Former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion


© GERRIE COETZEE 2010-2018

Boxing - The night the Boksburg Bomber struck

by Ron Jackson | 02 May 2006 (13:19)   It   still   rates   as   one   of   the   supreme   moments   in   the   history   of   SA   sport;   the night Gerrie Coetzee became heavyweight boxing champion of the world. Boxing's   heavyweight   championship   has   always   been   considered   to   be   the   richest prize in sport. And Coetzee once held at least a portion of that prize. It   must   be   remembered,   too,   that   when   t he   Boksburg   Bomber    won   the   WBA   title, there   was   only   one   other   recognised   heavyweight   champion   -   Larry   Holmes,   who held the WBC title. Coetzee   stunned   the   boxing   world   when,   on   September   23,   1983   in   Cleveland, Ohio,   he   knocked   out   Michael   Dokes   in   the   tenth   round.   That   made   him   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. The   first   world   heavyweight   championship   contest   in   which   gloves   were   worn   was held   on   September   7,   1892,   when   James   J   Corbett   knocked   out   John   L   Sullivan   in 21 rounds. For   many   of   those   who   followed   him,   the   heavyweight   crown   did   not   bring   fame   and fortune.   Primo   Carnera   was   cheated   out   of   his   winnings   by   gangsters;   Joe   Louis had   trouble   with   the   taxman   and   became   addicted   to   drugs;   Ezzard   Charles   ended up   in   a   wheelchair;   Sonny   Liston   died   in   mysterious   circumstances   and   Mike   Tyson was convicted for rape and declared bankrupt. And   "The   Greatest,"   Muhammad   Ali,   probably   carried   on   for   too   long   and   now   has serious   health   problems.   It   must   be   said   that,   despite   his   stunning   victory   over   Dokes,   Coetzee   was   not   considered   to   be   the   best   heavyweight   in the world. That honour belonged to the unbeaten Holmes, the WBC champion. The   American   had   won   his   belt   in   June   1978   and   had   already   defended   it   15   times   when   Coetzee   rose   to   fame.   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. Fighting for 50c 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,   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,Spinks, Tate and Weaver . 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   point   win   over George   Chaplin.   He   then   lost   a   disputed   ten-rounds   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.   Cleveland,   Sept   23,   1983   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 reign 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. An inglorious end 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 has returned to South Africa and settled on what used to be called the East Rand, his old stamping ground.
Boksburg Bomber