The First Real Giant Heavyweight: Ewart Potgieter

15.01.09 - By Paul McCreath: All fans of boxing today are familiar with the present day big Russian Nicolay Valuev. This 7 foot 320 pound man is truly a giant. While many have criticised his skills and especially his lack of aggression he has nonetheless managed to win one of the alphabet world titles. He may have ordinary abilities but he is still a hard man to beat. He is not of course the first big man to hold a world title..

In the early thirties another large fellow, Primo Canera was the world heavyweight champ for a time. He was not a giant in the true sense of the word since he was only around 6 foot 6 inches and 270 pounds.Lots of fighters today are nearly that big.

Few fans these days would have any memory of another giant who was even bigger than Valuev. Ewart Potgieter never achieved championship status but for a short period in the mid 1950's he caused quite a stir. At that time we did not have the internet and immediate access to boxing results anywhere in the world. We usually had to wait a month or two to hear about fights taking place anywhere outside of America which in those days almost completely dominated the heavyweight class. Towards the end of 1954 word began to trickle out of the South African province of Natal about a monster sized heavyweight over 7 feet tall who was destroying all opponents placed in the ring with him. We heard his name and eventually found out that he had scored 7 strait KOs all in 2 rounds or less but we knew little else. Could he be a coming menace to the top heavies of the day?

We must remember that back then a normal sized heavyweight would usually weigh around 185 to 190 pounds. Potgieter was relatively speaking even more of a giant then compared to what he would be today. He stood 7 feet 2 inches tall and weighed around 330 pounds,more than 50 % bigger than most others in his class.

The top promoter in Britain at this time was Jack Solomans and Jack knew a good thing when he heard about it. Ewart was brought to the UK and in September of 1955 he made his British debut against a veteran club fighter named Simon Templar who had already contested 48 fights. Simon had won slightly less than half of those bouts but he had been stopped only once by future top ten boxer Joe Erskine in the 8th round. Erskine was 18-0-1 before their bout and Templar seemed a fair test for Potgieter. Ewart stopped Simon in the 6th so the publicity campaign continued.

One month later Noel Reed became British victim number two by a 3rd round KO.Reed was a 37 fight veteran on a similar level to Templar. In fact he had split 4 previous bouts with Templar. By now some fans were beginning to notice that in spite of 9 KOs in a row maybe Ewart was not all that skilled. It was time to give him a real test.

The opponent chosen to find out if Potgieter could really fight was the Canadian James J.Parker, a big man himself at around 250 pounds. Parker was nothing special and in fact was said to like drinking more than he liked training but he brought with him a 27-5-3 record including wins over contenders Jimmy Slade and Charlie Norkus.He had also fought a 12 round draw with Earl Walls for the Canadian title. Walls was a top 10 fighter in those days and Parker was rated by Ring Magazine for a short time as well. This was a pretty big challenge for the 23 year old giant and he did not exactly pass with flying colors. The bout was declared a draw and Ewart looked awful. Most fans thought Parker had been robbed.

One boxing writer at the time wrote than Ewart's most effective punch was accomplished by extending his left arm in front of him and then leaning forward. While he was obviously joking it did not sound good. Parker meanwhile went on from there to defeat another much better African Johnny Arthur and then KO'd German veteran contender Heinz Neuhaus in 3 rounds. He followed that by meeting Archie Moore in front of over 19000 fans at the old Maple Leaf baseball stadium in Toronto in a bout advertised as for the heavyweight title vacated by Rocky Marciano. Parker was stopped in the 9th round.

Sam Solomans had seen enough and so had the British fans.Ewart never would fight in the UK again but he was still unbeaten and after all Parker was a top 10 fighter and Potgieter had only 9 previous fights. Maybe with his size and more experience there was still hope.

It was a little over a year later in January of 1957 when Ewart surfaced again this time in Holyoke Massachusetts against local club fighter Jeff Dyer. Would we see a new and improved Potgieter? Unfortunately not. Dyer won a unanimous decision over 10 rounds. Later developments would suggest this was not such a bad result either because Dyer went on from there to go the full 10 rounds with contenders Wayne Bethea, Zora Folley and Bob Baker and lasted until the 10th round against dangerous Nino Valdez all before the end of that same year.

Potgieter knew better than to hang around Holyoke any longer and headed for Oregon. In the next two months he added two more KOs to his count against easy opponents then in March he had his 4th fight of the year against former top 10 slugger John Holman. Holman had KO wins over Ezzard Charles, Billy Smith and Bob Satterfield and would later go 10 rounds with Bob Baker and Willie Pastrano. While he was no longer at his peak he was still dangerous and he proved it by outpointing Ewart in 10 rounds. This proved to be the last bout for Potgieter. Apparently convinced that his great size was not going to be enough to ever become a top fighter he left boxing for good. His final record was 11 wins all by KO, 2 losses and the draw with Parker. Other than his size he had little to offer as a pro fighter but for a short while he sure had people talking.

Until Valuev came along we never saw another like him.

Article posted on 15.01.2009

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