The Brief Reign of Gerrie Coetzee

By Steven Shabo: He won the title in a shroud of controversy with a premature stoppage against Mike Weaver and had been given a questionable draw in their rematch. He hoped fighting near his hometown would be his coming out party. He hoped an impressive victory in his next defense would make believers of everyone who ever doubted him. Michael “Dynamite” Dokes had an outstanding amateur career and was undefeated as a professional. However, some questioned whether he would ever fulfill his potential; despite the fact that he was a world champion.

His challenger, South African Gerrie Coetzee, had never been considered a serious threat in the heavyweight division until he knocked out former champ Leon Spinks in the first round; leaving him helplessly dangling in the ropes before a nationally televised audience. But Gerrie Coetzee had also failed to fulfill his promise. He had lost two previous title challenges in his native South Africa to Americans John Tate and Mike Weaver. After these defeats, Coetzee hadn’t looked particularly impressive in his recent bouts; most notably a disputed loss to Renaldo Snipes and a draw against Pinklon Thomas. However, Coetzee, who was nicknamed the Bionic Hand, as a result of corrective pieces inserted in his right hand over the span of several surgeries, was given another title shot against a champion that few felt he could defeat.

Michael Dokes controlled the first four rounds of the bout using his superior skills to outbox the considerably slower Coetzee. But everything changed in the fifth round when the challenger landed a powerful right hand that sent Dokes to the canvas. This punch altered the entire complexion of the bout; giving the momentum to Coetzee who quickly became the aggressor from that point forward. In the tenth round, Coetzee again landed his signature right hand which sent the champion crashing to the canvas. But Dokes would not recover this time and was unable to beat the count making Gerrie Coetzee the first African heavyweight champion in the history of the sport. His victory was named the Upset of the Year for 1983 by Ring Magazine. Coetzee was next in line for the biggest payday of his career in a unification bout against fellow champ Larry Holmes. But things went sour in the negotiations when the promoter unexpectedly pulled out and Coetzee reinjured his right hand in training.

In what amounted to one of the shortest reigns in heavyweight history, Coetzee lost his title in Sun City a little over a year later when he was knocked out in the eighth round by Greg Page. After he lost the title, things were never the same. He defeated journeyman James Tillis nine months later, but was flattened in one round by British contender Frank Bruno; seemingly ending his once promising career.

However, boxing is a cruel sport and former champs always seem to return. Gerrie Coetzee was no different. He moved to California and returned to the ring after a seven and a half year layoff. He knocked out three hand picked opponents in less than five months and then faced aging former middleweight champ Iran Barkley. Coetzee had his moment in the bout when he knocked Barkley down in the second round. But at age forty-two, Gerrie Coetzee was a shell of his former self and was eventually stopped in the tenth round.

He retired soon afterward and eventually moved back to South Africa where he today reportedly works as a dental hygiene assistant. His final record stands at 33 wins, 6 losses, 1 draw, with 21 wins by knockout.

Coetzee will never be considered one of the all time greats. He will never be remembered as a great champion. But he will forever hold a place in boxing history. And for that, he should not be forgotten.

Article posted on 26.10.2010

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