The "Smokin'" Bert Cooper Story - Up To Date And With An Added Twist!

bert cooperby James Slater: 1990s heavyweight title challenger "Smokin'" Bert Cooper, one-time protégé of the great Joe Frazier, fought again recently, as amazing as it may be to believe. Scoring a 7th-round KO over a 24-year-old, approx 300-pounder named Corey Winfield in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on June 18th, the 44-year-old prevailed in the exciting, give-and-take brawl; thus adding a digit to his win column for the first time in eight years!

Today, still living in Philadelphia, Cooper says he is a changed character, clean and free from the drugs and alcohol that served to haunt him in the eight "tragic" years he has been away from the sport he still loves despite all the bad things that happened to him during his fighting career. A regular church-goer, Cooper is also involved in a lot of community work in Philly, and he gives inspirational talks to local kids; warning them not to succumb to the substance abuse traps he himself fell into even when he was in his fighting prime.

Having ran into venerable old fight figure and current real estate developer Bill Blackman, " by accident," Cooper decided to get back into training in an effort to see what he had left. Looking at his ring return as being of the short-lived variety, with perhaps one or two fights more before he retires from the game for good, Bert will then go into business. With the help of manager Blackman, the 5'11" and now 37-22(31) warrior who rumbled with top names such as Evander Holyfield, Michael Moorer and George Foreman plans to open a small restaurant, named "Smokin'" Bert's Barbeque" - the eatery to have a strong boxing theme to it, with memorabilia adorning the walls.

Very much wanting to get "the real story" out as far as the dark times he endured in boxing, when he was regularly thrown into the ring with very little notice, and when most of his money was, as he puts it, stolen, Cooper feels he can give hope to other largely neglected, misguided and mistreated people.

Quite surprisingly, considering the abuse he took in the ring, along with the damage he did to himself in his well-publicised battle with drugs, Cooper speaks pretty clearly today, and his memory seems fine.

After having overcome the spirited effort of the much younger Winfield, Bert is feeling proud of himself - as he explained over the phone from his home in Philly recently.

"I feel terrific," Cooper said in a somewhat nasally voice. "At my age, to have done what I did against that kid - who was like a young George Foreman - I feel real good within myself."

As is almost always the case whenever a former champ/top contender has the urge or the need to return to the ring at an advanced age, Cooper says he is "better than ever;" even going as far as to say he is at his peak! No-one will believe this, naturally, but Bert has got his once "messed up" life back in order - thanks, he says, to God and new manager Blackman (who is involved with Final Forum Promotions, Madison Square Garden, New York).

"I met Bill in Las Vegas, just by chance, and he showed me the right direction," Cooper said cheerfully. "He believed in me and he and my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ are behind me now. My mom passed away in 1995, and she's my guardian angel now. I met Bill through a mechanic friend of mine, and Bill stuck with me and we finally got the comeback off the ground."

Cooper attempted to return to boxing in 2007, but was repeatedly knocked back by the various commissions; he claims because of his age. Now having been granted a licence, at least in North Carolina, the 44-year-old says he is as happy as he's ever been in his life.

"I still love boxing, I love to train. I'm around 241-pounds now, and I'm only at about 70-percent of what I can be. An in-shape Bert Cooper is a very dangerous person! Bill has a plan for me, about how longer I will fight and what I will do after that - but my main goal is a rematch with Evander Holyfield. I had but three days notice for the fight in '91, and I still had him all but out. But he had help from the ref and he had help from his corner (in the 3rd-round, when Cooper put Holyfield down in a WBA and IBF title challenge - Bert finally being TKO'd in the 7th). I was the first guy to drop him, and I want another chance against him when I'm fully prepared."

It's unlikely Cooper will get his return with "The Real Deal," but Evander is still fighting, so who knows? Happily, Blackman is interested in helping Cooper, not in exploiting him and earning a few last dollars out of him. Wanting to set Bert up with a building he can make into a restaurant, the real estate expert, who as a kid "ran and got sandwiches for Sonny Liston when he was training at Champ's Gym on 33rd-Street in Philly ," sees Cooper having only a couple more fights at the most. Blackman, also a good friend of the legendary ex-champ who "discovered" Cooper, Joe Frazier, is appalled at the shoddy way Bert was treated by managers and promoters back in the 1990's. Cooper also feels he was "used."

"Those guys, the managers and promoters, they took advantage of me back then," Cooper said sternly. "The Holyfield fight, for example, he got $6 million, I never even got $200,000. But I have a good manager now (Blackman) and I know what I need, not what I want. I'm a lot wiser today. Also, all I do is train, go to church and pray, and eat right. I'm off drugs, I don't drink and I'm at mass every Sunday. It was bad how those guys [the promoters and former managers] tainted me, but the past is past. I've put all that stuff in God's hands. He fights my battles for me."

Aside from going to church and doing his own training, Bert also gives local kids workouts in the small gym Blackman has acquired for him. Bert also does a lot of community work in Philly.

"I give talks to kids, telling them to save their money and go down the right path. I give them cardio workouts in the gym, too. Back when I was a young man, I never had any real direction, but I do now - with Bill and the Lord looking after me. I want the young kids do the right thing. I am focused on doing right and I feel stronger than ever; mentally, spiritually and physically."

Bert does enjoy reminiscing on his big fights, the fights that made him a big name in the '90s.

"I think about the Holyfield fight a lot," admits Cooper. "Also the Michael Moorer fight, the Riddick Bowe fight. The fight I'm most proud of, though, the toughest guy I ever fought, was Ray Mercer (Mercer WU12, August, 1990). I broke his jaw and he cut me real bad. We went to war and then we went to the same hospital! The doctor told me he [Mercer] was in a whole lotta pain in the next room. They stitched us both up, though, and I have lots of respect for Mercer."

Cooper had a few words to say about one Derek "Sweet D" Williams, the 6'5" Brit he out-pointed over ten-rounds back in March of 1993.

"He was an okay fighter," Bert said of Williams. "But I pounded him. I did what I had to do. I was young, strong and permanent then!"

And, as strong and as physically good as he feels today - with that rematch with Holyfield seemingly occupying his mind almost constantly - Cooper is looking ahead to a positive future away from boxing.

"Bill's a good business man, and he'll set me up a building and I will run 'Smokin' Bert's Barbeque.' It will be like out of Rocky - where Rocky Balboa tells his fans stories about his fights. I'll give it to 'em straight, straight from the horse's mouth."

This is where the above story takes one huge twist! A week or so after Copper and Blackman gave me the above interview (via a three-way phone line), Blackman sent me an e-mail informing me that Bert had, sadly, gone back to his old ways.

Here is what Bill sent me shortly after I'd written the above article:

Mr. Slater
It was a pleasure talking to you and discussing the article for Bert Cooper. Since then things have taken a complete turn around. Bert Cooper, after spending thousands of dollars to get his career started with good professional people, decided he would rather be with the old crowd that pulled him down to his knees. He had a chance of a lifetime. My co manager Leslie at Tocco’s Gym of Las Vegas and I decided to let him go. His former fiancé has filed an order of protection against him. His life is taking the similar turns as Oliver McCall. He will cause us many problems in the future. I will forward anything you need to do your article. I am regretful this event occurred. If you need to talk do not hesitate to call me.

So, is it the end for "Smokin'" Bert's boxing career, just as his quite astonishing comeback was beginning? Either way, let's hope the former two-time title challenger finds peace with himself. Either way, Cooper has already given us quite a story - even if it's apparent ending is not the one Bill Blackman had hoped for.

(needles to say, sincere thanks got out to Bill Blackman for all the help he gave me whilst writing the above piece).

Article posted on 10.08.2010

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