British boxing icon Henry Cooper, who might have knocked out a young, unbeaten Muhammad Ali if not for a damaged boxing glove, died Sunday at his son's house at Oxted in Surrey. He was two days from his 77th birthday.
Cooper, who British fans affectionately called "Our 'Enry," was a British and European heavyweight champion who was 40-14-1, with 27 knockouts, in a career than included conquests of Brian London, Zora Folley, Alex Miteff, Joe Erskine, Jack Bodell and Karl Mildenberger.
Ali, then known as Wembley Stadium in England — his last fight before winning the world heavyweight crown from Sonny Liston., was 18-0 the first time he fought Cooper, a 1963 non-title bout at
Cooper caught the Clay with a left hook — "'Enry's 'Ammer" — near the end of the fourth round. sending the future champ sprawling. Clay's arm tangled in the ropes as he fell, possibly preventing him from hitting his head on the hard boards beneath the canvas on the ring apron.
At the bell, trainer Angelo Dundee entered the ring and helped Clay to the corner — an illegality that could have resulted in disqualification — then called the referee's attention to a rip in the fighter's glove. He would be accused later of creating the tear with scissors to buy more time for the reeling Clay, but still denies the story today.
"The seam in the glove was ripped from the very beginning, but I didn't say nothing because we were kicking the hell out of Cooper," Dundee said on a recent edition of TheBoxing Show. "So when Muhammad got knocked down, I put my finger in the rip and lifted it, calling it to the ref's attention.
"The ref called the commissioner. It was an outdoor fight in a big stadium, so they had a long walk back to the dressing room to look for another glove. Then they came back and said, 'We don't have any more gloves,' and I said, 'OK, that's fine.' We never took 'em off."
Cooper was stopped on cuts in the following round. He fought Ali again two years later, this time for the world title, and succumbed to another bloody cut, this time in the sixth round.
After his career, Cooper did boxing commentary for the BBC. He also was knighted by the queen.
Johnny Nelson, the former WBO cruiserweight champion, expressed shock when he heard the news.
"Henry was a total champion," Nelson told Sky Sports News. "He was always a gentleman, always straight down the line. He told it how it was.
"He was a no-nonsense fighter, the man that almost dethroned one of the greatest fighters in the world, Muhammad Ali."
Dennis Taylor is editor/publisher of www.ringsideboxingshow.com and co-host of The Ringside Boxing Show.