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Story by John DiSanto
Photo by Jano Choen


Heavyweight thrill machine Smokin' Bert Cooper passed away on May 10, 2019, after a bout with pancreatic cancer. He was 53. Cooper terrorized the cruiserweight and heavyweight divisions in the 1980s and 1990s, with his hard-charging, aggressive style and murderous punching power. As his ring nicknamed referenced, Cooper was a neo-Joe Frazier to many. He won two regional titles in two weight classes, and once challenged Evander Holyfield for the world heavyweight title. He was also inducted in the PA Boxing Hall of Fame and the NJ Boxing Hall of Fame.

As a cruiserweight, Cooper won the NABF title belt in 1988 with a 12-round decision over Henry Tillman at the Trump Plaza Casino in Atlantic City. He defended this title five times against the likes of Tyrone Booze (W12), Spencer Chavis (KO3), Andre McCall (TKO6), and Tony Fulilangi (TKO4).

After ceding the title to Nate Miller in 1989, Cooper tried a move up to heavyweight to face former champ George Foreman. Big George won by TKO, but Bert continued on as a heavyweight where he fought his most memorable and important bouts.

Cooper stopped Orlin Norris in Canada to win the NABF heavyweight title in 1990. The win solidified his relevance as a heavyweight and led to bouts with Ray Mercer (L12) and Riddick Bowe (TKO'd 2). Cooper bounced back with four straight wins, including a stoppage of Joe Hipp, which made him a contender for the heavyweight title. 

On November 23, 1991, Cooper stepped in at the last moment for an injured Francisco Damiani in a title bout against world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield in the champ's hometown of Atlanta. Holyfield defended his title by TKO in the seventh, but Cooper staggered the champ in round five and battered him along the ropes. Evander buckled and was held up by the ropes, so the referee called it a knockdown. Holyfield continued and resumed control of the fight, but for that electrifying moment, it appeared that Bert would pull the unlikeliest of upsets.

Six months later, Copper fought a classic with Michael Moorer in Atlantic City for the vacant WBO heavyweight belt. Each fighter hit the deck in the first round. Then Copper dropped Moorer a second time in the third, and Moorer returned the favor in round five. Moorer scored a TKO in the fifth, and the fight was named the "Fight of the Year" by KO Magazine.

Copper fought professionally between 1984 and 2012, with a few retirement gaps along the way. In 2012 he hung up his gloves for good with an overall record of 38-25, 31 KOs, 12 ND.

Other key opponents included Willie de Wit, Carl Williams, Everett Martin, David Jaco, Mike Weaver, Corrie Sanders, Larry Donald, Fres Oquendo, Darroll Wilson, and Luis Ortiz.

Earlier this year at the funeral of Rocky Lockridge, Cooper told us that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His mood was upbeat and he said that he was up for the fight, determined to defeat the toughest opponent of his life. 

Cooper attended the 12th Annual Briscoe Awards on April 14, 2019 (above), and looked strong and healthy as he mingled with fans and posed for photos. However, less than one month later, Smokin' Bert was gone. 

Funeral services for Bert Copper will be held on Friday evening (May 24) and Saturday morning (May 25). 

Evening Viewing: 
Friday, May 24, 2019, 6:00-8:00 PM, at the Claude J. Edney Memorial Chapter (634 Sharon Ave, Darby Township, PA 19079). 

Viewing & Celebration of Life Service:
Saturday, May 25, 2019, 9:00-11:00 AM, at the Ever Abundant Life Ministries (121 Ridge Ave., Darby, PA 19023). 

The Veteran Boxers Association Ring One will be in attendance on Saturday to ring a final ten count. 




John DiSanto - Philadelphia - May 10, 2019