The man who almost knocked out Muhammad Ali has long been a national hero. South London lad Henry Cooper or "Our 'Enry" as he was affectionately known held the British, European and Commonwealth titles simultaneously at one point in his decorated career.
Cooper held those three titles towards the end of his boxing days but he will always be remembered for his exploits on a June night in Wembley in 1963. An up-and-coming boxer with a big talent and an ego to match came to London to fight Cooper. He went by the name of Cassius Clay. A crowd of 35,000 turned out to see one of the greatest fights in British boxing history.
With seconds to go in the fourth round Cooper hit Clay with his trademark left hook. A lethal weapon throughout his career, fans called it "Enry's Ammer" and the young American had no answer to it. The boxer who would become the greatest of all time was floored and it seemed Cooper would go on to finish him off. But never has the phrase, "saved by the bell", been so apt. Clay hit the canvas as the bell rang, regrouped and came back refreshed in the fifth to defeat Cooper, who was hamstrung by a weakness that would dog him throughout his career – his tendency to cut easily.
Cooper was frustrated at what he saw as delaying tactics in Clay's corner but true to character held no grudge against Clay or his coach Angelo Dundee. He would go on to fight Clay again in 1966. His opponent's name had changed to Muhammad Ali but sadly for Cooper the result was the same. Cuts again forced a premature end to the bout in the sixth round with Cooper bleeding heavily.
A boxer from the age of just nine, Cooper represented Great Britain at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki before turning pro. In his amateur days he won 73 of his 84 fights and went on to hold the British heavyweight title for a record stretch of ten years. Throughout his career he enjoyed a long-standing rivalry with Welshman Joe Erskine. Erskine won the first two bouts between the two fighters but after beating Brian London to win the British and Commonwealth titles he would get the better of Erskine in three title defences.
By today's standards Cooper would have been considered too small for a heavyweight and even at the time he was by no means a big fighter. His huge left hook helped overcome this along with his legendary bravery - many of Cooper's victories came after he had been knocked to the canvas. Since retirement in 1971 Cooper has kept in the public eye with numerous TV appearances and is still one of the country's most recognized and respected sporting figures.
You may be interested in our full range of Icons boxing memorabilia.