Cassius Clay vs Henry Cooper I | Remembering Their Epic Battle Nearly 50 Years Ago
On July 27, 2012, Muhammad Ali was a titular bearer of the Olympic Flag during the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. However, he may be remembered more for his first excursion to the United Kingdom's fight-friendly city nearly 50 years prior.
London's Old Wembley Stadium has been host to many big fights, including the classic match-up between Henry Cooper and Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) on June 18, 1963 before an energized and enthusiastic 35,000 spectators.
"Henry Cooper is nothing to me! If this bum goes over five rounds, I won't return to the United States for thirty days, and that's final! I'm not even worried about this big bum. Cooper will only be a warm-up until I get to that big ugly bear, Sonny Liston," stated the brash Cassius Clay (then 18-0).
Entering the bout as a 4-1 favorite, the 21 year old Clay also stated at the weigh-in, "You got a Queen, you need a King. I am King!"
However, it was Henry Cooper (then 27-8-1) who asserted himself first by pressuring and bullying his young foe in Round 1 much to the delight of British fans.
Giving-up speed, skill and 22 lbs (9.8kg) to the talented 1960 Olympic Gold Medalist, the resilient and aggressive Cooper unleashed his signature left hook, "Enry's 'Ammer," several times as Clay backpedalled in retreat. Already bleeding from the nose, Cassius had seemingly lost the first stanza sending the mammoth crowd into a frenzy.
Round two started with the 185 lb Cooper, again, taking the fight to Cassius Clay who weighed 207 lbs. But the pace was more measured and settled this time. Clay began to find the right distance from which to execute his offensive craft and kept the Brit at-range with his quick, snapping left jab. Clay, who caused a small cut over Cooper's right eye, had evened matters to that point.
With his rhythm now increasing, the Dancing Master was now a fluid fighting machine as he moved gracefully around the ring. A brave Cooper unleashed his signature left hook trying to catch Clay but, unlike Round 1, the American was well-positioned in defense. As Copper pursued, Clay whacked the aggressive Brit with a stiff right hand that opened a nasty gash on Cooper's left eyebrow.
The American, who was seemingly in control, now toyed with the Brit for the remainder of the round, even showboating in an attempt to humiliate Cooper.
And then came the fourth...
With seconds remaining in the round, London underdog Henry Cooper uncorked his famous "Enry's 'Ammer" which landed flush on Clay's jaw.
The punch is still considered one of the greatest left hooks in the history of the sport and it sent Clay reeling on to the ropes and then down to the canvas two seconds before the bell sounded.
The young star arose at the count of four but was visibly woozy as he walked back to his corner.
Bedlam broke lose at Old Wembley as the 35,000 fans in attendance smelled an upset brewing and began shouting, "Hen-ry, Hen-ry!"
What happened next became arguably one of the most controversial moments in the history of boxing. While the fighters were resting after Round 4, one of Cassius Clay's gloves had become split. Clay's trainer, Angelo Dundee, ushered the referee over to the corner and told him Clay had a torn right glove.
Although conspiracy theorists assert Angelo Dundee purposely tore a slit into Clay's glove to give his hurt fighter extra time to recuperate from Cooper's monstrous left hook, footage of the bout, according to BoxRec.com, shows the glove had been split in the fourth round.
However, Dundee purportedly admitted later that he widened the split on purpose to guarantee a delay.
The split glove would be replaced after Round 4, extending the interval between rounds to 1:40 - forty seconds longer than the typical minute, according to BoxRec.
At the beginning of Round 5, a rejuvenated Clay was all business now, unleashing furious combinations with pinpoint accuracy while not allowing Cooper to fire back with meaningful artillery. A smashing Clay right hand re-opened the gash cut above Cooper's left eye which started to flow blood like a water faucet.
Although Cooper was not seriously hurt, he resembled something out of a horror movie and the referee had no alternative but to halt the action in the fifth round.
Despite the fight's drama and theatrics, Clay's prediction of a fifth-round win had come true.
In his next bout, Cassius Clay, a 7 -1 underdog, would "shock the world" by defeating the seemingly invincible World's Heavyweight Champion, Sonny Liston, on February 25, 1964. The bout would usher in a new era in professional prize-fighting and international sports in general.
The two warriors, Cassius Clay and Henry Cooper, would meet again in the ring three years later in front of 46,000 fans at Arsenal Football Stadium in London. The bout was England's first heavyweight title fight in 58 years.
Cassius Clay, now known as Muhammad Ali, was more wary of Cooper's power and wisely wrapped-up the Brit in clinches at close quarters. Cooper suffered another bad cut to his left eye and the fight was stopped in the 6th round.
Their rematch didn't live up to their epic battle in 1963 but few bouts can.
The first bout between Muhammad Ali and Henry Cooper has tremendous historic ramifications and will forever be remembered for the drama and controversy that ensued as well as for the valor, skill and will showcased by both men... true legends of the game.