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Sir Henry Cooper

March 2005
EVERYONE knows the Ali story.
When in 1963 he landed a left hook to the legend that knocked him to the floor. It was the moment that Henry Cooper was on his way to a world title fight against Sonny Liston or Floyd Patterson.
Some have compared Frank Bruno’s stunning punch to Mike Tyson but this was Ali, the most famous boxer and one of the most famous figures of the 20th Century.
Back then of course, he was Cassius Clay.
After Cooper’s shock punch, the Greatest’s trainer tactfully unpicked his gloves to win time and help Ali recover enough to win the fight.
Four decades on and Cooper is still happy to talk about it.
“Well, yeah, they always bring that one up, you know,” says the 71-year-old.
“But while people are still wanting to talk about it, I’m quite prepared to talk about it.”
Well, it’s about time he had a break from it, then. If you really want to know then get Googling. Either that or buy a ticket to see his show at Cabaret where you’ll have the chance to ask him yourself.
The first half of the show on Wednesday March 23 will feature an interview by Sky Sports presenter John Gwynne (or “the comedian” as Cooper innocently refers to him), followed by a Q&A session.
He’s not unused to such events, having retired in 1971 and been a personality (as well as a businessman, charity fund-raiser and keen golfer) ever since.
The last time he was in Nottingham was three years ago signing a copy of a biography but his first was 50 years ago when he came to the old Ice Stadium to fight Ron Harmen.
“Old big Ron, yeah, that was early on in the career, yeah, yeah.”
The “yeah, yeah” is a conversational tic — he ends most sentences with it.
“Nottingham was a big boxing city in the 50s and 60s when Reg King was the promoter.”
He knocked Harmen out in the seventh round, returning to the venue a few year later to give Joe Erskine (“dear old Joe”) the same treatment in the ninth.
They were his only two fights in the city.
“A hundred per cent record, then. It was always a lucky city for me,” he says, chuckling.
In a professional career spanning more than 16 years, Henry Cooper created a record by holding the British heavyweight title for ten years and five months, winning it in January 1959 and successfully defending the crown eight times, becoming the first man ever to win three Lonsdale Belts.
He would also hold the European and Commonwealth titles.
His retirement 34 years ago this month was prompted by the controversial decision to award a fight to Joe Bugner.
He met Bugner at Wembley on March 16, 1971, and, after 14 of the 15 rounds, most observers had Cooper ahead by a mile.
Bugner rallied in the final three minutes but Cooper was confident enough, at the bell, to offer his hand to referee Harry Gibbs. And then stood amazed as Gibbs turned away and raised Bugner’s arm in victory.
As the crowd howled in derision at the verdict, Cooper, with great dignity, ruffled Bugner’s hair and climbed out of the ring for the final time.
“I’d decided that was going to be my last fight anyway,” he says, “win, lose or draw. Unfortunately I made the mistake of announcing it two weeks before the fight.
“I think they done some hokery pokery because they wanted a young guy to have the title. Bugner was going to be the golden boy. Though he never actually fulfilled his promise, really.
“So they lent to him a bit, let’s put it that way.”
No regrets?
“No. I was 37 — I was getting on anyway,” he chuckles.
In the 70s and 80s Cooper was a familiar face on the TV, advertising the men’s aftershave Brut with the catchphrase “splash it all over”.
So when was the last time he did?
“Oh my gawd,” he says.
“A long time ago.”
Did he get bottles of the stuff?
“Oh yeah, I’d phone up and get a van load at a time. I used to give it to all me mates at the golf club. We done well out of it.”
I bet your missus wasn’t happy with you splashing it about the house, because as I remember it wasn’t what you’d call a subtle fragrance?
“Oh she didn’t mind. A lot of the ladies used to use it. I’d get letters saying they used it because they liked the smell.”
The Coopers have been married for 44 years and live in Kent in a respectable property, though nothing flash. Despite the glittering career, he never made a fortune.
“I was one of the highest-paid British boxers for many years but you couldn’t compare it to what fighters get nowadays. They become millionaires with one fight.”
As a result, when investment company Lloyds collapsed in the early 90s, resulting in losses to all of its investors, Cooper, as one of them, had to sell his three Lonsdale belts.
“I had to give a lump of money so the belts went. I wasn’t going to sell property or anything like that. The belts were just laying in a bank vault because it was not safe having them at home. So I auctioned them off and that paid the debt.
“’Course it was a wrench to let go.
“The guy who got them did say if ever your circumstances change I’ll give you first refusal to get them back but he’d want a lot more now than what he paid for them.”
You’ve never asked?
“Not yet, no, because I haven’t got that much spare cash. I’m not doing bad thank you very much but I’ve got grandchildren.”
The Post boxing correspondent had informed me he’d been unwell, cancelling a dinner date earlier this week at the last minute. So is he feeling better?
“Oh yes.”
What was wrong?
There’s a pause, which I assume is prompted by confusion.
Our boxing man said you’d cancelled a date here because you were unwell.
“Oh well I might have had something else on but I wasn’t ill or anything like that.”
Still dodging the punches after all these years.

Cooper would meet Ali again at Arsenal’s Highbury ground in 1966 for his first world heavyweight title fight. Watched by wife Albina and fans Richard Burton and Stanley Baker — and half the East End underworld — the fight was stopped in the sixth when Ali cut Cooper’s eye and blood poured from his face.

In 1969 he was awarded the OBE in recognition of his achievements in the boxing world

The knighthood came in February 2000.

He was also awarded the KSG by the Pope for services to charity.

Morecambe and Wise and Tommy Cooper invited him to appear on their top-rated TV shows.

Along with Brut, Sir Henry advertised Shredded Wheat

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