Muhammad Ali paid tribute to Sir Henry Cooper yesterday, and said: “I’ll miss my ole friend.”

Ali and Cooper became friends after their two fights in the 1960s.

Boxing legend Ali, 69, said: “Henry always had a smile for me; a warm and embracing smile. It was always a pleasure being in Henry’s company.

“I will miss my ole friend. He was a great fighter and a gentleman.

“I was not aware he was ill. I visited with him two summers ago during a brief visit. He was in good humour and looked quite fit.

“My family and I extend our heartfelt sympathies to his family and loved ones.” Sir Henry died at his son’s house in Surrey on Sunday, two days before his 77th birthday.

‘Our ‘Enery’ famously knocked Ali down at Wembley Stadium in 1963 with a left hook that Ali said “hit me so hard my ancestors in Africa felt it”.

But Ali, then Cassius Clay, was saved by the bell and struggled up off the canvas. His trainer slashed his glove to give him time to recover while another pair was fetched.