Fan-favourite Bert Cooper was known as a fighter who could give an opponent sheer hell on any given night, while “Smokin’ Bert” was also known as a fighter who could show up out of shape and incapable of giving his best. Rewind to the early 1990s, and 24 year old Cooper was getting in the ring with the likes of Orlin Norris, Ray Mercer, Riddick Bowe, Evander Holyfield and Michael Moorer.
Cooper showed up in shape for all of these fights, yet he had mixed results. Cooper defeated Norris, he gave Mercer a torrid time in a fight that sent both guys to the (same) hospital, but Bert was banged out quickly by Bowe. At the time of his 2nd round KO at the hands of an unbeaten, fast-rising Bowe, Cooper looked all-but done; he had lost for the seventh time in his career. Maybe the war with Mercer had a lot to do with it (taking place as it did less than three months before), but Cooper was no match for “Big Daddy’s” power and accuracy.
Bowe, 20-0 in his pro career, was for many people the heir-apparent to the heavyweight throne. Big, fast of hand and powerful, Bowe was trained by the great Eddie Futch, and guys like Cooper, and before him, Pinklon Thomas (a faded version) and Art Tucker were swiftly brutalised. While after the Cooper win, Bowe saw off decent fighters like Tyrell Biggs, Tony Tubbs (in a close one on points) and Bruce Seldon.
Against Cooper, who he fought on the Holyfield-Buster Douglas card in Las Vegas, the 230 pound Bowe showed his ruthless side. Cooper, as fearless as ever, came out fast, trying to connect with his hooks. Cooper actually had a good round and a slugfest was shaping up, this in large part by the fact that Bowe was willing to fight Cooper up close and personal. Cooper got home with some eye-catching uppercuts to Bowe’s chin.
But then, in round two, Bowe got his left jab going and he kept the shorter, lighter Cooper at arm’s length. It was now a different fight. Bowe then opened up with power, landing a couple of hefty uppercuts of his own. Cooper was still game but he was being outgunned. Then, with 20 seconds left in the round, Bowe landed a flush right hand to Cooper’s chin, the punch freezing Cooper and sending him tumbling in a delayed action fall. Bert clambered up at five but Bowe jumped right on his hurt foe, launching bombs with both hands, including a shot that strayed low. Cooper crumpled to the mat again and this time he failed to beat the count.
Bowe really was a clinical finisher, and on this night, Cooper was extinguished in short order. Yet, as we all know, Cooper was far from done; coming back as he did in ’91 and’92 to come within a whisker of upsetting Holyfield and of halting Moorer.
To this day, Bert Cooper ranks as many a fight fans’ favourite heavyweight warrior. He was literally a man who would fight anyone.