It’s no secret that the “Greatest of All Time,” Muhammad Ali, was never afraid to go on his opponent’s turf or a faraway land, while fighting for the heavyweight title. And nearly 55 years ago, he scored a rematch win in England in defense of his newly won championship.
The night was May 21st, 1966 as “The Greatest” put the heavyweight title on the line for his fourth defense at the famed Arsenal Soccer Stadium battling British contender, Henry Cooper. Cooper had three years previously not only challenged, but not knocked down Ali in their non-title contender fight.
To his credit, Ali rose from the knockdown at the fourth round bell and came out immediately in round five with a barrage of punches including his trademark right cross. That opened up a large gash over Cooper’s left eye and eventually, a minute later the referee stopped the contest keeping Ali’s unbeaten record intact.
Ali, who was then known as Cassius Clay, would subsequently stun menacing heavyweight champ Sonny Liston with a sixth-round stoppage in 1964. He officially changed his name to Ali and won the controversial rematch with Liston with a one punch first round knockout 15 months later in 1965.
Once Muhammad had also beaten Floyd Patterson and Georgie Chuvalo, he decided to go back to the United Kingdom for what he felt was some unfinished business against Cooper.
The fight was the first Heavyweight Title bout to be staged on English soil in six decades and Ali dominated basically from the beginning he scored with quick confident combinations and Cooper could not figure out how to get close enough to land that big left hook that he had three years earlier.
Inevitably in the sixth round, I’ll lie connected again with a couple of wicked right hands and opened up another huge gash over Cooper’s left I just like three years earlier. And similarly, the referee stopped the fight much to Cooper and his Corners dismay. They believed that Ali had actually budded Cooper to cause the cut this time.
Ali rocketed to superstardom until Joe Frazier finally bested him in their epic 15-round first meeting at Madison Square Garden in March of 1971. Frazier even duplicated what Cooper had done it years earlier, by knocking Ali down with a thunderous left late in the fight.
Ali took three years to get another title shot but pulled a stunning upset of George Foreman in Zaire to recapture his heavyweight crown add beat Frazier in the third of their fights in the memorable Thrilla in Manila.
Ali concluded his Hall of Fame career with an 56-5 record having won the championship on three separate occasions.
As for Cooper, he can say that he was the first man to ever knock Ali down, as a professional and he gave the British fans a brief thrill with what he did in their first fight.
However, their only left with “what might have been?” This, as “The Greatest” found a way to beat him both times, including their championship second bout in 1966.