Hackney's James Cook MBE: a true boxing legend

James Cook MBE with young boxers in the gym at Pedro Boxing Club

James Cook MBE with young boxers in the gym at Pedro Boxing Club - Credit: Archant

Hackney boxing hero James Cook was born on May 17 1959 in Runaway Bay, in Saint Ann Parish on the island of Jamaica.  

When he was growing up there, boxing as a sport was far from his mind; cricket was his thing then and he played a lot of it. 

Cook left the warmth and sunshine of Jamaica when he was nine, his mother having arrived from London to collect him.  

He soon found himself having to grow up on a notorious North Peckham Housing Estate, while In his formative years in Jamaica he had been raised by his grandparents.  

Cook had intentions of becoming an athlete, a runner in fact, in his early days in London, but his thirst for one-on-one competition led him into boxing and initially to the world famous Lynn AC Boxing Club.  


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After a short sojourn at the Lynn he moved to the East Lane ABC in Camberwell Green which was in fact in danger of being closed down at the time.  

Cook was a hard puncher in his early amateur days and ended up “in the vest” with 20 victories out of 26 contests.  

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He twice reached London ABA finals, losing both bouts on points, both disputed decisions in fact, to Paddington’s durable Johnny Graham.  

Professional boxing was to become the order of the day from thereon and Antiguan born Billy Wynter became Cook’s first boxing manager.  

Brian Lawrence became Cook’s first trainer and the two have remained inseparable fixtures on the London boxing scene ever since. 

He made his paid debut on October, 20 1982 at the Lyceum Ballroom, in The Strand in London and squeezed home on points (59-58.5) against fellow gym mate Mick Courtney.  

It was to herald the start of a quite successful spell with Billy Wynter, Cook winning nine of his twelve contests over a period of three years.  

Many of his contests took place in hotel and sporting club settings, but he won the vacant Southern Area middleweight crown at the Royal Albert Hall stopping Tony Jenkins in the ninth session of a scheduled ten rounder. 

James Cook MBE stands outside Pedro Club with his autobiography aptly titled Guardian Of The Streets

James Cook MBE stands outside Pedro Club with his autobiography aptly titled Guardian Of The Streets. Picture: Razvan Pestean - Credit: Razvan Pestean

During this period he met and lost twice to Liverpudlian prospect, Jimmy Price, successfully defended his Southern Area against Conrad Oscar, before losing his title via a two round knockout against Tony Burke.  

It was time to move on and Cook signed up with Midlands born John Smith as his new manager. Their partnership was not that successful, winning just three fights and losing five.

Smith decided to take his new charge “on the road in Europe”, never an easy undertaking and losses were incurred in Germany, Netherlands, France and Finland.  

A close points success was obtained over local prospect Michael Watson at Wembley Arena in May 1986, although his attempt at the vacant British middleweight crown failed against the silky skills of Sheffield’s Herol ”Bomber” Graham, Cook being stopped in five rounds  at the City Hall in Sheffield. 

It was time to change manager's once more and James signed with popular Londoner Harry Holland, where he won all five of his fights.

Holland was keen for Cook to move up a weight and fight in the super-middleweight division and it proved to be a very successful move.  

Highly touted prospect, Errol Christie was stopped in the fifth round of a scheduled eight at the York Hall, Bethnal Green in January 1989, and just under a year later Cook travelled to Belfast to become British super-middleweight champion halting local man Sam Storey in the tenth round. 

It got better in March 1991 when Cook travelled to France to win the vacant European super-middleweight championship by knocking out Pierre -Franck Winterstein in the twelfth and final round.

Mark Kaylor was halted in six rounds in Cook’s first European title defence at the York Hall in June 1991.

Thereafter James changed manager again, this time linking up with world renowned manager and promoter Mickey Duff.  

This was probably the most lucrative financial part of Cook’s fighting career, although after successfully defending his European title against Finland’s Tarmo Uusivirta he lost it in his next fight, knocked out in the opening round by Frank Nicotra in France. 

Although he was by now in the twilight of his career Cook won the vacant British super-middleweight title narrowly outscoring Fidel Castro Smith in south east London in September 1993. 

The final curtain came down on his career in March 1994 when he was comfortably outpointed over twelve rounds by the up and coming Teessider Cornelius Carr at Bethnal Green’s famous York Hall. 

James Cook retired from the ring having won 25 contests and lost 10 in his paid career spanning twelve years.  

James Cook MBE with Jasmine (12) in the gym at Pedro Boxing Club

James Cook MBE with Jasmine (12) in the gym at Pedro Boxing Club - Credit: Archant

Since retirement from the ring, he has pursued a very successful career as a boxing trainer and has devoted much of his time to the famous Pedro Youth Club which remains a focal point for the Lower Clapton community, a stones throw away from Cook’s home.  

Over a decade ago he set up a boxing club at the Pedro and it has become a successful amateur club for the local area with, when conditions permit, a very well supported annual open air tournament.  

In 2007, he received an MBE in the Birthday Honours list for service to youth justice in Hackney and he received his award direct from the Queen at Buckingham Palace. 

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