With the recent sad passing of former WBA heavyweight champion Gerrie Coetzee, South Africa lost the man who arguably stands out as its greatest ever heavyweight. Coetzee defeated names like Michael Dokes, Leon Spinks and Kallie Knoetze, while he also held Pinklon Thomas to a draw.
Another South African heavyweight, who rose to prominence in the 1990s in rumbling with huge names like Riddick Bowe, George Foreman and Frank Bruno, is Pierre Coetzer. Coetzer never managed to win a world title the way Coetzee did, but he sure made his mark as a tough warrior, as a man who was blessed with some iron chin.
Going pro in February of 1983, this after an amateur career that saw him engage in over 200 bouts, Coetzer, instantly recognizable due to his trademark moustache, worked his way up the rankings. It wasn’t until he’d had well over 20 pro fights that Coetzer fought in America, but he did engage in some big fights upon doing so. After decision losses to two crafty veterans in Bernard Benton and Ossie Ocasio (both defeats subsequently avenged), Coetzer defeated decent fighters like James Pritchard, Bigfoot Martin, Johnny du Plooy, J.B Williamson, and Jose Ribalta.
Coetzer became the IBF number one contender in early 1992, and he very much wanted a shot at Evander Holyfield. Instead, Coetzer wound up fighting a WBA title eliminator with an unbeaten Riddick Bowe. Coetzer managed to hang tough in this, the biggest fight of his career, but he was stopped, controversially, in the 7th round. Bowe belted Coetzer low and the low blow victim turned away, thinking, he said later, that ref Mills Lane would call a time-out. Instead, Bowe unloaded some hefty shots on Coetzer’s exposed jaw, driving him into the ropes, with Lane then diving in to stop the fight with just one second remaining in the round.
Coetzer was furious, saying the fight should never have been stopped. After the fight in Las Vegas, 30 year old Coetzer had just two more fights before retiring from the sport. Coetzer, now 39-3, made the trip to London to face British hero Frank Bruno, then in the midst of yet another comeback “Big Frank” hoped would lead to another world title shot. Coetzer again showed off his shock-absorber of a chin, yet he was again beaten up quite badly, being stopped in the 8th. Coetzer’s chin and heart were undeniably first class, yet his other tools were somewhat lacking. The inability to slip or block a shot was one of Coetzer’s biggest flaws and, as in the Bowe fight, the South African’s nose paid the price against Bruno.
In what turned out to be his final fight, Coetzer took on Comeback King George Foreman – this fight taking place 30 years ago today – and the picture was pretty much the same as it had been in the Bowe and Bruno fights. Coetzer hung tough, he was never knocked unconscious (although Foreman did deck him twice), but he ate a ton of leather before being stopped, on his feet once again, in round eight.
And then Coetzer disappeared, never to fight again. Just 31 years old, and with a good record of 39-5, Coetzer decided he’d had enough, remembering the wise words his father had told him: “You can have all the money in the bank but if you can’t write out the check for it, why stay in the business?”
Coetzer was both happy and proud about the way he got out of the toughest sport on the planet while “100 percent; there’s nothing wrong with me.” Coetzer briefly served as a bodyguard for Nelson Mandela and F.W de Klerk. Today, 61 year old Coetzer is a successful businessman.
He may not have won a world title, but Pierre Coetzer’s story is an inspirational and happy one.