November 23rd, 1991. Billed as “The Homecoming”, legendary boxer Evander “Real Deal” Holyfield takes on hard hitting “Smoking” Bert Cooper for the IBF, WBA and Lineal Heavyweight Championships. In this battle, Holyfield makes the 3rd defenses of his IBF and WBA Heavyweight titles. While Holyfield was also holding the WBC crown, the title was not on the line as the WBC did not sanction the fight due to the fact that Cooper was not ranked by the WBC.
Holyfield was originally scheduled to fight Mike Tyson, after a successful victory over George Foreman but negotiations fell apart. In July 1991, Holyfield was scheduled to fight Foreman in a rematch but Dan Duva and Don King (promoters of Holyfield and Tyson respectively) was able to secure a fight deal.
But unfortunately, Tyson suffered a rib injury and later on was wrongly convicted for the rape of Desiree Washington, leaving Holyfield without an opponent.
Former WBO belt holder Francesco Damiani was brought in Holyfield’s next opponent but Damiani suffered a foot injury during training. Bert Cooper who was ranked 12th by the IBF was Holyfield’s late replacement. This is the first time Bert Cooper fought for a world title.
In the year 1991, Holyfield has been largely inactive with only one fight against George Foreman which he won via a hard fought but clear UD. Bert Cooper on the other hand had fought and won 4 fights via TKOs notably over the tough southpaw Joe Hipp.
This fight is an action packed slugfest from start to finish, and Holyfield was knocked down for the 1st time in his pro career. This is also the first time Holyfield was sent to the canvas since an amateur fight in 1979.
In the 5th round, Holyfield’s right glove was cut and action was halted for over 2 minutes by Mills Lane to get it replaced.
This is an unusual coincidence; nearly 30 years ago Muhammad Ali’s right glove was also cut against Henry Cooper which also caused a delay in the fight due to the need for glove replacement. Thus, within the period of 30 years 2 opponents of fighters named “Cooper” have had a cut right glove during a world heavyweight title fight.
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Bert Cooper Titles and Pro Achievements Bert Cooper Titles and Pro Achievements
A tough, rugged journeyman, Cooper was a Top 20 heavyweight during the late 80s and early 90s and faced some of the biggest names in the division from 1986 to 2012, including Evander Holyfield, George Foreman, Riddick Bowe, Ray Mercer, Carl Williams, Chris Byrd, Mike Weaver, Michael Moorer and Luis Ortiz.
And while Bert seldom defeated an elite-level foe, he certainly had his moments and often gave the fans their moneys worth on the big stage.
Short for a heavyweight, the 5'11" Cooper was aggressive and relied on punching power and durability to topple much bigger opponents.
Cooper boasted wins over quality foes Henry Tillman, Tyrone Booze, Orlin Norris, Joe Hipp and Willie de Wit.
Holyfield vs Cooper (1991) is regarded as a classic. When Mike Tyson pulled out of his heavyweight showdown with then undisputed champion Evander Holyfield just 10 days prior to the event, Cooper was summoned to replace him and subsequently nearly delivered one of the biggest upsets in boxing hirtory.
Bert badly hurt the champion in Round 3, staggering him, flooring him and staggering him again. A true champion, Holyfield would overcome adversity and that round some minor scares in others en route to earning a 7th Round TKO.
Despite losing to Evander, Bert Copper was a hot commodity after the bout due to his surprising performance on short notice. In his next bout, Cooper would face Michael Moorer for the then-fringe WBO Heavyweight Title in a PPV bout. After being floored early on, Moorer would knockout Bert in another classic slugfest.