Muhammad Ali vs. Henry Cooper (1st meeting)

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1963-06-18 : Muhammad Ali 207 lbs beat Henry Cooper 185½ lbs by TKO at 2:15 in round 5 of 10

  • Location: Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, United Kingdom
  • Referee: Tommy Little


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Clay and Cooper fought before a crowd of 35,000 at Wembley Stadium. Clay, a 4 to 1 favorite, entered the ring wearing a purple-and-gold crown. At the weigh-in, Clay said, "You got a Queen, you need a King. I am King!"

The first round saw Cooper unusually aggressive, as he laid into Clay, rushing him to the ropes and immediately trying to land his left hook. Clay, who was bleeding from the nose, was roughed up by Cooper, and he complained to referee Tommy Little about the Englishman's rough tactics. Cooper clearly won the first round, and the crowd was going crazy.

Round two saw Cooper again trying to rough up the American. In this round, however, Clay was more composed as he glided out of the way and began to pump the left jab with enough accuracy to have Cooper nicked by his right eye. It was Clay's round.

The third round saw Clay moving gracefully as Cooper pursued. As Cooper moved in closer, Clay threw a chopping right hand that opened a gash on Cooper's left eyebrow. It seemed only a matter of time before eye trouble would once again thwart "Our 'Enry". Clay played with Cooper for the rest of the round, standing right in front of him, opening his arms and generally trying to humiliate Cooper.

Before round four, one of Clay's managers, William Faversham, shouted to his man to stop messing about and to get down to work. This Clay did, though he still would not go all out. He had predicted a fifth-round win and appeared to carry Cooper until he decided enough was enough.

With seconds remaining at the end of the fourth round, Cooper unleashed a savage left hook, "Enry's 'Ammer". The punch landed bang on Clay's jaw and he fell, backwards on to the ropes and then down. He got up at the count of four, then the bell sounded. There was pandemonium in Wembley Stadium.

What happened next became ring folklore. Clay was in a bad way and was helped to his stool by trainer Angelo Dundee, who slapped his legs and gave him smelling salts in the corner. Clay looked in shock: wide eyes staring in bewilderment.

Dundee called the referee over to the corner and told him Clay had a torn right glove. Some have accused Dundee of tearing the glove to get Clay more time to clear his head, but the films of the fight prove that the glove had been split in the fourth round. However, Dundee later admitted that he stuck his finger in split glove, causing a slightly bigger split.

It has been reported that officials went back to the dressing room to get a pair of replacement gloves, but they were unable to find a pair. However, Teddy Waltham, then General Secretary of the British Boxing Board of Control, said that is not true.

"Referee Little was called to Clay's corner, and then shouted to us officials at ringside for a new pair, which I already had quite near," Waltham said. "There was no question of anyone having to go to the dressing room to get them, as has been suggested."

Harry Vines, who later became Chief Inspector for the BBBofC, also said that there were a suitable pair of replacement gloves at ringside. "I am not sure whether both gloves were replaced or just the split one, but the latter certainly was," he said. "Certainly no one had to go all the way back to the dressing room to get a pair."

It has also been reported that five minutes passed before the fifth round started, but ringside timekeeper Stan Courtney said that is false. "At no time was I instructed to stop my watch to allow for the refitting of the gloves," he said. "Therefore, I waited until I got the signal from referee Little to ring the bell. When I did so, my watch showed that the interval between rounds had in fact been 1:40."

At the beginning of round five, Clay came out and stood flatfooted. His punching was fast, furious and deadly accurate. The punches bounced off Cooper's head before he could even set himself to punch back. Cooper's left eye began to pour blood like a burst pipe. Although not dazed or seriously hurt, Cooper could not possibly go on. He looked like a man who had put his head in a shredder.

Referee Tommy Little had no option but to stop the fight. Clay's prediction of a fifth-round win had come to fruition, though not without a mighty scare.


Quotes

  • "It ain't no jive, Henry Cooper will go in five!" - Clay's prediction
  • "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!" - Clay before the match
  • "I was looking at Liz Taylor at ringside." - Clay's excuse for being knocked down


Sources