Henry Cooper was a “true English gent” who inspired a generation, a British newspaper said on Monday as the news media paid tribute to the former boxer.
|Muhammad Ali in action against Henry Cooper
of Great Britain during their World Heavyweight Title fight on
23 May 1966 © Gallo Images
Cooper once floored Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, with a trademark left hook known as “‘Enry’s ‘ammer” during a 1963 bout that Ali went on to win.
He represented an age when chivalrous defeat meant as much to the nation as victory, newspapers said.
“King of the Ring”, said The Sun in its editorial headline.
“He was England’s most popular boxer, but Our ‘Enry’s death at 76 is more than just a loss to the sport. We’ve lost a true English gent. It is a blow we will all feel.”
The Mirror said Cooper, who was knighted in 2000, was a “gent who inspired a generation”.
Cooper had won the British, European and Commonwealth titles but never became a world champion.
He was the first sportsman to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award twice (in 1967 and 1970) and retired from the ring in 1971 after a defeat to Joe Bugner.
“In losing but doing his damnedest, Cooper was never one of the gods of sport. He was more like one of us,” Simon Barnes wrote in The Times.
“Cooper always so modest, so charming … came from an age when Britain loved a nearly-man and often valued the gallant trier far above the cocksure winner,” he added.
The Telegraph ran with the headline: “Farewell to a true Brit working-class hero.”
“Those of a younger generation will wonder why there should be such a fuss about the death of a man who never won the world heavyweight title, who was portrayed in many ways as the archetypal great British sporting loser,” it continued.
“It should be pointed out that Cooper stood for all the things that we love in our sporting heroes.”
His twin brother, George, died last year.
“He was one of the sporting icons; not just for the boxing public but sport in general,” BBBC general secretary Robert Smith told Sky Sports News.
“Ali is possibly the greatest athlete there has ever been and Henry put up a great performance and just wasn’t quite good enough on both occasions. But he’s not the only one who wasn’t good enough to beat Ali.
“For such a small man, he put up some great performances in a world-class context. Everyone called him ‘Our Enry’ and he was much loved. He served boxing wonderfully.”
After an amateur career that included an appearance in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Henry and George both turned professional in 1954.
Henry lost to Sweden’s former world champion Ingemar Johansson in a European title fight and many of his early defeats were brought about by his susceptibility to cuts.
His two fights against Ali raised his profile, along with a defeat against former world champion Floyd Patterson in 1966, but Cooper’s position in the heart of British sports fans was out of all proportion to his success in the ring.
Source: Super Sport