by James Slater: Big Joe Bugner is currently in the U.K for a series of after dinner speaking engagements. One of the fights Joe, who now lives in Australia, is asked most about – aside from his bouts with world champions Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali – is his all-British showdown with the beloved Henry Cooper. For those fans that aren’t aware, a very young Bugner met “Our ‘Enry” at Wembley, London on March 16th, 1971, in what turned out to be the final fight of the 37-year-old Cooper’s long career.. The fight was for the British, European and commonwealth belts held by Cooper, and in an upset, Bugner, aged just 20 at the time, won via a close and massively disputed points decision.
The verdict so angered Cooper’s loyal fans that Bugner was almost hated by the majority of British fights fans ever after. Well, at the speaking engagement Bugner attended last night he admitted, almost 40 years after the fight, that the decision should in fact have gone to Cooper after all. This may not mean too much to American boxing fans, but Cooper was a genuine hero to the British fans, and for years they claimed Bugner’s win was unfair. Well, after all this time, though no-one took the time to ask him, Joe Bugner agreed with them!
In an article in The Evening Telegraph, Bugner’s quotes from last night’s dinner in Peterborough were printed as follows:
“I have never been asked the question [of who won between Cooper and I] but now I can honestly say that I believe Henry won it. It was close, but I thought Henry had just nicked it. I never wanted to be the man who ended Henry’s career. I had no idea that was to be his last fight. My biggest regret is that I took the opportunity away from Henry to finish at the top. If he had won that night, I’d still be living in Britain. What happened to me after that fight was worse than being crucified. One moronic labour MP even called for me to be stripped of my title, stripped of my assets and sent back to wherever I came from!” ( Bugner was born in Hungary).
Joe really did open his heart to those in attendance last night. He is not exaggerating about how hard things were for him after getting the close win over Cooper, either. What should have propelled him towards being the latest British heavyweight hope after Cooper, instead turned him into a hated figure. Maybe now, however, the fans will finally cut Joe – a very talented defensive fighter in his prime years – some much deserved slack.
Joe’s health is sadly not that great today – with the 58-year-old requires pain killers for severe spinal problems. It seems the toll of fighting on, and training on, until his late forties has now caught up with Australian citizen Bugner. It will be interesting to hear what Cooper feels about Joe’s admission of losing, and maybe Sir Henry will make a replying comment soon.
Big Joe retired from the ring in 1999, after having compiled a pro record of 69-13-1(41). He was only ever stopped four times.