Cooper will be missed

British boxing legend Henry Cooper died of a heart attack over the weekend a couple of days short of his 77th birthday and many who remember him in his prime were saddened, including Cayman residents.

Cooper was never heavyweight champion of the world and his career record was modest, winning 40 in 55 fights, but his most notable performance was in 1963 in a defeat when he knocked down Muhammad Ali – then called Cassius Clay – at the end of a round.

The bell and trainer Angelo Dundee making a fuss about a split glove which gave Ali a few extra seconds to recover prevented Cooper from changing the course of history.

Ali won by cut eye stoppage and the brash young American kept his unbeaten record and went on to a glorious career to become The Greatest. That punch alone made Cooper a folk hero which is why nearly 50 years later his passing is widely mourned in boxing circles worldwide.

Norman Wilson is the assistant trainer of Cayman’s successful boxing programme. An American who lived on and off in London for five years during the Nineties, Wilson remembers Cooper’s fabled left hook which knocked Ali down well. “Cooper was a terrific left hooker,” he said. “That punch was dynamite. I never had a chance to see him personally but that trademark punch made him a good fighter. May he rest in peace.”

Ivan Burges is a retired banker who has lived in Cayman since 1979. As a boy in England he remembers Cooper’s great fights at British and European level vividly. “I saw him a lot on TV and remember the slow count against Ali. He became a part of British institution,” Burges said. “He fought hard, played hard and worked hard. It was sad to hear of his passing.”

Ali, now 69, said: “I am at a loss for words over the death of my friend. I was not aware he was ill. I visited him two summers ago during a brief visit to Windsor as part of the Equestrian Games. He was in good humour and looked quite fit.

“Henry always had a smile for me, a warm and embracing smile. It was always a pleasure being in Henry’s company. I will miss my old friend. He was a great fighter and a gentleman.”

The bell and trainer Angelo Dundee making a fuss about a split glove which gave Ali a few extra seconds to recover prevented Cooper from changing the course of history.

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