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Henry Cooper: The first man to floor 'The Greatest'

By Tom McGowan
  • Tributes flood in for heavyweight boxer Henry Cooper after his death aged 76
  • Cooper was the first fighter to floor Muhammad Ali, during a fight in 1963
  • Ali: "I will miss my old friend, he was a great fighter and a gentleman"

(CNN) -- Henry Cooper, the British former heavyweight boxer who was the first fighter to floor Muhammad Ali, died on Sunday aged 76.

Cooper fought Ali, who was then known as Cassius Clay, at London's Wembley Arena in 1963 and sent the American falling into the ropes with a fierce left hook in the fourth round.

The London-born fighter eventually lost the bout after the 21-year-old Ali caused him to bleed profusely from a cut above the eye, but Cooper's niche in boxing history had already been carved.

The pair met again three years later when the American was heavyweight champion of the world.

It was always a pleasure being in Henry's company. I will miss my old friend
--Muhammad Ali
  • Muhammad Ali
  • Henry Cooper
  • Boxing
  • London

Once again cuts suffered by Cooper gave the fight to the boxer who would go on to be dubbed "The Greatest."

The man known as "Our 'Enry" in his homeland turned professional at the age of 20 and went on to claim British and European heavyweight championships during a 17-year career.

"Henry always had a smile for me; a warm and embracing smile," Ali, 69, told the UK's Press Association when asked about Cooper -- who received a knighthood in 2000.

"It was always a pleasure being in Henry's company. I will miss my old friend. He was a great fighter and a gentleman.

"I was not aware he was ill. I visited with him two summers ago during a brief visit to Windsor as part of the Equestrian Games being held there. He was in good humor and looked quite fit."

Britain's current world heavyweight champion, David Haye, also paid his tribute.

"A true warrior and a great human being has passed away. Rest in peace," the WBA belt-holder said.

Away from the ring, Cooper was an immensely popular figure in Britain, being the face of several high-profile advertising campaigns as well as being a regular on the golf charity circuit, co-hosting the Bob Hope tournament played in England on the European Tour.