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Sir Henry Cooper OBE, KSG (born 3 May 1934) in South East Londonmarker, is a retired Englishmarker heavyweight boxer and was the British, European and Commonwealth heavyweight champion in 1970. He is the only British boxer to win three Lonsdale Belts outright.


Cooper and his identical twin brother, George, grew up in a council house on the Bellinghammarker Estate on Farmstead Road, South East Londonmarker, although during the Second World War they were relocated as evacuees to Lancingmarker on the Sussex coast.

Around 1942, their father, Henry Senior was called up to serve in the war; the rest of the family would not see him again for almost three years. The twins would attend Athelney Road School in Lewishammarker. The Cooper brothers were particularly close growing up and, in his biography, Henry talks of how they would come to each other’s aid when things turned nasty in the school playground. One particular incident would land the young Henry his first knockout in the playground. At school, the only subject that seemed to interest Henry was history where he had the enjoyment of acting out scenarios.

Life was tough in the latter years of the Second World War, and especially in London, urban life brought many dangers during the blackout. Henry had to take up many jobs including a paper round before school and even making money out of recycling to the clubhouse golf balls on the Beckenhammarker course. All three of the Cooper brothers were known to excel in sport with George and Henry exercising talents particularly in football and also cricket.

Career highlights

Early bouts

Cooper is often regarded as the most popular of all English boxers and is still affectionately known in the UK as: "Our 'Enry". 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 caring management of Jim Wicks, who was one of boxing's great characters nicknamed 'The Bishop' because of his benign nature. He would never allow one of his boxers into the ring if he felt they were over matched. He famously said when promoters were trying to match Henry with the then unbeaten and feared Sonny Liston: "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 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 was also offered a chance to fight Sonny Liston but his manager Jim Wicks rejected the idea, saying "We don't even want to meet Liston walking down the same street."

Fight with Cassius Clay

Cooper fought Cassius Clay twice, firstly in a non-title fight in 1963 at Wembley Stadiummarker, when Cooper knocked Clay down in the dying seconds of the fourth round with his trademark left hook, "Enry's 'Ammer". The bell rang before Cooper could try to complete a knockout. Clay was literally, "saved by the bell." Prior to the fight Clay's trainer Angelo Dundee had noticed a small tear in one of Clay's gloves but didn't bring it to the referee's attention. With Clay now staggered from the knock down, Dundee opened up the tear with his finger 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. When the 5th round finally started, Clay ferociously attacked Cooper's cuts, leaving Cooper's face streaming with blood and referee Tommy Little was forced to stop the fight in the American's favour.

The British boxing newspaper Boxing News conducted an investigation into the 'split glove' incident in 2003. Using the original television and radio broadcasts to determine length of time between rounds 4 and 5 it was discovered that Cassius Clay only gained 5 seconds extra and not the mythical 3–5 minutes. The gloves were never changed. Other sources on the matter confirm this. After this fight a spare pair of gloves was always required at ringside. What is certain however, is that Dundee broke a phial containing an unknown substance and held it 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 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 they met a second time at Arsenal Stadiummarker in London to contest the world title. Cooper succumbed again to his weakness, a tendency to cut, and Ali went on to be "The Greatest".

Last fights

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 & 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 1971, he faced the emerging British heavyweight hope Joe Bugner for the British, European and Commonwealth belts. Fight referee Harry Gibbs awarded the fight to Bugner by the narrowest of margins: a quarter of a point. Many felt that defeating the popular Cooper was one reason why British fans didn't take to Bugner. The decision was booed by the audience, which was mainly composed of Cooper's fans. Commentator Harry Carpenter asked, "How can they take away the man's titles like this?" However, one commentator felt the younger, stronger Bugner had done enough to win. Cooper announced his retirement shortly afterwards. For years after the fight, Cooper refused to speak to Gibbs. Cooper has since stated: "I didn't speak to him for years after the fight. I don't usually hold grudges, but I knew certain things went on before the fight (that I don't want to speak about) and for those reasons I didn't speak to him until about six months before he died." Cooper eventually agreed to shake his hand for charity.

Alongside figures such as Frank Bruno, Joe Bugner, Tommy Farr and Lennox Lewis, Cooper is regarded as one of the all-time best British heavyweights.

Life outside boxing

During the early 1990s, Cooper reminisced about his life as a wartime evacuee in the BBC Radio 2 documentary Nobody Cried When The Trains Pulled Out. He remembered being taken from his London home to the Sussex coast. "Right into the path of the German bombers, thanks a lot," he laughed. The programme was written by Terence Pettigrew and presented by Michael Aspel, both fellow-evacuees.

He gained further fame after his career ended by being one of the team captains on the BBC quiz show A Question of Sport for a number of years. Cooper also famously advertised Brut aftershave and was very active in charity work. He also advertised breakfast cereal on television in the 1980s

In 1980, Cooper wrote a book called The Great Heavyweights in which he spoke of the men whom he considered the finest of all time. They are Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali. He analyzed each and compared their strengths and weaknesses.

Cooper featured in a series of UK public service announcements urging vulnerable groups to go to their doctor for vaccination against influenza. The series was called Get your Jab in First!, a reference to both the colloquial term for an injection and the boxing punch.

Cooper currently lives in Hildenboroughmarker, in Kentmarkerand he currently is the chairman of Nizels Golf Club in Hildenborough

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.

Henry Cooper was knighted in 2000.


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