November 23, 1991 was suppossed to mark one of the biggest moments in boxing history.
Then-lineal heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield (26-0) was set to defend his titles against former champion and fight legend Mike Tyson.
However, less than 2 weeks from the event Team Tyson would pull-out, insisting Mike had sustained a rib injury during training. And while some questioned the injury's legitimacy, no one criticized Tyson for cancelling because, at the time, there was the possibility of a rape conviction looming for Mike which likely made it impossible for him to focus 100 percent.
Tyson would go to prison months later but would eventually fight Holyfield 5 years into the futre and, again, 7 months after that.
...But, despite Tyson's absense, November 23, 1991 would still serve as an iconic day in heavyweight championship history.
Enter Bert Cooper.
In the right place at the right time, a veteran journeyman from Philadelphia gets a call to face the popular heavyweight champion of the world.
Sound familiar Rocky fans?
Philadelphia-bred tough guy Bert Cooper (26-7), who was comparable to Tyson in size, accepted Team Holyfield's challenge on short notice and, like the mythical Rocky Balboa, wasn't given a prayer to win. In fact, Holyfield vs Cooper was not sanctioned by the WBC as Bert as unrated by the organization. He was, however, ranked No. 12 by the IBF.
And although Bert wasn't Mike Tyson, this would be Cooper's "Rocky" moment and many were still somewhat intrigued about the match-up.... And in the end, no one would be disappointed.
Shockingly, the great Holyfield would be badly hurt and subsequently floored for the first time in his career. Holyfield faced serious adversity and was forced to comeback from the brink of defeat.
In addition to a knockdown, both fighters were staggered on more than one occasion as bombs flew round after round. And let's not forget, we witnessed some of the sweetest uppercuts from a heavyweight we'd ever seen as well as awesome durability on both ends.
Evander Holyfield TKO 7 Bert Cooper
November 23, 1991
The Omni, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
World Boxing Association Heavyweight Title/ International Boxing Federation Heavyweight Title (Holyfield defending)
HBO World Championship Boxing
Referee: Mills Lane
Holyfield vs Cooper Facts & Stats
- Holyfield vs Cooper is regarded as a classic
- Originally slated as Holyfield vs Tyson, Iron Mike withdrew due to a rib injury about 10 days prior. Many speculated Team Tyson, including the fighter, was concerned about his rape trial. Mike would be found guilty 8 weeks later.
- Initially scheduled for a $30 Million payday for fighting Tyson, Holyfield settled for $6 Million against Bert Cooper
- A short-notice replacement (7-10 days), Cooper earned $750,000 for the fight
- Originally scheduled to take place in Las Vegas, the bout took place in Atlanta, GA, Holyfield's hometown, after Tyson withdrew.
- Cooper was a 32-1 underdog
- Holyfield scored a knockdown from a body shot in Round 1 and it appeared the route was on
- Evander suffered the first knockdown of his career in Round 3 and was badly hurt
- Cooper had a cut above his right eye and was bleeding from the mouth in Round 5.
- Evander gave a literal "clinic" on uppercuts in this bout
- Despite losing, Bert Copper was a hot commodity after this bout due to his surprising performance on short notice.
- In his next bout, Cooper would face Michael Moorer for the then-fringe WBO Heavyweight Title in a PPV bout. After being floored early on, Moorer would knockout Bert in another classic slugfest
Holyfield vs Cooper highlights