The Good in Boxing

It’s unlikely that if you live outside the United Kingdom you will know who James Cook is. You might not know who he is if you live in the UK.

James Cook was a very good boxer. He twice held the British Super-middleweight title and at his pinnacle won the European title at the same weight. He did this by travelling to a very hostile reception in Paris where he was seen as a total no-hoper against the 50-1-1 Pierre-Frank Winterstein.

Cook knocked out Winterstein in the twelfth and final round. He told me that the so-called “King of the Gypsies” was present and insisted that Cook handed over the shorts he wore in the fight as a memento, James did as he was asked and he and his cornermen left Paris in one piece.

Cook finished his career with 10 loses on his record but that’s mainly because he was treated as a journeyman by promoters who never realised his potential. In fairness to them, neither did Cook until he challenged the brilliant Herol “Bomber” Graham for the vacant British Middleweight title in 1988. He was stopped in the 5th round, but trainer Brian Lawrence told me that “James celebrated like he’d won”. This was the first time that Cook realised he could mix it with the best, even though five fights earlier he had taken the scalp of unbeaten hot prospect Michael Watson and scored a sensational knock out of American Willie Wilson on the undercard of Gianfranco Rossi vs Lupe Aquino in Italy.

After two very good wins in defence of his European strap, James Cook found himself as number one contender to Panamanian WBA Super-Middleweight Champ Victor Cordoba, but before that fight could take place, James lost his title to Frenchman Frank Nicotra (27-0-0) and that was the end to his hopes of a world title challenge.

James Cook and trainer Brian Lawrence with the EBU belt

There is so much more I could add about the story of James Cook’s boxing career, but what is more impressive is how James used boxing as a platform for something more important. Saving youngsters from a life of crime or worse on the streets of London.

James Cook MBE (Most excellent order of The British Empire). In 2007 James was awarded an MBE by the Queen of England for “his outstanding work with the young people of Hackney”. Hackney is a borough of London which includes an area commonly known as “Murder Mile”.

Through his youth center: The Pedro Youth Club, James gave youngsters a place to go, a place to learn and a place to keep them from the dangers of the streets outside. He has always stayed involved with boxing and used it as a way of teaching youngsters the discipline they need to achieve greater things in their lives.

During Cooks boxing career he was well known for throwing a vicious right uppercut. If he caught you with it you knew all about it, actually in the case of the aforementioned Willie Wilson, he knew very little about it until he awoke lying under the ropes. I still remember that knockout from 1987, such was its severity. Boxing mirrors life, it can be cruel and unyielding, it can inspire greatness, It looks after its own. And in every part of the world where there is boxing there is a James Cook.

James Cook MBE has his autobiography “Guardian of the Streets” coming out in April.

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