Joe Bugner: I beat Henry Cooper but lost everything - I was hated
Defeating Henry Cooper turned me into a hate figure with British public, says former boxer Joe Bugner
By John Gibson - chroniclelive.co.uk
Joe Bugner after his win over Henry Cooper in 1971
Joe Bugner shrugged his massive shoulders with an air of total resignation.
“I wish I’d never ruddy fought Henry Cooper,” he told me, his eyes clouding over. “I won but I lost everything. I was hated for it, never allowed to forget it, and was hounded out of a country I loved.
“I was just a 21-year-old kid who had come to fight, but Cooper was a demigod and I wasn’t supposed to defeat a demigod.”
It was 1971 and Cooper’s British, Commonwealth and European titles were on the line.
After 15 rounds referee Harry Gibbs, the lone scoring official, gave the verdict to Bugner by the slimmest of margains – a quarter of a point. Cooper never fought again.
“Cooper and I were different types of people,” said Bugner. “We didn’t gel. He lost and got knighted, I won and had to eventually leave the country.”
Joe returned to the UK after his first fight with Muhammad Ali to face Joe Frazier at Earl’s Court.
“We had 18,000 people at Earls Court in 1973 and we went flat out for 12 rounds,” said Bugner. “It was brutal and we both hurt. In the end Joe scored a very close decision. He was the best fighter I ever faced. Ali was much more gifted and a much better boxer technically, but Frazier was a real fighter – strong, tough, fit. Non-stop aggression.
“I proved that I had the chin to stay with one of the toughest men who ever lived.”
If Smokin’ Joe was tough as teak, did he have the heaviest punch and was that Bugner’s hardest fight? It may surprise some that the answer is no to both questions.
“The biggest hitter for a one-off shot was Earnie Shavers. He dropped me in Dallas in 1982, then cut my eye with a headbutt. I needed 13 stitches.
“Easily the biggest beating of my career came from Ron Lyle in Vegas 1977. He nearly killed me. I am not kidding, he nearly killed me.
“When I met him he said, ‘You got no chance of beating me because I am going to kill you’.
“The fight went the full 12 rounds but afterwards I called my brother Bill and told him I couldn’t breathe. I had blood coming out of me.
“They rushed me to hospital and discovered I was bleeding internally. It took me six months to recover from that fight.”
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