Former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion


© GERRIE COETZEE 2010-2018
South African Heavyweights ... Two by Two By Deon Potgieter With   a   dearth   of   heavyweights   currently   active   in   South Africa   there   will   be   a   lot   of   attention   on   the   debut of   two   new   prospective   talents   on   Friday   night   at   Nasrec   Johannesburg.   Jakes   Els   from   Brakpan   and Barend   Liebenberg   from   the   Free   State   will   be   making   their   debut   against   each   other   in   a   fight   which   is seen   as   an   indicator   of   whether   either   or   both   could   be   a   savior   of   sorts   for   the   sport   locally.   While   there is   some   exciting   talent   on   the   rise   in   the   lower   weight   divisions,   it   is   the   heavyweights   that   attract   the masses. South   Africa   has   produced   numerous   world-class   heavyweights   throughout   its   proud   116   year boxing   history.    Whereas   in   earlier   times   the   really   outstanding   fighters   arrived   one   by   one,   the   past   30 years   have   seen   them   arriving   in   twos.   The   most   memorable   and   fiercest   local   rivalry   of   them   all   was between   Gerrie   Coetzee   and   Kallie   Knoetze. As   amateurs   they   met   on   six   occasions,   each   winning   three bouts. As   professionals,   their   rivalry   developed   into   a   feud,   both   being   out   to   prove   just   who   the   best   was.   Fight fans   and   the   public   at   large   were   divided   –   you   were   either   a   Coetzee   or   a   Knoetze   man   –   there   was no   middle   ground .   Given   their   personalities,   Knoetze   was   the   more   likable,   but   Coetzee   was   seen   as the better technical boxer, and both attracted the fans with ease. “We   never   liked   each   other,”   says   Knoetze.   “I   think   it   was   because   he   knew   how   hard   I   could   hit   and   I   knew   how   fast   he   was.   I’d   still   be   throwing a punch and he’d have hit me twice.” The   late   sportswriter   Chris   Greyvenstein   said   of   Knoetze,   “He   wielded   his   right   with   shattering   effect,   and   if   Knoetze   added   the   dedication   of   a (Rocky) Marciano to this gift from the gods, he could have been the best heavyweight in the world.” Coetzee   and   Knoetze   met   only   once   as   professionals,   with   Coetzee   winning   a   very   controversial   points   decision.    Coetzee   dropped Knoetze   in   the   fourth   round,   but   the   man   who   modeled   his   mouth   on   Muhammad Ali   came   back   strong   in   the   latter   rounds   and   had   ringsiders,   as well as television audiences, convinced he had taken the fight. The judges, however, saw it differently. In   1979   the   dream   of   seeing   two   South Africans   do   battle   against   each   other   for   the   heavyweight   crown   became   a   real   possibility.    Both fighters   had   proven   their   worth   by   facing   and   beating   a   host   of   top   ten   contenders   –   mostly   via   the   short   route.   At   that   stage   the   WBA   world champion Ali   was   washed-up   following   his   farcical   matches   with   the   novice   Leon   Spinks   and   decided   to   relinquish   his   title   rather   than   face   either Coetzee or Knoetze, who would most certainly have inflicted some serious and unnecessary damage on the legend. Knoetze   and   Coetzee   then   met   Big   John Tate   and   Spinks   in   an   elimination   tournament   for   the   vacant   title.   “It   was   what   everybody   here   wanted   to see, Gerrie and myself for the heavyweight championship of the world,” says Knoetze. “It was a dream.” Knoetze,   overwhelmed   by   the   enormity   of   the   occasion,   ran   out   of   gas   and   lost   to   Tate   on   an   eighth   round   technical   knockout.   “Physically   I   was ready. I could have beaten anybody,” says Knoetze “but mentally I was still an amateur. When I got in the ring I was scared” Knoetze’s   preparation   prior   to   the   fight   consisted   of   numerous   functions   to   satisfy   sponsors   and,   always   being   a   big   party   animal,   the   big   hitting and charismatic fighter indulged himself more than would be expected of a fighter in training for a fight of this magnitude. A   week   after   Knoetze’s   shocking   defeat,   Coetzee   took   on   Spinks   in   Monte   Carlo.   At   the   time   Spinks   was   thought   to   be   the   tougher   of   the   two Americans.   After   all,   Spinks   had   just   gone   30   rounds   back   to   back   with   “The   Greatest.”   Coetzee   showed   no   respect   for   this   hyped   status, however,   and   scored   one   of   the   most   memorable   knockouts   in   heavyweight   history.   Spinks   was   clearly   out   of   his   league   and   visited   the   canvas three times shortly after the start of the first round. A   record   number   of   90   000   spectators   flocked   to   Loftus   Versfeld   on   October   20,   1979   to   see   Coetzee   take   on   Tate   for   the   WBA   heavyweight world   title. An   uncannily   lack   luster   Coetzee   put   on   a   dismal   performance   and Tate   won   a   very   dull   15   round   points   decision.   Coetzee   got   another shot   at   world   honors   against   Tate’s   conqueror,   Mike   Weaver,   a   year   later.   Failing   to   finish   off   the   job   after   having   Weaver   in   all   sorts   of   trouble throughout the bout, Coetzee himself was stopped in the 13th round of a grueling and very exciting contest. Two   years   later,   on   September   23,1983,   Coetzee   got   it   right   and   knocked   out   Michael   Dokes   –   a   man   who   had   never   even   been   knocked   down until then – in the 10th round of a pulsating battle for the WBA crown.