Muhammad Ali compiled a record of 56-5 in a career that spanned more than two decades, from 1960 to 1981. 37 of his 56 wins were by knockout; only 1 of his 5 losses was by knockout. He was knocked down four times in his 61 fights. (He was not knocked down in his only knockout loss, which came late in his career in an ill-advised comeback against Larry Holmes, a fight that was stopped as a technical knockout between the 10th and 11th rounds.) Ali’s four knockdowns came in four different fights, three of which he went on to win, and one of which he lost.
His first knockdown had come as a young contender against Sonny Banks in 1962; the second would come just a year later.
By the time Ali–still Cassius Clay in 1963, as he hadn’t changed his name yet–fought Henry Cooper in his first overseas fight in London, he had a record of 18-0 and was expected to get a shot at the heavyweight title soon. Its too bad you can’t bet on Muhammad Ali now, but if I could I would definitely use a pointsbet deposit promo code.
Cooper was an interesting opponent. He had a record of 27-8-1–good for the average fighter, not so good for a contender–and he held the titles of British and Commonwealth Heavyweight Champion. His greatest strength was one of the best left hooks in the division; he had one punch knockout power. His greatest weakness is that he was a terrible “bleeder.” Cooper cut and bled very easily, and the bulk of his losses had come when his vision had been impaired by blood. Ali–as boisterous in his promotion of a fight as ever–declared repeatedly that he would knock Cooper out in the 5th round.
Cooper’s biggest strength and biggest weakness were both very much in evidence in the fight, which can be seen here.
For most of the first four rounds, Ali dominated. Cooper landed a few punches here and there, but nothing that seemed to damage Ali. Ali fought at a measured pace, doing enough to win rounds, but not appearing to go all out. Cooper looked as though he were fading a bit, and already his face was nicked and there was a little blood. An Ali 5th round knockout seemed possible, but far from assured.
Then with just one or two seconds remaining in the 4th round, a Cooper left hook exploded on Ali’s jaw, and the undefeated contender dropped heavily to the canvas. This was what Cooper’s fans had been waiting for, his one legitimate chance to win. He had hit Ali flush with the famed “‘Enry’s ‘Ammer.”
Unlike in the Banks fight, this was no flash knockdown. Ali bounced up within the first three seconds or so after being floored, but it was a reflex. (Even though the bell sounded to end the round almost as the punch landed, the rules still required Ali to get up before a count of ten in order to avoid being knocked out.) Clearly he was badly dazed, as evidenced by the fact that seconds after being hustled back to his corner and onto his stool by his anxious cornermen, he popped up off the stool as if he thought he still had to get up from a knockdown, or perhaps thought he’d heard a bell and the next round was starting.
What happened next has become one of those bizarre and controversial stories from boxing lore. Trainer Angelo Dundee and his assistants feverishly worked over Ali in the corner, trying to help him revive in the mere sixty seconds between rounds. Dundee appeared to wave some smelling salts underneath the nose of the wide-eyed Ali, which was illegal.
Then Dundee motioned for referee Tommy Little, and showed him that one of Ali’s gloves had split. He reached in and pulled out some stuffing to demonstrate.
The normal procedure in a case like that is to replace the glove, even if it requires extra time between rounds. It’s a matter of safety; a split glove can cut an opponent more easily, or a loose flap can even damage an eye. So the referee immediately ordered that a fresh pair of gloves be brought from the dressing room.
Aside from the smelling salts issue, which most regard as a minor matter that probably helped Ali little if at all, there are two main controversies about this break between the 4th and 5th rounds. One, did Dundee surreptitiously cut Ali’s glove to buy his fighter more time to recover? Two, how much extra time did Ali get during the scramble to find a replacement glove?
The near consensus among boxing experts is that there was at least a very small split in Ali’s glove before that break between rounds. If Dundee had noticed it, chances are he had chosen not to call the referee’s attention to it because it was minor and would either have no effect or slightly help his fighter if it did indeed increase the likelihood of Cooper being cut. Plus a delay would be more likely to help Cooper than Ali, since Cooper was the older fighter, was being beaten, and was tiring.
But then of course when it was strategically advantageous after the knockdown, he did call the referee’s attention to Ali’s split glove. And by reaching into it to pull out stuffing, he made the split that much worse.
As to the second matter, Cooper and many, many boxing fans swear up and down to this day that the break between rounds was extended by “several minutes” in order to change Ali’s gloves, and that this was a huge advantage for Ali, and may well have changed the outcome of the fight.
But in fact, those who have gone back and carefully examined film of the fight with a stopwatch report that this is almost entirely false. What actually happened is that when a new pair of gloves could not be produced in a timely fashion, the referee had to make a judgment call at to whether the lesser of the evils was to let Ali fight on with the damaged glove, or to allow a much longer break. Because of the unique circumstances that Cooper had seriously hurt Ali at the close of the preceding round, the referee decided that a delay would be more unfair in taking away what was probably Cooper’s only realistic opportunity to win the fight than would the small hazard of the split glove. So Ali’s glove was not in fact replaced, and the referee ordered the fight to resume.
So how long was this break between rounds that so many people insist allowed Ali several extra minutes to recover? According to the film, it was between five and six seconds longer than the usual sixty seconds. That’s all. If Dundee had hoped to buy some extra time with a “trick,” he had pretty much failed.
As soon as the 5th round started, Ali swarmed all over Cooper, peppering him with shots that broke open his cuts and badly bloodied him. Whether because he was upset by the knockdown and wanted revenge, or more likely because he had been holding back the whole fight in order to fulfill his prediction of a 5th round knockout, Ali made the fight a mismatch. Soon the referee stepped in and stopped the fight on a technical knockout due to Cooper’s cuts, and Ali had another successful prediction.
In his very next fight, Ali won the heavyweight title in a major upset over Sonny Liston. One of his subsequent defenses was a rematch against Cooper, which he won handily by 6th round technical knockout, with the fight again being stopped on cuts.
After this 1966 rematch loss to Ali, Cooper fought on until his retirement in 1971 with about the same level of success he’d had earlier in his career–a decent contender, and extremely popular with the British public, but never close to the very top of the heavyweight division.
As a footnote to the Ali-Cooper fight and its glove controversy, the rules of boxing were altered to require each fighter’s cornermen to keep a spare pair of gloves at ringside, to reduce any delay if they should happen to have to be changed during the fight.