Former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion


© GERRIE COETZEE 2010-2017
It    is    25    years    ago    that    Gerrie    Coetzee stunned      the      boxing      world      when,      on September   23,   1983   in   Cleveland,   Ohio,   he knocked   out   Michael   Dokes   in   the   tenth   round to      win      the      World      Boxing      Association heavyweight title. It   still   rates   as   one   of   the   supreme   moments in   the   history   of   SA   sport;   the   night   Gerrie Coetzee    won    a    portion    of    the    heavyweight championship of the world. When   the   Boksburg   Bomber   won   the   WBA title,    there    was    only    one    other    recognised heavyweight   champion   –   Larry   Holmes,   who held the WBC title. Gerrie     was     the     first     white     heavyweight champion   since   Ingemar   Johansson   in   1959 and    the    first    South   African    to    win    a    world heavyweight     title.     It     remains     one     of     the greatest performances by any SA sportsman. Coetzee’s    reign    as    WBA    champion    did    not last   long.   Only   14   months   after   winning   the belt,   he   was   knocked   out   by   Greg   Page.   They met   at   Sun   City   on   December   1,   1984,   in   a bout filled with controversy. Born   on   April   8,   1955,   in   Witfield,   Boksburg, Coetzee   was   the   oldest   of   four   children.   His father,   Flip,   an   amateur   trainer,   “bribed”   the reluctant   Gerrie   to   put   on   gloves   and   get   into the ring. It cost him 50c a time. The   youngster   later   began   to   enjoy   the   sport and   at   the   age   of   13,   he   won   the   Eastern Transvaal   bantamweight   title.   He   went   on   to win       the       senior       amateur       heavyweight championship   in   1973   when   he   stopped   Kallie Knoetze in the final. After    an    estimated    192    amateur    fights,    he turned professional at the age of 19. On   September   14,   1974,   Coetzee   beat   former SA    heavyweight    champion    Chris    Roos    on points over four rounds. On     August     16,     1976,     he     won     the     SA heavyweight    title    from    Mike    Schutte    on    a sixth-round   disqualification.   This   was   his   13th professional    fight    and    it    proved    an    unlucky one   as   he   injured   his   right   hand,   which   was   to give him trouble for the rest of his career. In October the same year Coetzee met his old amateur   rival   Knoetze.   He   went   into   the   fight against   medical   advice   but   despite   a   pulled back    muscle,    he    won    a    disputed    10-round points   decision.   He   then   became   “supreme” SA   heavyweight   champion   when   he   knocked out     black     champion     James     Mathatho     on November 27, 1976. After   an   easy   three-round   stoppage   of   Pierre Fourie,     and     in     a     rematch     with     Schutte, Coetzee   won   his   17th   pro   fight   in   a   row,   but paid   a   heavy   price   when   he   shattered   bones in    both    hands.    He    told    his    corner    in    the second   round   that   he   had   pain   in   his   left   hand and in the third felt his right hand going. Showing   tremendous   courage,   he   continued to   punish   Schutte   to   win   on   points   over   12 rounds.   At   the   end   of   the   fight   his   gloves   had to be cut off his swollen hands. A      Johannesburg      surgeon      performed      a complex   operation   on   his   right   hand   in   April 1977   and   at   the   same   time   operated   on   the left. After   a   six-month   layoff,   Coetzee   returned   to the     ring     on     October     30,     1977,     to     stop American     Tom     Prater     in     four.     He     then knocked     out     another     American,     Johnny Boudreaux,   in   six   rounds   in   December. After   a lacklustre   win   over   Randy   Stephens   in   May 1978   Coetzee   needed   another   operation   on his right hand. It   was   reported   that   Coetzee   had   taken   a   pain killer     that     was     to     blame     for     his     poor performance.   However,   Coetzee   denied   that a    tranquilliser    had    anything    to    do    with    his performance. However,    the    Transvaal    Boxing    Board    of Control       was       upset       about       Coetzee’s performance   and   because   he   tried   to   use   a plastic   splint   for   his   right   hand.   It   was   reported that   Coetzee,   previously   a   dental   technician, had    made    a    thin    protector    from    plastic    cut from a milk bottle. Curtis   Cokes,   who   trained   Stephens,   saw   the splint   being   taped   on   to   Coetzee’s   hand   and objected. The    Transvaal    Boxing    Board    then    held    an enquiry    and    announced    that    Coetzee,    his manager,   Hal   Tucker,   and   co-manager   Jock Lewin,   as   well   as   trainer   Flip   Coetzee   were   all suspended   for   six   months.   No   reasons   were given   but   after   an   appeal,   the   suspension   was reduced to three months.   In   December   1978   Coetzee   returned   to   action with   a   clear-cut   win   over   tough American   Dale Ibar Arrington. His    next    fight,    in    June    1979,    was    against former   world   champion   Leon   Spinks,   who   had beaten Muhammad Ali. They   met   in   Monte   Carlo   and   after   a   stunning 123-second    knockout    Coetzee    was    back    in the international spotlight. On   October   20,   1979,   a   crowd   of   more   than 77 000 at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria saw
Coetzee   go   through   15   dull   rounds   in   losing to   American   John   Tate   for   the   vacant   WBA heavyweight belt. Coetzee   needed   only   100   seconds   to   return to   contention   when,   in April   1980,   he   knocked out    Mike    Koranicki    of    the    US    to    set    up    a match     with     Mike     Weaver     for     the     WBA heavyweight title at Sun City on October 25. Weaver     had     won     the     WBA     belt     with     a sensational    15th-round    knockout    over    John Tate seven months earlier. Against   Weaver,   Coetzee   boxed   well   in   the early   rounds.   In   the   eighth,   he   had   Weaver dazed   against   the   ropes   but   he   failed   to   land the pay-off punch. Coetzee   began   to   fade   and   in   the   13th   round Weaver   landed   a   right   hook   that   dumped   him on   the   canvas.   Coetzee   made   it   to   his   feet   but was   in   no   condition   to   continue   and   referee Jesus    Celis    of    Venezuela    completed    the count. In   March   1981,   Coetzee   scored   a   lacklustre points   win   over   George   Chaplin.   He   then   lost a    disputed    ten-round    decision    to    Renaldo Snipes    in    New    York    and    stopped    another American,      Leroy      Caldwell,      in      five      in Johannesburg. In    1982    he    beat    Fossie    Schmidt,    Scott    Le Doux   and   Stan   Ward   but   failed   to   impress.   In January   1983   he   fought   a   to   a   majority   draw with     future     WBC     heavyweight     champion Pinklon    Thomas.   At    the    time    Coetzee    was considered   an   enigma,   an   extremely   talented fighter    who    had    two    cracks    at    the    world heavyweight title and failed on each occasion. Unbeaten   Michael   Dokes,   from   Akron,   Ohio, won    the    WBA    heavyweight    belt    when    he stopped    Weaver    in    the    first    round    in    May 1983.    It    was    a    controversial    ending    when referee   Joey   Curtis   suddenly   called   the   fight off   after   63   seconds.   The   4   700   spectators chanted    “Bull…!”    and    “Fix!    Fix!    Fix”.    In    a return   match   six   months   later,   Dokes   retained the belt with a 15-round draw. Facing    what    many    felt    was    an    impossible task,   Coetzee,   then   28,   took   a   third   crack   at the   WBA   title   when   he   challenged   Dokes   in Cleveland    on    September    23,    1983.    Many observers    felt    the    26-year-old    Dokes    was better     prepared,     faster     and     bigger     than Coetzee. Dokes,   knowing   the   implications   of   a   black American   world   champion   losing   to   a   white South   African,   had   prepared   better   than   ever before.   Coetzee,    a    5-to-1    underdog,    stunned    the boxing    world    when    he    knocked    out    Dokes with   two   seconds   remaining   in   the   tenth   round at the Richfield Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio. Coetzee,   the   aggressor   throughout,   dropped Dokes   with   a   right   hook   in   the   fifth   round   and remained   in   control.   He   appeared   to   tire   in   the tenth   before   landing   a   crashing   right   to   the side   of   Dokes’s   head   to   score   a   sensational win. It    was    reported    that    Coetzee    earned    $250 000 and Dokes $750 000. However,   before   Coetzee's   triumph   he   had   to negotiate    a    minefield    of    controversy.    His relationship    with    promoter    Don    King    led    to accusations    that    King    was    building    up    a monopoly and exploited fighters. The     New     York     Village     Voice     newspaper alleged   that   King   was   rigging   the   WBA   ratings and   paying   boxers   less   than   stipulated   in   their contracts.      The      New      York      Times      said Coetzee’s    American    helper,    Jackie    McCoy, had screaming run-ins with Flip Coetzee. The    controversy    over    television    rights    was settled   only   when   the   SABC   agreed   to   pay R75 000 to show the fight in South Africa. There    were    also    reports    that    Dokes    had denied rumours that he used cocaine. Protracted      negotiations      took      place      for Coetzee    to    fight    Larry    Holmes,    the    WBC champion,   in   a   unification   match   in   Las   Vegas on   July   8,   1984.   The   plans   were   abandoned because of contractual problems. THE SHORT REIGNS ENDS Coetzee’s   reign   as   WBA   champion   was   short. Amid   more   controversy,   he   lost   to   Greg   Page in   his   first   defence   on   December   1,   1984   at Sun City. Ticket   prices   for   the   fight   were   at   an   all-time high   for   South   Africa   –   a   minimum   of   R100, and R450 for ringside seats. Page,    rated    No    6    by    the    WBA,    arrived    in Johannesburg      eight      days      earlier      than scheduled   to   prevent   efforts   by   the   US   anti- apartheid lobby to block his visit. Coetzee    was    the    overwhelming    favourite. Most     critics     predicted     a     win     inside     the distance     and     Coetzee     was     the     betting favourite at 10 to 1. However,   the   champion   was   knocked   out   in   a sensational finish in the eighth round. A   major   row   erupted   over   the   duration   of   the last round. The pay-off punches from Page  
came    at    a    time    when    his    manager,    Janks Morton,   was   shouting   to   the   time-keeper   that the round was over. Coetzee   had   been   down   for   the   first   time   after the   bell   in   the   sixth   round   when   Page   caught him    with    a    right    that    saw    him    sink    to    his knees. In   the   seventh   round,   a   barrage   of   punches put   the   South African   down   for   the   mandatory eight count. Towards   the   end   of   the   eighth,   Coetzee   was beginning    to    outbox    the    challenger.    Then Page   landed   a   left   hook   to   the   jaw   that   left Coetzee    flat    on    his    back    –    3    minute    50 seconds after the start of the round. The   Coetzee   camp   claimed   that   the   knockout was   illegal   and   appealed   to   the   WBA   to   have the   result   nullified.   However,   the   appeal   was turned down. Despite   the   controversy,   Page   was   a   worthy winner. After   a   break   of   nine   months,   Coetzee,   then 30,   returned.   He   weighed   105,   6   kg   and   failed to   impress   in   scoring   a   10-rounds   unanimous points     decision     over     unranked     American James Tillis. Next   up   was   a   WBA   heavyweight   title   final eliminator   against   Britain’s   24-year-old   Frank Bruno    in    London.    It    ended    in    disaster    for Coezee   who   was   knocked   out   after   1   minute 50 seconds of the opening round. Boxing        News        editor        Harry        Mullan wrote:”Coetzee   was   a   big   disappointment.   He looked   podgy,   tense,   and   apprehensive,   and made   no   attempt   to   fight   back   when   Bruno hurt   him.   It   was   hard   to   believe   that   this   was the   same   man   who,   in   three   of   his   last   four fights,   had   faced   men   who   were   or   became world heavyweight champion.” It   was   an   inglorious   end   to   a   distinguished career. Soon     afterwards     Coetzee     announced     his retirement.     He     became     a     promoter     and moved to America with his family. In    August    1993,    he    decided    to    make    a comeback   and   knocked   out   Dave   Fiddler   in two    rounds.    In    October    the    same    year,    he stopped   West   Turner   in   the   fifth   when   Turner was badly cut on the forehead. Once    again,    Coetzee    retired.    But    then    he decided   to   have   another   go.   On   January   10, 1997,   he   met   journeyman   Dan   Kosmicki   in Hollywood   and   won   by   way   of   a   third-round knockout. The   sad   part   of   boxing   is   when   fighters   go   on too    long.    This    was    also    the    case    when Coetzee,    at    the    age    of    42,    had    one    more fight. He   took   on   former   triple   world   champion   Iran Barkley    on    June    8,    1997    for    the    synthetic World Boxing Board heavyweight belt. Boxing      World      magazine      wrote:      “Gerrie Coetzee,     the     former     WBA     heavyweight champion,   has   decided   to   hang   up   his   gloves after   his   knockout   defeat   at   the   hands   of   Iran Barkley    in    the    10th    round    in    Hollywood. Coetzee had little choice. The     California     State    Athletic     Commission suspended   Coetzee   indefinitely   and   strongly recommended that he retire from the ring.” Few     imagined     that     an     overblown     light heavyweight   such   as   Barkley   would   have   the beating   of   Coetzee,   but   the   South   African’s feared punching power was gone. Coetzee   did   drop   Barkley   with   a   right   hook   in the   second   round   but   by   the   eighth   both   were exhausted. Barkley   hurt   Coetzee   with   a   left   hook   in   the tenth   and   jarred   him   with   a   right   but   referee Robert   Byrd   stepped   in   and   stopped   the   fight before Coetzee was seriously hurt. Coetzee   finished   his   career   with   a   record   of 33-6-1 (21). Coetzee    subsequently    returned    to    live    in South Africa. By: Ron Jackson