Former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion


© GERRIE COETZEE 2010-2018
July 02, 1979 Down And Out In Monaco John Underwood Gerrie   Coetzee   is   a   hero   worshiper.   His   idol   is   Muhammad Ali,   no   small   concession   for   a   South African   Voortrekker.    Coetzee   (pronounced coat-SEE-ah)   has   a   full-size   poster   of Ali   in   his   bedroom   in   the Transvaal,   where   as   a   teen-ager   he   studied   to   be   a   dental   technician   before   deciding to   make   a   career   as   a   heavyweight   boxer.   He   greatly   advanced   that   career   last   Sunday   night   in   Monaco   by   knocking   out   Leon   Spinks   in   the   first round   of   their   scheduled   12-round   bout.   In   that   brief   transaction,   Coetzee   floored   Spinks   three   times,   thus   sending   everyone   back   to   the   chemin   de fer   tables   where   they   could   do   some   losing   themselves.   For   Spinks,   the   raw   brawler   who   had   stripped   Ali   of   the   championship   in   a   15-round decision   in   February   of   last   year   only   to   surrender   it   back   to   Coetzee's   idol   last   September,   it   was   only   the   second   loss   of   his   10-fight   pro   career,   but it was a most calamitous one. In   the   nine   months   since   Spinks'   muddled   and   spiritless   defense   had   cost   him   his   title,   a   new   Spinks   supposedly   had   been   born.   The   1979   model may   be   nothing   more   than   the   old   Leon   with   his   hat   off.   New   Leon   trains   under   the   hard   eye   of   an   ex-cop   named   Henry   Grooms.   Grooms   has   only recently been added to the entourage of the former champion, which like geologic plates, is massive and tends to shift under stress. Ostensibly,   Grooms'   job   is   to   keep   Leon   out   of   automobiles,   his   frequent   downfall,   and   teach   him   a   reasonable   facsimile   of   discipline   and   etiquette. Like   where   and   when   not   to   wear   his   sensational   hats   (inside   as   opposed   to   outside,   for   example)   and   when   to   plug   in   the   earphones   of   his megawatt portable stereo, thus reducing the danger that restaurant patrons could be blasted out of their seats on his arrival. Evidences   of   Spinks'   conversion,   if   not   the   talk   of   Monte   Carlo   and   the   Riviera   last   week,   were   at   least   a   frequent   topic.   Leon   arrived   at   the appointed   places   hat-less,   or   hat   in   hand.   He   often   arrived   plugged   in,   a   remote   captive   of   his   music.   But   always   he   arrived   late.   In   matters   of   time, New Leon is still a confirmed procrastinator. In   the   days   preceding   the   fight   Spinks   seemed   always   to   be   somewhere   behind   Coetzee,    an   unbeaten   but   somewhat   suspect   fighter   who   had won   21   straight   bouts—none,   it   was   invariably   noted,   outside   his   homeland.   However   a   less   publicized   statistic   is   that   he   also   is   the   veteran   of   192 amateur   bouts,   having   won   180   of   them   by   knockouts.   Always   Coetzee   showed   up   promptly   at   press   conferences   and   public   functions.   Outside   a boxing   ring,   he   is   a   gentle   man,   a   white   man   liked   by   his   black   countrymen.   Blacks   have   spoken   out   on   his   behalf   in   the Transvaal   Post   because   he has   "denounced   racialism." Always   Coetzee   was   there   wherever   and   whenever   promised;   always   Spinks   kept   the   crowds   waiting   and   fight   promoter Bob Arum,   the   shrewd   New York   lawyer   who   rules   that   half   of   the   boxing   world   not   under   Don   King's   suzerainty,   shifting   his   feet   and   muttering   under his breath. And   sure   enough,   on   fight   night   there   was   Coetzee,   first   again. As   far   as   anyone   could   tell,   New   Leon   never   arrived.   By   the   time   his   buzzing   brain came   around   to   identifying   what   hit   him   (to   wit,   the   24-year-old   Coetzee's   right   hand),   the   ex-champion   was   walking   back   to   his   dressing   room alone, fighting back tears, leaving his entourage shocked and confused. Meanwhile,   Coetzee's   backers,   nearly   as   numerous   as   Spinks',   were   whooping   it   up   with   a   purpose.   Not   only   had   their   hero   destroyed   Spinks,   but also,   as   a   consequence,   it   seems   sure   Coetzee's   next   fight   will   be   against   John   Tate   for   the   WBA   title   that   the   37-year-old Ali   is   expected   to   vacate. Coetzee   thus   would   never   meet   his   idol   in   the   ring,   but   he   has   at   least   had   that   pleasure   outside   it.   He   made   a   pilgrimage   to   the   U.S.   to   see Ali   last year.   Coetzee   recalls   that   he   "got   goose-flesh"   when   they   met,   and   that Ali   "made   me   take   off   my   shirt   for   a   picture.   He   asked   me   to   throw   a   left   jab. He said it was good, but Rina, my wife, could do better." Three   days   before   the   fight   with   Spinks,   Coetzee   sat   with   Rina   in   a   hotel   lobby   in   San   Remo.   He   had   just   upstaged   Spinks   again   while   making   an appearance   with   the   mayor   and   a   boys'   band;   Spinks   showed   up   as   everybody   was   leaving.   Softly,   almost   wistfully,   Coetzee   said   that   it   scared   him, but   "right   now   I   do   not   think   I   can   be   beaten."   He   tapped   his   forehead   with   the   forefinger   of   his   right   hand,   the   hand   he   had   broken   so   many   times that   he   almost   called   it   quits   a   year   ago. An   operation   fusing   the   carpals   to   the   metacarpals   saved   his   boxing   career.   "I   have   seen   some   things   that he does." Coetzee said. "I think I can take advantage of them." What   Coetzee   had   seen—in   films,   and   on   television—was   that   Spinks   could   be   made   to   lower   his   left   hand   and   thus   open   himself   to   a   right   lead. Coetzee planned to make him do this by attacking him under the rib cage, where the 6'1", 198-pound Spinks appears almost frail. As   it   turned   out,   Coetzee,   who   stands   6'3"   and   weighed   in   at   221,   did   not   have   to   do   any   attacking.   Spinks   came   at   him   "like   a   bull,"   Coetzee   said afterward.   The   determined   suddenness   of   the   Spinks'   assault   drew   gasps   from   the   tiny   crowd   (2,000-plus)   gathered   in   an   arena   that   had   been hastily thrown together in a parking lot, as well as from Spinks' corner, which had instructed him to feel Coetzee out for a couple of rounds. Coetzee   withstood   Spinks'   repeated   charges,   one   of   which   practically   propelled   the   South African   through   the   ropes   and   onto   the   apron.   When   the fighters   were   disentangled,   Coetzee   made   one   sweeping   pass   at   Spinks'   ribs.   It   missed.   But   Spinks   got   the   message.   After   that,   Coetzee   didn't have   to   send   any   more,   or   set   up   anything,   although   a   telling   right   after   a   break   was   a   postscript   signalling   that   Coetzee   meant   business.   Spinks never   raised   his   left   much   above   his   waist   again.   In   the   two   minutes   the   fight   lasted   two   facts   were   established:   1)   Coetzee   proved   handsomely   that although   his   hand   speed   doesn't   approach   that   of Ali,   he   is   not   just   another   boring,   lumbering   white   hope,   and   2)   the   surgeon   who   operated   on   his right hand was a helluva career-fixer. Coetzee's   righthands   came   in   breathtaking   succession.   They   were   economical   deliveries,   unerringly   to   the   point,   arcing   tightly   over   Spinks'   lowered left.   The   first   caught   Spinks   behind   the   left   ear.   It   turned   him   terribly   slack   and   he   hit   the   deck.   Spinks   was   up   at   the   count   of   eight,   but   clearly something   had   been   taken   out   of   him.   The   Coetzee   rights   that   followed   were   undisguised   save   for   a   single   diversionary   left.   Cumulatively,   those rapid-fire   punches   put   Spinks   down   twice   more.   Later,   after   the   three-knockdown   rule   had   been   invoked   to   stop   the   fight,   Spinks   would   only remember the first one. "But I was beat, man, you understand that?" New Leon said, rejecting commiseration. "I got beat." Coetzee   said   he   was   "grateful"   that   Spinks   gave   him   this   chance,   and   that   it   had   allowed   him   to   prove   that   he   had   deserved   an   opportunity   to fight for an Olympic gold medal. He did not get that chance in Montreal "because of politics." Suddenly,   with   that   statement,   Coetzee   found   himself   in   potential   trouble   for   the   first   time   during   his   Monte   Carlo   stay.   He   headed   off   reporters   by quickly   adding,   "But   I   am   too   young   to   discuss   politics."   He   also   said   he   was   "very   surprised"   that   victory   had   come   so   easily.   Rina,   the   one   with   the superior left jab, said she was surprised, too. "I thought Gerrie would knock him out in the sixth," she said.
leon spinks