May 2 (Bloomberg) -- Henry Cooper, the former U.K. heavyweight boxer who once knocked down Muhammad Ali with his trademark left hook, has died. He was 76.
Cooper died yesterday at his son’s house in Oxted, England, two days before his 77th birthday, the British Boxing Board of Control said.
Cooper, known in his homeland as “Our ‘Enry,’’ won 40 of his 55 fights, including 27 knockouts, and was British champion for about 11 years. He also held the European and Commonwealth heavyweight titles.
‘‘He transcended boxing, he was a true gentleman of sport and had a huge place in the public’s affection,’’ boxing promoter Frank Warren said in an interview with Sky Sports News. ‘‘He never won the world title but he had true British grit, he tried.’’
The most famous fight of Cooper’s 17 years in professional boxing was a meeting on June 18, 1963, at London’s Wembley Stadium with Ali, then known as Cassius Clay. Cooper knocked down the future champion at the end of the fourth round with the punch known as ‘‘’Enry’s ‘Ammer.” The bell rang seconds later, preventing him from recording a knockout.
Ali was floored only four times in his career, though he was never knocked out. The other three fighters to send Ali to the canvas were Sonny Banks, Joe Frazier and Chuck Wepner.
“I knew when I hit him he was in trouble, but unfortunately it was too late in the round,” Cooper told the British Broadcasting Corp. years later. Ali said Cooper hit him so hard his “ancestors in Africa felt it.”
Ali’s trainer Angelo Dundee brought the referee’s attention to a tear on his fighter’s glove, causing a delay to the start of the next round. Cooper said years later that Dundee admitted to deliberately sabotaging the glove.
Ali won in the fifth round by a technical knockout after causing further damage to a gash on Cooper’s eye. A tendency to cut was a perceived weakness during Cooper’s career.
Three years later, the Briton again faced Ali -- who had become world heavyweight champion -- at Arsenal Stadium in Highbury, north London. Ali triumphed once more after Cooper sustained a cut eye.
Henry Cooper was born on May 3, 1934, in South East London. He grew up with his twin brother George in council housing before they were moved to Lancing, Sussex, during World War II. He attended Athelney Road School in Lewisham, London, where he took an interest in history. Cooper, whose father was serving in the military during the war, took odd jobs delivering newspapers and recycling golf balls at a local club.
Cooper, whose twin George also boxed, turned professional in 1954, two years after representing the U.K. in the light-heavyweight class at the Olympics in Helsinki. He never weighed more than 196 pounds during his career, less than most fighters in the heavyweight division. Cooper retired after a loss to Joe Bugner in 1971.
“For such a small man he put up some great performances in a world-class context,” Robert Smith, general secretary of the British Boxing Board of Control, told Sky News. “He served boxing wonderfully.”
His exploits in the ring, and modest demeanor, helped Cooper become one of the most popular sportsmen in Britain. He was the first two-time winner of the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year, a prestigious annual award in the U.K., and in 2000 became the first boxer to receive a knighthood.
Cooper in 2006 received a pacemaker to regulate his heartbeat, though he continued working as an after-dinner speaker. He also continued to play golf into his 70s and was active in charity work.
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