Bert Cooper, a robust ring brawler who was the primary skilled boxer to knock down Evander Holyfield — though he went on to lose their heavyweight championship bout — died on Friday at his residence in Philadelphia. He was 53.
The trigger was pancreatic most cancers, mentioned Vinny LaManna, one in every of Cooper’s former managers.
Cooper was not presupposed to face Holyfield. Holyfield’s supposed opponent, Mike Tyson, dropped out when he injured his rib cage. Francesco Damiani, Tyson’s alternative, then withdrew after hurting an ankle. Cooper, who had just lately received 4 consecutive fights, signed up with a couple of week’s discover.
What then occurred, on Nov. 23, 1991, on the Omni Coliseum in Atlanta, had the makings of one of many greatest upsets in boxing historical past. Within the third spherical, Cooper shocked Holyfield with a vicious overhand proper. Holyfield went limp, and after one other proper and a shove, he fell into the ropes. The referee, Mills Lane, declared a knockdown as a result of the ropes have been all that stored the dazed Holyfield on his toes.
However Holyfield recovered, whereas nonetheless absorbing punishment from a tiring Cooper. Within the seventh spherical, after pummeling Cooper with a barrage of punches, Holyfield retained his title by a technical knockout.
“He didn’t quit,” Holyfield mentioned of Cooper afterward. “He was aggressive sufficient to place me in a combat I didn’t need to be in.”
Cooper was, at greatest, a journeyman fighter with a potent proper hand. He had 38 profession victories — 31 of them by knockout — however 25 losses. He was identified extra for his losses (to George Foreman, Ray Mercer, Riddick Bowe and Michael Moorer, whom he knocked down twice, in addition to to Holyfield) than for his victories (over Henry Tillman in 1986, to win the North American Boxing Federation’s cruiserweight title, and Orlin Norris in 1990, to win the federation’s heavyweight championship).
Bertram Cooper was born on Jan. 10, 1966, and grew up in Sharon Hill, Pa., close to Philadelphia. By age 12, he had determined that he wished to field, so he took a bus to the North Philadelphia fitness center run by Joe Frazier, the previous heavyweight champion.
Frazier, who noticed attainable greatness in Cooper, turned his supervisor and gave him a nickname, Rip-off Booger. Cooper, in flip, nicknamed himself Smokin’ Bert — in homage to Frazier, who was referred to as Smokin’ Joe.
They fell out over remarks that Cooper made in 1987 when he was knocked out in his first heavyweight combat after transferring up from the cruiserweight class. He mentioned that Frazier had insisted he make that transfer.
“I placed on a whole lot of phony weight simply consuming sloppy stuff, junk meals,” Cooper mentioned in 1991. “Joe simply needs somebody with a world title belt similar to he did.”
However Cooper had extra points than feeling sad as a heavyweight, the category during which he would in the end combat full time: He had a drug downside. Cocaine was present in his system in a drug take a look at he took in 1989 hours earlier than his loss in Phoenix to Foreman, a combat during which he wouldn’t go away the stool to begin the third spherical. When the take a look at outcomes have been discovered after the bout, the Arizona athletic fee fined him $1,500 from his purse and required him to bear drug exams periodically for six months.
“I spent most of my cash on me and my pipe,” Cooper mentioned in an interview with The Regina Chief-Submit of Saskatchewan earlier than a combat in 1991 in opposition to Conroy Nelson there. “I even offered my garments to purchase medicine. I had a few very nice outfits, and I offered them for drug cash.”
After he was arrested and charged with cocaine possession in 1992, his mom, Henrietta Cooper, mentioned, “Possibly when he dries out, he’ll come again residence to those that love him.”
Details about Cooper’s survivors was not instantly accessible.
He continued to combat recurrently till 2002 and returned in 2010; he fought 5 bouts over the subsequent two years, shedding the final three. He was named to the New Jersey Boxing Corridor of Fame in 2014 and to the Pennsylvania Boxing Corridor of Fame three years later.
Cooper acknowledged that he might have been a greater boxer if medicine and different issues had not derailed him. When requested by the web site Boxing Insider in 2015 how he want to be remembered, he had a poignant response.
“Bert Cooper wasn’t at his greatest,” he mentioned. “Nearly all of my profession, I wasn’t at my greatest.”