n May of 1992, Evander Holyfield was the heavyweight champion of the world and there was no doubt about it. Yet when it came to the best heavyweight fight of the year, the five round slugfest Michael Moorer and Bert Cooper engaged in as they battled it out for the lesser WBO heavyweight strap took the distinction. And the sheer excitement the Kronk slugger and the Philly warrior gave us three decades ago (May 15) made the title, won by Moorer, look legit.
Fighting at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, Moorer and Cooper met for the vacant WBO belt – Ray Mercer having dropped the belt – and Moorer, a southpaw who had ruled as WBO light-heavyweight champ, was having his seventh fight up at heavyweight. Cooper, a one-time protege of the great Joe Frazier, had recently given world heavyweight king Holyfield a real scare, dropping him and having the champ rocking and reeling in November of 1991.
“Smokin’” at the opening bell, Cooper gave “Double M” hell; scoring a knockdown just under one-minute into the opening round. It was going to be that kind of fight. Moorer, stunned but also determined, soon returned the favour, sending Cooper down with a flush bomb that exploded on Bert’s exposed chin as the overexcited co-challenger rushed in for the finish he was sure would be his. Round two saw some fierce trading of leather, if not of knockdowns. Moorer fought with his back to the ropes, eyeing the attacks of his experienced foe. It was heavy stuff and the crowd was loving it. Cooper scored another knockdown in the third, Moorer perhaps more hurt than he had been in the opening session. The fourth round saw the intensity continue, with Cooper now looking busted up around the face. But Cooper, who had once been looked at as a fighter who could be relied on to quit when the heat got too much, was as game as ever.
But Moorer, less fatigued than Cooper, went on to sensationally closed the show in the fifth round. A tidy piece of violent combination punching that was punctuated by a brutal uppercut to the jaw sent Cooper down, onto and almost through the ropes. Cooper was all done, yet he showed real heart and instinct in trying to get up and fight on. Cooper was actually up at the count of nine but he was in bad shape and referee had no choice but to stop the action.
Moorer was now a two-weight champ. Cooper would soon slide into journeyman mode. No two big men had ever turned in a more spirited and determined effort in attempting to get their hands on the WBO heavyweight title. Perhaps no two big men ever have since. It was a hell for leather fight that saw both men looking to land bombs from the get-go. Tearing into one another with hooks, uppercuts and more hooks, Moorer and Cooper gave us something truly special 30 years ago.
Sadly, Cooper passed away three years ago. Moorer, who is doing well today, summed Cooper up best in the post-fight interview – “Bert was one tough f*****g guy!” That he was.