Today, March 16, 2021, marks the 50th anniversary of the famous and controversial fight between Henry Cooper and Joe Bugner, which divided fight fans for many ensuing years.
That fabled fight took place at the Empire Pool, Wembley. At stake were national hero Henry's British, Commonwealth and European heavyweight titles.
Adored by the British fight fans after famously decking the 'Louisville Lip', then Cassius Clay, Henry was a national treasure and the pride of British boxing, and went on to do tremendous work for the sport and for charity in his retirement. He was the first and so far only Knight of Boxing. As Her Majesty told him years later, after dubbing him on the shoulder with the flat of a razor sharp sword: “Arise Sir Henry!”
It was a battle of the young Adonis upstart, aged just 21, against 'Our Enery', who was 37. On that night “Enry's Hammer,” wasn't the leveler. Referee Harry Gibbs was the sole arbiter and he judged that young Joe had won it by a mere quarter of a point! An angry and disillusioned Henry retired on the spot never to return, and a nationwide debate followed.
The WBC created a Great Britain Panel to discuss this legendary fight. The great John H Stracey, who won the British, European and WBC World Title, who is one of the panelists, was the fight before Joe and Henry that night on that bill, half a century ago.
Joe is just six months older than John H and their careers coincided, so much so that they fought on the same bill 17 times. It reassured them both as a good luck talisman, because there were victories every time but one, when Joe lost a fight.
Also on the panel Boxing Great and WBC representative Scott “Brighton Rock” Welsh, who won the British and Commonwealth titles and challenged for a world title in America. Scott actually fought Joe Bugner in Germany in 1996, and became friends with him thereafter.
The night before they fought, Scott saw Joe, his Wife and Daughter dining in the restaurant and Joe raised his glass of red wine to toast Scott! Their fight was three days after Joe's 46th birthday, and coincidently it was also on March 16th.
Scott had to master Joe's world class jab, before catching up with him, dropping him and landing the TKO against the ropes. As the saying goes, a great jab will take you around the world...
Another panelist is WBC Cares and WBC Merchandise Representative David Walker, and the Moderator Punit Jansari, who is also with WBC Cares.
John H who became friends with Joe and Henry, says it was wonderful to see their mutual respect, sportsmanship and esteem. They happily and courteously shook hands at the weigh in at Leicester Square in a gentlemanly, classy fashion and wished each other luck. Joe who`s six feet four inches tall weighed two hundred and four pounds and Henry who was two inches shorter registered a svelte if not lean one hundred and eighty nine pounds!
John rushed to the changing room on the night, after stopping Dante Pelaez in the seventh round, to get showered and changed pretty pronto, so he could transform from fighter to fan, only missing the first round.
John says that he thought that Henry won the fight by three rounds and the audience on the night was fantastic. He also comments that he doesn't believe that Referees should have been given the extra responsibility of being a Judge. Leave the Ref to referee and the Judges to judge.
Scott who advised all of us to watch this classic once again, but this time switch down the commentary and pay attention to the visual action, says that in his opinion Joe was narrowly the victor. He says that Joe momentarily had Henry in trouble a couple of times and it was more to do with the considerable age difference between the two men. Scott describes Joe as an Adonis of a man back then. Incredible what he achieved aged 21, and 25 years later, he was still boxing! Joe finally retired at the age of 50!
David asked whether Joe always gave 110% in all of his fights, to which John H replied that such was Joe's exceptional ability, strength and physique, he could often win with those factors. He also had a granite chin. Even though he lost twice to Muhammad Ali and once to Joe Frazier, he went the distance.
Scott says that years after they fought, Joe came to his home and they enjoyed dinner together. Scott said of Joe: “Joe is an absolute gentleman. You fight someone and you have a bond.”