Saturday, May 2, 2015

Henry Cooper: The Tale of Enry’s Ammer


Remembering…Henry Cooper   May 3, 1934 - May 1, 2011

The Tale of Enry’s Ammer
By Peter Silkov

Few British sportsmen have enjoyed the popularity that Henry Cooper gained during his career.  “Our Enry” as Cooper was affectionately known by boxing fans, managed to transcend boxing and achieve the kind of lasting recognition and popularity that few other British fighters have come close to emulating, either before or since.  Cooper was one of only three people to win the BBC Sports personality of the year award twice (in 1967 and 1970.) He was also awarded an OBE in 1970, and in 2000, became the only boxer ever to receive a Knighthood. In terms of the popularity and recognition, which Cooper brought to the sport, and especially the domestic heavyweight division, few fighters have done more for the sport in this country during their careers. On pure ability, Cooper may not have been our greatest heavyweight ever, but he was actually a lot better than some people give him credit for being.

Style-wise, Cooper was a boxer-puncher, aggressive, with a crowd-pleasing mix of good boxing skill, and dynamite punching. Cooper was left-handed, which usually would have made him a southpaw boxer (meaning that he would fight with his right foot forward and leading with the right hand), but Southpaws were generally frowned upon in Copper’s era, especially heavyweight southpaws, so Copper was ’converted’ to an orthodox fighter. This resulted in Cooper developing a very formidable left jab and hook. His trademark punch was his left-hook, which he would fire in vicious uppercut-like swings. Cooper’s left-hook became known amongst his supporters as “Enry’s Ammer.” 

At around 185 to 190 pounds at his best, Cooper was never a very big heavyweight, but he compensated for this with good mobility and fast hands. He often had to give away weight during his career.

Henry Cooper was born on May 3, 1934, (along with his twin brother George) in Lambeth, London. Cooper excelled at sport and was soon learning to box along with his twin brother George. During an amateur career at Eltham Amateur Boxing Club, Cooper compiled a record of 73-11 and won the ABA light-heavyweight championship in 1952 and 1953, before turning professional in 1954, along with George (who fought under the name of Jim, as there was already a George Cooper boxing at heavyweight.)

Managed by the wily Jim Wicks, the Cooper's gained publicity early in their professional careers due to them being fighting twins. It soon became clear that of the two, Henry was the one with the most talent. George would suffer from cuts to an even greater degree than Henry, and he would never come close to achieving the success of his brother inside the ring. Success would not come easy to Henry either.  Following a promising start, where he went 14-2 in his first 2 years as a professional, Cooper went 1-5-1 in seven fights between late 1956 and early 1958. Included in this run of mostly defeats was three title fights in a row; all of which Cooper lost. 

On September 7, 1956, Peter Bates stopped Henry in the 5th round, due to a badly cut eyebrow. Cuts for Henry would prove to be his Achilles heel for the duration of his career.

Five months after his loss to Bates, Cooper challenged Joe Bygraves for the Commonwealth heavyweight championship, and was knocked in the 9th round. 3 months later, Cooper took on Ingemar Johansson for the European heavyweight title and was knocked out in the 5th round.  Four months after the loss to Johansson, on September 17, 1957, Cooper faced Joe Eskine and was out-pointed over 15 rounds.

Cooper was then 1-1-1 in his next three fights, including a disqualification defeat to Erich Schoppener. Such a run of defeats, especially at championship level would have been enough to finish many fighters, or at least reduce their championship ambitions.  Henry, however, bounced back with some of the best wins of his career, beating Dick Richardson and Zora Folley in late 1958. Cooper’s point’s victory over Folley on October 14, 1958, was one of the best results of his career, with Folley being one of the top heavyweights in the world, who at the time was being avoided by many of the other top heavyweights, including the world champion Floyd Patterson.

The victories over Richardson and Folley catapulted Henry right back into title contention, and on January 12, 1959, Cooper won the British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles, when he beat Brian London on points after a bloody and brutal classic brawl. It was the beginning of Henry Cooper’s record breaking reign as British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion. He would defend the British title a record 10 times in the next 12 years, winning 3 Lonsdale belts in the process. In this time Cooper would also make 11 defences of the Commonwealth title, and win the European championship 3 times. Coopers exciting defences during the 60s brought a level of popularity and recognition to Britain’s domestic heavyweight scene, seldom seen before, or since. Cooper defended his titles against Joe Erskine, Dick Richardson, Brian London, Johnny Prescott, Jack Bodell, Karl Mildenberger, Jose Manuel Urtain, and Billy Walker. 

During this time, Cooper also took part in a number of non-title fights, suffering a set back in late 1961when he was knocked out in the 2nd round in a rematch with Zora Folley. Cooper, however, gained wins over Wayne Bethea, Roy Harris, and Alex Miteff.

On June 18, 1963, Cooper took on the rising star and future World heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali (then still Cassius Clay), at Wembly Stadium, London. In what has become an iconic contest in British boxing folklore, Cooper floored Ali at the end of round 4, only to see the American saved by the bell. The fight was then ended in the next round when Ali launched a furious attack upon Cooper, forcing the referee to stop the contest due to Cooper badly cut left eye. Ever since it has been wondered what would have happened had Enry’s Ammer floored Ali earlier in the 4th round, rather than near the end of it? Certainly Cooper had Ali more hurt than just about anytime during his career, aside from his first fight with Joe Frazier when he was floored in the 15th and final round.

Cooper faced Ali for a second time, on June 21, 1966, at the Arsenal Football stadium, watched by a crowd of over 46,000. This time round, Ali boxed cautiously until he opened a cut over Cooper’s left eye in the 6th round, which led to the almost immediate stoppage of the fight, as Cooper’s eye gushed blood at an alarming rate. 

Henry’s fights with Ali cemented his popularity with the public and gained for him widespread respect within the boxing world.

On March 16, 1971, Cooper was controversially out-pointed by a young Joe Bugner, in a fight that still raises controversy today. Cooper had said before the fight that he would retire after it, win, lose, or draw. After a very close contest, the referee Harry Gibbs gave the fight to Bugner, and Cooper had lost his British, European, and Commonwealth heavyweight title. Cooper never did fight again, retiring with a final record of 40(27koes)-14-1.In his retirement, Cooper remained as popular as ever, often appearing as a pundit on boxing shows, as well as being involved in many other sporting and celebrity events, such as cricket and golf. 

Henry Cooper died on May 1, 2011.
Copyright © 2015 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to www.theboxingglove.com and www.theboxingtribune.com.



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