Catching up with Cooper and Ali
by David J. Baird
My introduction to the British boxing scene was through my late father. He was invited to dinner with the legendary heavyweight champ Henry Cooper.
"He was a very nice guy," he told me.
"Great sense of humor and lots of tales of how he reached the top.
"But, he stressed he really had to work hard to make it as a heavyweight."
"Our 'Enry" told my father: "A lot of kids come into the sport - egged on by their mates.
"They are able to hold their own in neighbourhood punch-ups...and think they are God's gift.
"But,get them sparring and they lose their cockiness.
"After a few jabs from their rival they are quick to get out of the ring...and are never seen again!"
"Our 'Enry" had a tough climb to the top in the highly competitive London boxing scene.
"After getting a right old thumping in the ring - as an amateur - I often thought of giving it away," he recalled.
"But, I guess the sport was in my blood...and I just kept on slugging away.
"It's like anything in life. Nothing comes easy. To reach the top is a lot of sweat and tears."
My other introduction to boxing was, incredibly, through the legendary Muhammad Ali - and I was nearly on the receiving end of a punch from the former champ. Truly!
I was with my girlfriend at Mascot Airport taxi rank when, who should join us, but none other than Ali.
A cab pulled up, and Muhammad - feeling frisky - "confronted" the driver when he got out.
"D'ya wanna a fight," Ali asked him - trying to look as serious as possible.
The driver didn't know if the boxer (in Australia to promote his autobiography) was joking, and looked very nervous.
Ali moved closer to him, and the driver turned to run.
Laughing, he got into the back seat of the taxi while the driver looked very relieved.
Meanwhile, my girlfriend was ecstatic, squealing: "He's so cute."
This attracted the attention of the once heavyweight champion of the world.
He looked at me!
It was the same look he had given Bert Newton on that notorious Logie night when Ol'Moonface had said, on the spur-of-the-moment: "I like the boy..."
Ali had immediatedly turned to the host, and with a steely glare asked Newton: "What did you say?"
Bert, thinking faster on his feet than even Ali!, did the quickest jokey one-liner he could think of, to get out of what could have been a potentially explosive situation.
Now, I know how Newton felt.
Here was the world's most famous boxer, staring at me.
I was well aware of how Muhammad like to let off steam after a flight.
I think he was a nervous flier.
He often chased unwitting passers-by around an airport.
As he kept staring at me, I grew more uncomfortable.
He was deciding whether to get out of the taxi - and take me on!
After a few minutes of the "stare-down," he must have decided he'd had enough fun with the driver - and he turned away.
I was let off the hook - literally
A career journalist, Baird was once one of Australia's best-known show business writers, and wrote the daily column Spotlight for Australia's highest-circulation daily newspaper The Melbourne Sun (now the Melbourne Herald-Sun) for more than five years.
Baird now writes his own blog about the entertainment industry, politics,social issues, and sports news. Catch him at The Rogue Report
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