Boxing: The Brits who fell for Ali

Four painfully close encounters
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The Independent Online

Henry Cooper

Every time I see Ali now I can't help remembering when he was young, at his peak and so cocky and lippy with it. You couldn't help smiling at him. It's tragic, but I admire him because he gets on with life. Whenever we meet he gives me a bleedin' great bear hug. He's not ga-ga. The brain is still ticking over even though he's slow at getting the words out. When we first fought he was a novice and I think that fight taught him a lot. He didn't know what inside-fighting was all about but next time he kept me in a vice and he knew my eyes were vulnerable. If I'd clobbered him with that left hook 20 seconds earlier it might have changed the course of history. But you can't live on ifs and buts. I wish him a happy birthday and a long life.

Cooper, 67, lost twice on cuts, in five rounds at Wembley on 18 June 1963 and in six at Highbury on 21 May 1966. Knighted two years ago, he lives near Tonbridge, Kent.

Brian London

I fought twice for the world title, against Floyd Patterson and Ali, but I wasn't in their class, particularly Ali's. I wasn't good enough to be in the same ring with him. He was a brilliant fighter and his punches just dazzled you. I think he hit me with more than a dozen of them at the start of the third round, rat-tat-tat. It was like being mown down by a machine gun. To be honest, I didn't have much to do with Ali before our fight and I've never met him since, but I wish him well. It seems a bit ironic that here I am eight years older than him and as fit as a fiddle while he's in the state he is. Someone asked me once if I thought boxing had anything to do with his condition. I truthfully replied: 'Don't blame me, I never laid a glove on him.'

London, 68, was knocked out in three rounds at Earls Court on 6 August 1966. He lives in Blackpool where he is a successful club owner and businessman.

Joe Bugner

I'll let you into a secret. Ali is the only man I've ever kissed. It happened when we met up at the Sydney Olympics and I'd do the same if I saw him tomorrow. I love him to bits, just like a brother, even though he tried to knock the hell out of me for 27 rounds. We fought twice, first when I was a bit raw in 1973 and then for the title two years later. What an athlete! He outlasted me, though I was nine years younger. We'd actually become friends after I sparred with him in New York as a kid in 1969 and he hinted then that he and I might make a lot of money together one day, me being white and almost as pretty as him! He gave me some good advice, too. "It don't matter how good you are if you can't put bums on seats."

Bugner, 51, twice lost on points, over 12 rounds on 14 February 1973 and over 15 for the world title on 1 July 1975. He is now a film actor and boxing commentator, and lives in Australia.

Richard Dunn

It was a privilege to have fought him. As a boxer he was fantastic and as a man he was magnificent. I'd earned my chance as the European champion and I remember we used a hypnotist to try to psyche me up. Waste of time. He still gave me a tanning, though I did OK in the early rounds. It wasn't that his punches were that hard, they were so accurate. I'll always believe it was stopped a bit too early even though I'd been down three times in the fifth. Here's a coincidence. Ali's birthday is on 17 January, same as my youngest grandaughter's, and my father-in-law, who was in my corner, had his on the 18th. Mine's on the 19th. It must be awful for him now. We've met up two or three times since and last time he was here he gave me a signed book, which I shall always treasure.

Dunn, 57 next week, was stopped in five rounds in Munich on 24 May 1976. Retired after fall on an oil rig, living in Scarborough.