CASSIUS Marcellus Clay, the 21-year-old American, known as the Louisville Lip, the Louisville Loudmouth, Gorgeous Cassius, self-described as the handsomest, greatest heavyweight of all time, correctly prophesied the round in which he would defeat Henry Cooper on the famous Cup Final pitch.
But Henry did not FALL in five, as Cassius had predicted. London referee, Tommy Little, rightly intervened because Cooper’s eye, which was cut in the second round, was gradually aggravated and could not be repaired.
It was a dramatic climax to the most feverish big fight in Britain for many, many years.
The televised weigh-in, which took place on the stage of Britain’s most famous variety theatre, the London Palladium, attracted a record crowd.
Unfortunately for promoter Jack Solomons and Cooper and Clay, who were fighting for a percentage of “the gate”, there had been a steady downpour of rain most of the day and although the weather improved in the evening, there were many empty seats in the 90,000 capacity stadium.
The crowd, who had taken part in community singing to the accompaniment of the band of the Coldstream Guards, broke out into a tremendous roar as the two gladiators entered the darkened stadium.
They were followed from their dressing rooms on opposite sides of the arena by powerful searchlights and ring-centre fanfares by the Coldstream men.
Clay, who considers himself already king of the heavyweights, wore a red and white ankle length dressing gown on the back of which was emblazoned the words:
And he wore a crown.
Cooper contented himself with a simple blue and white gown which carried the words:
It looked like a relic from his amateur days, for it resembled an old Amateur Boxing Association gown.
The crowd were cheering Cooper and booing the boastful young braggart Clay, and were imploring Henry to “Give him one! And “Put one on him” as they prepared to go into action.
And Henry duly obliged in a sensational fourth round.
At that stage the Englishman’s cornermen could not properly mend his eye injury and Henry was becoming desperate. He was throwing punches wildly in an effort to try and pull the fight out of the fire.
Clay, who could sense that the end was near, was almost taunting Cooper.
The American youngster held his hands low and instead of moving inside the reckless hooks of the now anxious Cooper, he was just swaying away from them and replying with clusters of counter punches.
But this aggravating swaying nearly caused an explosion in that fourth round.
As Cassius moved back he rolled right into the arc of Cooper’s left hook and down he went.
The Greatest Handsomest Heavyweight of All Time was sprawling in that London ring with the rain pouring steadily and the fans going crazy with excitement. They made so much noise that even few ringsiders could hear the count.
Cooper, his eye bleeding profusely, was waiting to pounce on Clay with what all Britishers were hoping might be the upset punch of the decade. But the somewhat shaken American, his nose now bleeding, rose at four, just before the bell ended the round.
He may have suffered more from pride than physical hurt and he certainly seemed an angry young man when he came up for THE ROUND – the fifth.
Hitherto we thought he had been treating Cooper too casually and had been content to make Henry miss.
Now he shot into top gear. Now we saw those fast punches we had heard so much about.
Peering out of his one sound eye, Cooper was at a tremendous disadvantage. He could not see the stream of rights that Clay pumped into him. He was slow of foot and trying to conduct the battle with only one sound eye. And that is impossible against a fast puncher like Clay.
Although he was fighting back bravely, Henry was becoming an almost helpless target for a fighter who appeared to be just opening up for the last lap.
Before the round was half a minute old Cooper fans were yelling, “Stop it”, and when the round was only 1 minute 15 secs. Old referee Little stepped between them, called Clay off and escorted the gallant Briton to his corner.
Again they cheered Cooper and booed Clay, which we thought was most unfair, for it had been an extremely clean fight.
Clay had been proved right. He won on the fifth round, as he said he would, and although a cut eye stoppage is not a satisfactory victory, it is a manner in which many fights have come to an end.
Henry Cooper did not let us down. He gave the classy Clay a great fight.
In fact he carried the fight to his opponent in the first two rounds when his dangerous left hooks whistled mighty dangerously round Clay’s ears. Clay was forced to hold in the first round and was admonished by the referee, who halted the proceedings and wagged a warning finger at Cass. As they broke away in the first round, Cooper chased his man to the ropes and hooked away furiously with both hands.
Clay did not like this outburst of belligerence from the Bellingham man he had so often described as “A Bum”.
He was forced to back away and more than once looked to the referee for help when Cooper, showing an unusual streak of aggression, hit him at the end of the break.
In the second round Cooper again dominated the attacking and Clay was made to make full use of the ring to avoid Henry’s wild swings.
It was in this round that Cooper’s eye trouble began.
He realised that if he had any chance it was right here and now and he made us feel quite proud as he chased and badgered his American rival.
But Clay, although hurt at times, kept out of danger and by the third round had the fight almost under control.
He allowed the now anxious and impatient Cooper to spend himself. Cassius held his hands temptingly low and Henry almost threw himself at Clay in order to try and land one of those jaw hooks. But the lad from Louisville, now almost tauntingly moved just out of harm’s way, then flashed in suddenly with fast combinations, against which the British champion had no defence.
This was the pattern of the fight in the third round and well into the fourth when Henry hung that historic hook on to the jaw of The Lip.
As we mentioned earlier, Cassius rose and the bell prevented us from seeing if Cooper could have followed up his unexpected advantage or Clay would have been goaded into more positive action.
During the interval it was discovered that Clay’s left glove had burst. We do know that he came out for The Round – the fifth – in a mean mood. He was throwing punches at a fast rate and Cooper’s face was being rather cut up when he was stopped.
After the fight Clay switched from jeering to cheering Cooper.
“He’s no longer a bum,” said Clay. “He hit me harder than anybody else I have met.”
Hard luck, Henry. Congratulations, Cass. It was good seeing you.
Weights – Cooper: 13st 3lbs. Clay: 14st 11lbs.