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World Boxing Federation Champions Of The Past: Bert Cooper
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FEATURE   Photo: Former World Boxing Federation (WBF) World Heavyweight Champion "Smokin´" Bert Cooper.

Since the World Boxing Federation was originally founded by American Larry Carrier in 1988, many of the sport’s biggest names have won a WBF title, and proudly defended the blue, red and gold belt all over the world.

In the Champions Of The Past Series we take a closer look at some of the boxers who held WBF titles in years gone by, from lesser known champions to world renowned fighters, legends of the sport and current or future Hall of Famers.


Former WBF World Heavyweight Champion “Smokin´” Bert Cooper entered this world on January 10, 1966 in Sharon Hill, a borough in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, USA.

Initially a Cruiserweight fighting out of Philadelphia, he was trained in the early part of his career by legendary ex-champ Joe Frazier, from whom he adopted the famous ring-moniker, and quickly got a reputation as a murderous puncher, winning nine of his first ten outings by knockout.

Seven of his first ten victims, between September 1984 and December 1985, were dispatched already in the first round, including capable foes such as Lorenzo Boyd (8-2), Jim Jones (5-2) and Cedric Parsons (11-2). And Cooper had not yet turned twenty years old!

So it was something of a surprise when his climb was temporarily halted on January 31, 1986 on a show promoted by Top Rank at the Trump Casino Hotel in Atlantic City. Baltimore´s Reginald Cross (17-3) got a stoppage victory in eight rounds, sending Bert Cooper back to the drawing board.

Just over two months later he returned to “the scene of the crime”, eager to show the loss to Cross had not deterred him. It took him ten rounds to get rid of tough Oscar Holman (10-6-1), but he was back in the win-column and again ready for bigger challenges.

And a big challenge he got, as he was matched against 1984 Olympic Heavyweight gold-medalist Henry Tillman (10-0) on June 15, 1986. Tillman had won the NABF Cruiserweight title two months earlier, stopping Bash Ali in one round, and was a clear favorite to retain his belt against Cooper.

But Bert would have none of it, and grinded out a close but deserved unanimous decision victory by scores of 115-112, 115-113 and 114-113. Two knock-downs in the second round secured him the upset triumph, and firmly shot him towards the top of the Cruiserweight division.

Cooper successfully defended the NABF title against future WBO World Champion Tyrone Booze (11-4-2) and Spencer Chavis (19-1), but unable to secure a shot at a Cruiserweight world title he eventually decided to try his luck at Heavyweight.

He started his Heavyweight run by impressively beating Cuban-born Carlos Hernandez (18-3-1) in eight rounds, and demolishing Olympic silver-medalist Willie de Wit (15-0-1), in the challengers native Canada, in non-title fights.

On June 21, 1987, with the USBA title on the line, Cooper fought world class contender Carl “The Truth” Williams (17-2), who held high rankings by several sanctioning bodies. It was understood that a win would catapult Cooper close to a world Heavyweight title shot.

But it was not yet to be. Televised to millions of viewers by CBS, Williams, who had only lost to Mike Weaver and Larry Holmes, floored Cooper in the first round, and while Cooper beat the count of referee Randy Neumann he couldn't establish any momentum thereafter.

After seven rounds of one-way traffic, more or less, trainer Joe Frazier refused to allow cooper to come out for round eight. It appeared, at least for the time-being, that “The Big Boys” were not for Bert, and he returned to Cruiserweight.

Still the NABF champion, Cooper made title-defenses against Andre McCall (13-0-1) and Tony Fulilangi (36-1-2), making it clear that he was still one of the best in that weight-class. However, and upset-loss to Everett “Bigfoot” Martin (16-5-1) in a non-title fight, probably was a sign of things to come.

As it would turn out, Bert Cooper blew hot and cold for the better part of the next twenty-five years. He retained the NABF title once more, stopping Tony Morrison (16-7-1), before losing the championship to Nate Miller (13-1) in February of 1989.

While it was not shame losing to Miller, who went on to win the WBA World title and make five defenses, the disappointment made Cooper return to Heavyweight in search of bigger pay-days. Some might say that not having to make weight, was another good reason.

In his Heavyweight Comeback fight Cooper retired after two rounds against George Foreman (62-2), with no sign of serious injuries. He also tested positive for cocaine after the bout, and it was becoming clear that, while always a dangerous opponent, Bert Cooper often beat himself before his opponent.

He rebounded with two low-profile victories, before proving that he, on his good days, should still be considered a world class fighter when he won the NABF Heavyweight title by stopping reigning champion Orlin Norris (22-1) in round eight on February 17,1990.

Six months later he lost the title to Ray Mercer (15-0), an Olympic gold medal-winner who would later win the WBO World title, and Cooper finished 1990 on a low as Riddick Bowe (19-0) stopped him in two rounds in Las Vegas.

Four knockout victories over Loren Ross (17-1), Conroy Nelson (19-14-2), Anthony Wade (14-1) and Joe Hipp (21-1) kept Cooper relevant in the sports glamour division, despite his erratic behavior and occasional poor performances.

So when unified WBC, WBA and IBF World Champion Evander Holyfield (26-0) needed a short-notice challenger for November 21, 1991 in Atlanta, Cooper happily stepped in.

Holyfield had first been scheduled to fight Mike Tyson, who pulled out with a rip injury. Then substitute Francesco Damiani pulled out due to an ankle injury, and in came Cooper when a career-high purse of 750.000 USD was offered to him.

And, in a marvelous back-and-forth fight televised by HBO, Cooper almost pulled off what would have been one of the biggest upsets in Heavyweight history. Holyfield floored the challenger with a body shot in the first round, but Cooper came back strong and almost knocked Holyfield out in round three.

A massive right hand hurt “Real Deal” badly, and when a follow-up barrage send him reeling into the ropes referee Miles Lane called it a knock-down, the first of Holyfield´s career, as the ropes prevented him from going down.

Unfortunately for Cooper, Holyfield convinced Lane that he could continue and managed to weather the storm. In round five Cooper was hurt again, from a series of punches, but he kept on battling. Unlike previous incidents where some felt he quit too easily, this time Cooper was going out on his shield.

Cut and bleeding from his mouth, Cooper made it through the fifth and sixth round, but with two seconds left in the seventh Mills Lane had seen enough as Holyfield battered Cooper with twenty-four unanswered punches.

A prime example of gaining in defeat, Cooper was held in higher esteem than ever after his valiant, and almost miraculous, performance against fellow WBF World Champion Holyfield. As a consequence, he would not have to wait long for his second shot at world honors.

In February of 1992 he returned to the ring with a second round stoppage of Cecil Coffee (20-3-2), which set up a fight against Michael Moorer (28-0) for the vacant WBO World Heavyweight title. And again it would be a case of “almost” for Cooper.

In Atlantic City on May 15, 1992, both fighters were down in the opening stanza, before Cooper knocked Moorer down again in round three. Cooper was floored a second time in round five, and the fight was stopped after an all-out brawl which was called the Fight of the Year by many.

Over the next five years Cooper beat the likes of David Jaaco (24-21-1), Rocky Pepeli (16-4-1), Mike Robinson (6-16-1), George Harris (2-17), and former European Champion Dereck Williams (19-5), while he lost to contenders such as Larry Donald (13-0), Alexander Zolkin (21-2) and Chris Byrd (20-0).

And, proving that you can never write Bert Cooper off, he finally won a world title on July 29, 1997 at Madison Square Garden in New York when he flattened previously unbeaten Richie Melito (18-0) in the very first round to win the vacant WBF crown.

But, this would be the last time that Cooper “blew hot”. From that point on there would be a lot of cold wind coming from him, and he lost his very next fight on points over eight rounds to up-start Anthony Green (7-2), and was stripped of the WBF world title.

Five years after the Melito fight, going 2-5 in seven bouts since that night at “The Mecca of Boxing”, he temporarily retired in 2002. Almost eight years later he returned, 44 years old, and won two six-rounders, but finished his career in September 2012 after three straight losses.

Bert Cooper was a real danger-man both at Cruiserweight and at Heavyweight. When the stars aligned, he was capable of beating most opponents, but when things were not right for him he could also lose to opponents who were not supposed to be in his class.

His professional career spanned just a few days short of twenty-eight years. Winning NABF championships at Cruiserweight and Heavyweight, and the WBF World Heavyweight title, scoring some very notable victories and fighting several future Hall-of-Famers, his final record stands at 38-25 (31).

  Part 50: Alfred Kotey
  Part 49: Yosuke Nishijima
  Part 48: Wayne Rigby
  Part 47: Jesus Chong
  Part 46: Renata Szebeledi
  Part 45: Lester Ellis
  Part 44: Patrick Vungbo
  Part 43: Patrick Washington
  Part 42: Ric Siodora
  Part 41: Guy Waters
  Part 40: Natascha Ragosina
  Part 39: Nicky Cook
  Part 38: Fahprakorb Rakkiatgym
  Part 37: Felix Camacho
  Part 36: Homer Gibbins
  Part 35: Joe Bugner
  Part 34: Myriam Lamare
  Part 33: Darrin Morris
  Part 32: Suwito Lagola
  Part 31: Aaron Zarate
  Part 30: Tommy Small
  Part 29: Matthew Charleston
  Part 28: Jane Couch
  Part 27: Fahlan Sakkreerin
  Part 26: Kenny Keene
  Part 25: Yvan Mendy
  Part 24: Ronnie Magramo
  Part 23: Randall Yonker
  Part 22: Holly Holm
  Part 21: Vinnie Curto
  Part 20: Robin Reid
  Part 19: Lionel Butler
  Part 18: Mads Larsen
  Part 17: Ken Sigurani
  Part 16: Orlando Fernandez
  Part 15: Roger Turner
  Part 14: Roy Jones Jr.
  Part 13: Fitz Vanderpool
  Part 12: Steve Roberts
  Part 11: Thulani "Sugarboy" Malinga
  Part 10: Junior Witter
  Part 9: Jimmy Thunder
  Part 8: Juan Lazcano
  Part 7: Jeff Malcolm
  Part 6: Ricky Parkey
  Part 5: Carl Daniels
  Part 4: Angel Manfredy
  Part 3: Samson Dutch Boy Gym
  Part 2: Greg Haugen
  Part 1: Johnny Nelson

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