Just 30 seconds into the bout, the man wearing the Kronk gold colors hit the canvas. An avalanche of punches had sent him reeling into the ropes and down to the mat. The packed house inside the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City had just settled in for the main event and was already back on its feet.
On May 15, a bout being touted as “Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide” featured two power-punching Heavyweights as Michael Moorer (28-0, 26 KOs) and “Smokin’” Bert Cooper (27-8, 24 KOs) would wage a fistic war.
The year was 1992.
Scheduled for 12 rounds, the vacant WBO heavyweight title was on the line.
Just six months before in November 1991, Cooper nearly shocked the world as the unlikely challenger for Evander Holyfield’s unified crown. He decked the champion and put him on the canvas, the first man ever to do so. Holyfield survived, but Cooper made an indelible impression.
The 26-year-old Cooper was a tough, cagey veteran who had been in with the likes of Riddick Bowe, Ray Mercer, Carl Williams and George Foreman. At 5’11” and armed with a brutal left hook, Cooper had often worked as a sparring partner emulating former champion Mike Tyson. His size, build, and straight ahead style embodied the classic seek-and-destroy mentality.
After relinquishing the WBO Light Heavyweight title, the 24-year-old Moorer debuted as a Heavyweight in April of 1991. As a Heavyweight, the undefeated southpaw continued his winning ways earning knockouts over Levi Billups and Alex Stewart.
This nights bout was broadcast live on TVKO Pay-Per-View with Len Berman and Joe Goosen seated ringside to call the action. Riddick Bowe, who would face Holyfield for the title in November, joined the broadcast team to score the bout for the viewers at home.
Immediately after ring announcer Michael Buffer introduced referee Joe O’Neil and the fighters, Moorer was on the deck.
Cooper, wearing black trunks with silver trim, stepped in behind his left jab and it was bombs away early. He ripped right hands to the head and left hooks to the body in a furious opening assault.
The round had begun with Moorer slowly moving backward while looking to paint Cooper with his right jab. He owned a three-and-a-half-inch height advantage and a five-inch reach advantage over Cooper and looked to establish distance and punching range in the bout’s opening seconds.
The distance Moorer attempted to create closed quickly as he backed into the ropes. His legs buckled as he collapsed to the canvas. The ringside crowd rose and Berman wailed. “And he’s hurt! Michael Moorer is out on his feet!”
After Moorer rose to take the standing eight count from O’Neil, the action resumed with Cooper scorching his wounded opponent in an all-out mugging. Moorer covered up and tried to counterpunch while weathering the early blitzkrieg.
The two stood toe to toe as Berman and the ringside crowd loved the early action. “Crowd on its feet! What a first round!”
Moorer then landed a pair of blistering right hands. Cooper’s mouthpiece sailed from one side of the ring to the other as he crashed to the canvas. Berman continued, “Oh! Oh! Cooper goes down! Both men down in the first round!”
It was Cooper’s turn to climb off the deck. Without a mouthpiece, Cooper stood toe to toe with Moorer for the remainder of the first three minutes which had quickly become a see-saw battle.
The all-out slugfest continued in Round 2. Both men took turns hammering away to their opponent’s head and body. The thudding sound of leather landing reverberated around ringside as the crowd continuously moaned and groaned.
It was an old-fashioned Heavyweight war that continued into Round 3. Seconds into the third round, Cooper floored Moorer for a second time with a 10-punch barrage of rights and lefts. Again Moorer rose and again he fought back, cutting Cooper over his right eye.
The free-for-all continued as both men threw and landed almost at will. Now in Round 5, Cooper pressed forward and again backed Moorer into the ropes.
A confident looking Cooper, now bleeding heavily from his right eye, banged away with reckless abandon. Moorer looked to carefully choose his spots to counterpunch having felt Cooper’s power.
With just under 60 seconds remaining in the fifth, Moorer spun off the ropes and ripped a crushing right hand to Cooper’s chin. The sound of the blow thundered loudly as Moorer immediately followed it up with a right uppercut-left hook combination.
Berman screamed, “Oh! Uppercut! Down he goes!”
Like a dump truck emptying its load, Cooper sailed to the canvas. His back rested on top of the bottom rope, halfway in and halfway out of the ring. Eyes glazed and his face a mask of confusion, he tried to pull himself forward and back into the ring.
In an incredible feat in and of itself, with his eyes glazed and bleeding badly from his right eye, Cooper had risen at the count of nine. O’Neil waived his hands above his head and halted the action. Berman exclaimed “It’s over!”
Ringside physicians rushed the ring and helped Cooper to a stool while the crowd inside the Taj Mahal stood and cheered.
The battle was officially stopped at 2:21 of Round 5. Both warriors, and their corners, embraced in mutual respect after each had dropped the other twice inside of 15 minutes of continuous action.
At the time of the stoppage, the scorecards revealed two judges had Cooper ahead, 38-37 and 39-36. The third judge had the bout scored even, 38-38.
The pure excitement that accompanied the pier six brawl brought honors that included it being named the Fight of the Year by KO Magazine.
Cooper would fight on but would not reach the heights he achieved with Moorer and Holyfield. Moorer, on the other hand, would go on to beat Holyfield and Axel Schultz to win Heavyweight titles.
The credo on this night in 1992 was to get hit, go down, get up, and hit back. It was exciting and dramatic stuff.