Muhammad Ali in London, 1963

"I wish people would love everybody else the way they love me. It would be a better world."

Cassius Clay, as he was still known in 1963, training in Hyde Park.

Cassius Clay, as he was still known in 1963, training in Hyde Park.

Muhammad Ali’s cult status in the UK, was undoubtedly cemented by his three fights in London over three years in the 1960’s.

The first of which, against Lambeth-born Henry Cooper, took place at Wembley Stadium on 18 June 1963 in front of 35,000 spectators.

Despite holding the British and Commonwealth titles going into the fight, “Our ‘Enry” as he was affectionately known, was unfancied against his dazzling American opponent who had a weight advantage of 20 pounds and a longer reach by 4.5 inches.

At this stage in his career, Cassius Clay, as he was still known, had won all 19 of his professional fights.

Ali and his sparring partners started their morning routine at 5am.

Ali and his sparring partners started their morning routine at 5am.

With little speculation over who would win, the public attention was on Muhammad Ali and his ever-growing celebrity status. To the joy of the media and the capital’s early-risers, he was seen frequently on the streets of London in the morning as part of his rigid training schedule.

And it was early one morning in June, a fortnight before the fight that Ali jogged past the Hector Powe store at 165 Regent Street.

Ali jogs past the Hector Powe store on Regent Street, June 1963

Ali jogs past the Hector Powe store on Regent Street, June 1963

At approximately 6 a.m. when this silent but seismic event occurred, there couldn’t have been more than two or three Hector Powe staff present, prepping our flagship store. However, in the years that followed, the number of ex-Hector Powe employees that claimed to have seen one of the great sporting icons of all time “float like a butterfly” past 165 Regent Street has been ten times that amount.

Despite the apparent mismatch, when it came to the fight itself, a potential upset was on the cards at the end of Round 4. Cooper, already hurt and with blood pouring down his face, threw three successive jabs before a devastating left hook to Ali’s jaw lifted him off his feet.

Saved by the bell and a cushioned fall on the ropes, Ali managed to regain himself and his superiority, before winning halfway through the 5th, with the ref stopping the fight in the American’s favour.

Cooper and Ali after the fight. Their rematch took place 3 years later.

Cooper and Ali after the fight. Their rematch took place 3 years later.

Despite his defeat, Cooper could claim to have been one of only four men to knock the great Muhammad Ali to the canvas in his entire career. According to the Englishman, Ali joked afterwards that “the punch Cooper hit me with, he didn't just shake me. He shook my relations back in Africa.”

Oliver Powe

 

Oliver Powe