Bert Cooper was a fighter who was notorious for, as the saying goes, blowing hot and cold. When he was turned on, free of the demons that served to hold him back and see to it that he entered the prize ring in no real condition to fight, Cooper really did bring the smoke. When he was attempting to fight whilst far from at his best, often when trying to fight after having been fighting another fight, a losing one with drugs and alcohol, Cooper was either taken out quick or he quit.
Such was the case when the one-time Joe Frazier protégé met George Foreman. “Big George” was on the comeback trail and at the time of his June 1, 1989 fight with “Smokin’” Bert, critics felt the former heavyweight king was at last taking something of a risky fight. Cooper was a small heavyweight, certainly in comparison to Foreman, yet he was a warrior, he could punch and he was just 23 years of age, to Foreman’s 40 years.
But Foreman ended up facing the strung-out version of Cooper, the wholly unfocused version of the man who, when at his best could send the granite-chinned Ray Mercer to the hospital and could come within a whisker of knocking out Evander Holyfield. Foreman, fighting again on the USA network, bounced Cooper around for two rounds and then Bert pulled a quit-job, remaining firmly on his stool ahead of round-three.
“He’s a big guy and I didn’t wanna get hit with too many of those shots,” Cooper said in trying to explain his capitulation.
Foreman went into a “We want Tyson!” chant, while the fans booed Cooper (who, for the record, said Foreman “wouldn’t stand a chance” if he did fight Tyson.)
Later, it was reported how Cooper had been partying, this for more than one night. “I guess I hadn’t slept in about three days,” Cooper would say some time later when looking back on the Foreman fight he perhaps never really remembered with any real clarity. Cooper tested positive for cocaine and his purse of $17,500 was withheld by the Arizona Commission. Later, Cooper would claim he had been “set-up with two girls” before the Foreman fight.
“I was told I was supposed to get $17,500. I got $2,500,” Cooper said as per Boxing Insider. “I then got a lawyer and he charged me $5,000 and he didn’t do nothing.”
Bert went into rehab, came back and went to war with Mercer, he was then back on the hard stuff and got stopped quickly by Riddick Bowe and then, in his most famous fight, Cooper almost pulled off the monster upset in the Holyfield fight. Mercer and Holyfield faced the best of Bert Cooper, Foreman and Bowe faced the worst of Bert Cooper. Who knows what, if anything, Cooper might have been able to do with Foreman had he not been so bloated and fatigued due to the indulgences he had succumbed to ahead of the fight?
Cooper was very much a tortured soul, yet on his best night he was a great fighter. Imagine getting into the ring with George Foreman when you have barely been to bed for around three days and three nights (not to go to sleep, anyway). Cooper really was as fearless as he was possessed. We fans do miss him. The turned on, clean version of Bert Cooper, that is.