challenges were unsuccessful, losing to Joe Bygraves for the Commonwealth belt (KO 9), Ingemar Johansson for the European belt (KO 5) and the undersized but highly skilled Joe Erskine (PTS 15) for the British and Commonwealth. He then won on points over highly rated contender Zora Folley and took the British and Commonwealth belts from new champion Brian London in a 15 round decision in January 1959. The winner of the fight was pencilled in to get a shot at Floyd Patterson's heavyweight title, but Cooper turned down the chance and London fought and lost against Patterson in May 1959. Cooper continued to defend his British and Commonwealth belts against all comers, including Dick Richardson (KO 5), Joe Erskine (TKO 5 and TKO 12), Johnny Prescott (TKO 10), and Brian London again (PTS 15), although he suffered a setback when losing a rematch with Folley by a second round KO."
Cooper twice fought Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay), firstly in a non-title fight in 1963 at Wembley Stadium. Cooper did not have a trainer at that time and his own regime led to his losing weight; he later averred that lead was inserted in his boots for the weigh-in and estimated his true weight to have been 12 stone 12 lb (81 kg), making him 27 pounds lighter than Clay. Commentator Harry Carpenter remarked during the introductions on the difference in size between the boxers. Clay's mobility, fast reflexes, height and unorthodox defensive tactic of pulling back from punches made him a frustratingly elusive opponent; some of Cooper's work during the contest has been described as 'very near the knuckle' with Clay later complaining of being repeatedly hit on the break. In the dying seconds of the fourth round, Cooper felled Clay with an upward angled version of his trademark left hook, "Enry's 'Ammer". Unfortunately for Cooper, his opponent's armpit caught in the ropes going down, which prevented his head from striking the canvas covered boards which made up the floor of the ring (something which could easily have knocked him unconscious).
Clay stood up and started slowly towards Angelo Dundee who - in violation of the rules - guided him into the corner. At first Dundee talked and slapped Clay's legs, but after a still-dazed Clay misunderstood and tried to get off the stool Dundee used smelling salts in a serious violation of the rules. (British rules did not allow any stimulant but water.) Dundee has since claimed to have opened a small tear in one of Clay's gloves and told the referee that his fighter needed a new pair of gloves, thus delaying the start of the 5th round. Cooper has always insisted that this delay lasted anywhere from 3–5 minutes and denied him the chance to try to knock Clay out while he was still dazed. In tapes of the fight it seems Clay received only an extra six seconds (although there are still doubters who think a longer delay was edited out) and the gloves were not replaced. Cooper started the 5th round aggressively, attempting to make good his advantage, but a recovered Clay effectively countered and Cooper was hit high on the face with a hard right which opened a severe cut under his eye; referee Tommy Little was forced to stop the fight. Clay won.
After this fight, a spare pair of gloves was always required at ringside. What is certain, however, is that Dundee held smelling salts under Clay's nose in an effort to revive his man, which was illegal. Clay was obviously impressed by the knockdown and on the 40th anniversary of the fight telephoned Cooper to reminisce. Clay, who had changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1964, later said on British television that Cooper "had hit him so hard that his ancestors in Africa felt it". In 1966 Cooper fought Ali, now world heavyweight champion, for a second time at Highbury. However Ali was now alert to the danger posed by Cooper's left and more cautious than he had been in the previous contest; he held Cooper in a vice-like grip during clinches, and when told to break leapt backward several feet. Accumulated scar tissue around Cooper's eyes made him more vulnerable than in the previous meeting and a serious cut was opened by Ali, which led to the fight being stopped, Cooper again suffering a technical knockout when he was ahead on the scorecards.
After the loss to Ali, Cooper fought former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, losing by a fourth round knockout. After that he went undefeated until the final fight of his career, and made more defences of his British and Commonwealth titles against Jack Bodell (TKO 2 and PTS 15) and Billy Walker (TKO 6). In 1968 Cooper added the European crown to his domestic titles with a win over Karl Mildenberger, and later made two successful defences of his title. In his last fight, in May 1971, a 36 year old Cooper faced 21 year old Joe Bugner, one of the biggest heavyweights in the world, for the British, European and Commonwealth belts. Referee Harry Gibbs awarded the fight to Bugner by the now abolished quarter of a point margin. An audience mainly composed of Cooper fans did not appreciate the innately cautious Bugner, and the decision was booed with commentator Harry Carpenter asking, "How can they take away the man's titles like this?". Cooper announced his retirement shortly afterwards. A controversy followed, with an accusation that points awarded on Gibb's scorecard had been changed. Gibbs said the allegation was completely untrue. Cooper refused to speak to Gibbs for several years, but eventually agreed to shake his hand for charity six months before Gibbs died.
Opinion on modern boxers
In Cooper's later years, he retired from commentary on the sport as he became "disillusioned with boxing", wanting "straight, hard and fast boxing that he was used to from his times." While acknowledging that he was from a different era and would not be fighting as a heavyweight today, Cooper was nonetheless critical of the trend for heavyweights to bulk up as he thought it made for one-paced and less entertaining contests. In his final year, he said plainly that he did not "think boxing is as good as it was", naming Joe Calzaghe, Ricky Hatton and Amir Khan as "the best of their era", but asserting that "if you match them up with the champions of thirty or forty years ago I don't think they're as good".
Life outside boxing
After his retirement from boxing Henry Cooper maintained a high public profile with appearances in the BBC quiz show A Question of Sport and various advertisements, most famously in those for Brut aftershave, which have been credited with removing a lingering suspicion among the British that men who wore cologne were effeminate. Although generally a traditionalist, Cooper was officially the co-founder of the Anti-Nazi League, a largely left-wing campaign focused on far-right groups which opposed immigration. He was also a frequent and popular guest at charity fund-raising events. He appeared as boxer John Gully in the 1975 film Royal Flash and in his latter years featured in a series of UK public service announcements urging vulnerable groups to go to their doctor for vaccination against influenza called Get your Jab in First!
Cooper had become a 'name' at Lloyd's of London, a supposedly 'blue chip' investment, but in the 1990s he was reportedly one of those who suffered enormous personal losses because of the unlimited liability which a 'name' was then responsible for, and he was forced to sell his hard won Lonsdale belts. Subsequently, Cooper's enduring popularity as an after dinner speaker provided a source of income, and he was in most respects a picture of contentment although becoming more subdued in the years following the death of his wife.
Considering his long career, Henry Cooper had suffered relatively little boxing-related damage to his health, apart from "a bit of arthritis", remaining an imposing figure into his seventies; in the words of one journalist, "the living manifestation of an age of tuxedos in ringside seats, Harry Carpenter commentaries, sponge buckets and 'seconds out'". He lived in Hildenborough, Kent, and he was the president of Nizels Golf Club in the town until his death.
Cooper was married to Albina Genepri, an Italian Catholic, from 1960 until her death from a heart attack aged 71 in 2008. He converted to her faith. He was survived by their sons, Henry Marco and John Pietro, and two grandchildren. He left £747,098. In an interview published a few days after his death, Cooper described Albina, who "hated" his sport, as "an ideal wife for a boxer", never grumbling about his long absences before big fights and inviting journalists in for tea while they waited for Cooper to get out of bed the morning after bouts.
Awards and honours
Cooper was the first to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award twice (in 1967 and 1970) and one of only three two-time winners in the award's history (the others being Nigel Mansell in 1986 and 1992 and Damon Hill in 1994 and 1996). Cooper was given the award in 1967 for going unbeaten throughout the year. One of the most memorable fights of the year was his defeat of challenger Jack Bodell in June. His second award came in 1970, when Cooper had become the British, Commonwealth and European heavyweight champion, cementing his reputation as one of the greatest post-war British boxers. He is the only British boxer to win three Lonsdale Belts outright.
Cooper was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1969, awarded a Papal Knighthood in 1978, and was knighted in 2000. He is also celebrated as one of the great Londoners in the "London Song" by Ray Davies on his 1998 album The Storyteller.
He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1970 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at Thames Television's Euston Road Studios.