Bert Cooper (tied for 184)
Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania, USA
January 1, 1966
5’11½” / 78½” reach / 188¼-245lbs
38-25-0-1(31) from 9/11/1984 to 9/8/2012 (28y0m)
1-5-0-0(1) against the top ten
0-4-0-0(0) against linear champions
0-1-0-0(0) against hall-of-famers
1 fight for the linear championship – 0-1-0-0(0)
Top ten opponents: W-KO-8 Orlin Norris, L-TKO-8 Carl Williams, L-UD-12 Ray Mercer, L-TKO-2 Riddick Bowe, L-TKO-7 Evander Holyfield, L-TKO-5 Michael Moorer
-2 total score (1 + -4 + 0 + 1)
“Smokin’ Bert Cooper was a protege of Joe Frazier. Like Joe, he was a fairly short, stocky heavyweight with a pressuring, high output, bob-and-weave style. He also had good power and an excellent left hook, and unlike his trainer, also threw a mean right hand. But Cooper was a great example of unfulfilled potential. Drug abuse and poor training habits led to a career that never quite ended up where it could have.
Cooper started out promising enough, debuting as a pro in September 1984, fighting just above the newly-formed cruiserweight limit of 190 pounds. Cooper won his first ten fights – nine by knockout – over his first fifteen months in the ring. In January 1986, he ran into the larger, more experienced Reggie Gross, and abruptly quit in the eighth round. He claimed he was thumbed in the eye, but either way, he had a TKO loss on his record.
Cooper would bounce back, however, winning six straight fights, including three fights for the NABF Cruiserweight title, and a knockout over rising Canadian heavyweight fringe contender Willie de Wit.
The win over de Wit led into a major fight – a shot at contender Carl “The Truth” Williams. Cooper could never really get into the fight after being dropped early, and his corner eventually pulled the plug and stopped the fight in the 8th.
Cooper would drop back down to cruiserweight, with mixed results. He went 4-2(4) over the next year and a half, with a surprise loss to journeyman Everett “Bigfoot” Martin, as well as a more understandable stoppage loss to cruiserweight standout Nate Miller.
In June 1989, Cooper was picked to give a comebacking George Foreman some rounds. Instead, what happened was a quick capitulation, as Cooper was beat up in the first round, and quit on his stool after the second. He had apparently spent three days leading up to the fight in a drug fueled partying spree, and probably shouldn’t have fought anybody that night.
Cooper seemed to be spiraling out of control, and his former promise was becoming a memory. He had a couple inconsequential fights to close out 1989. But his fortunes reversed early in 1990, when he got a shot at contender Orlin Norris and his NABF heavyweight belt. Cooper fought well, and won by surprise stoppage, when Norris twisted his knee and couldn’t continue. Cooper segued this big win into a fight with rising heavyweight contender Ray Mercer. However, Mercer proved to be just too good, and won a wide decision over Cooper, though Bert fought hard and stayed competitive throughout.
Cooper would then be thrown in with future champion Riddick Bowe, and he was predictably pulverized in just two rounds.
Despite now having seven losses on his record, as well as significant drug problems, Cooper was able to turn things around. He may have been relegated to journeyman status, but he was willing to fight to change that perception. He followed the Bowe loss with four straight knockout wins, including a fifth-round stoppage of promising young contender Joe Hipp.
Cooper would win the boxing lottery, and was offered a shot at World Heavyweight Champion Evander Holyfield, who had originally been scheduled to face Mike Tyson, then Francesco Damiani. Both men had dropped out with injuries, so Cooper was called, and he managed to surprise everyone by giving Holyfield a tough fight. Cooper was dropped in the first, and it seemed he was on his way to another disappointing performance. But for whatever reason, he found another gear, and fought back. In the 3rd round, he landed a good shot that hurt Holyfield, and it drove “The Real Deal” into the ropes, counting as his first career knockdown. Holyfield would turn it around, hurting Cooper in the 5th, and eventually stopping him in 7. But Cooper proved, that with sufficient motivation and effort, he could contend at an elite level.
Two fights later, Cooper turned in another exciting, competitive, and ultimately losing effort against a top opponent. Michael Moorer had moved up from light heavyweight, and was making his name in the heavyweight division. He wanted to test himself against a good heavyweight without risking his undefeated record. Instead, Cooper nearly gave him that “1” under his loss column. The two went to war, and battled on even terms early on. Cooper managed to drop Moorer in the 1st round, who rose to return the favor shortly after. Cooper was able to largely outwork Moorer in the second round, and then battered him to the canvas again in the third. The fourth and fifth rounds were both pitched battles, and Cooper seemed to be taking over… then Moorer was able to land an impressive five punch combination, and dropped and stopped Cooper in what would end up being a “fight of the year” contender.
The Holyfield and Moorer fights showed the upper limits of what Cooper could do, after wasting much of his prime with drugs and in-ring lethargy. But they also marked the end of his time flirting with greatness. Cooper would spend the rest of his career alternating wins against clubfighters with losses to prospects and contenders. After Moorer, he would face off against fighters like Corrie Sanders, Larry Donald, Jeremy Williams, and Alexander Zolkin, losing them all. He lost to an up-and-coming Chris Byrd in 1997, Derrick Jefferson and Fres Oquendo in 1999, and Joe Mesi in 2001. He had become a stepping stone, a gatekeeper. A chance for a young contender to pad their record. After a fourth round stoppage loss to seemingly-shot Darroll Wilson in 2002, Cooper quit fighting. He didn’t step into a ring again until 2010, where he would fight five more times over three years, going 2-3(1). He would finally stop in 2012, having ended his career 28 years after it started.
Bert Cooper’s final record was not impressive, and he ended as a journeyman at best. But for a period of time, he was promising, and then even when that promise faded, he was still able to be dangerous. Cooper could be an exciting fighter, and had the power to hurt great boxers. He provided some great memories and stirring fights. For many, that’s a form of greatness.
Cyber Boxing Zone wrote a nice profile of Cooper up to 1999 here: http://www.cyberboxingzone.com/boxing/coopbio.html