Throughout boxing history we have seen a great middleweight go up in weight and, in a dare to be even greater, challenge a heavyweight champion. Look at Stanley Ketchel going up against the toweringly bigger Jack Johnson, or for more recent examples, Roy Jones and James Toney going up to challenge John Ruiz. Those fights were each a big deal, with mass media and fan interest on board.
There was, however, a real oddity of a former middleweight champ Vs. former heavyweight champ match-up that took place, somewhat unnoticed, in the 1990s. It was the June, 1997 battle of veterans, when former WBC middleweight champ Iran Barkley met former WBA heavyweight champ Gerrie Coetzee in Hollywood, California. What followed was, as one fan rudely but at the same time accurately put it – a washed up middleweight going up against a washed up heavyweight.
At stake was the worthless WBB heavyweight strap (vacant) and Barkley, most famous for his thrilling battles with Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran, tipped-in at a hefty 230 pounds. Coetzee, most famous for his “Bionic” right hand, his big fights coming against Mike Weaver, Michael Dokes and John Tate, came in at an out of shape 253. Barkley was 37 years old and he was coming off seven straight wins picked up after he had moved up to heavyweight in 1996. Coetzee was 42 years of age and he was having just his fourth fight since being taken out in a round by Frank Bruno in 1986.
The two men, fighting in slow-motion, both feeling the pace after a few minutes of action, took the fight ultra-seriously; even if many fans in attendance at the Hollywood Palladium did not (the fight actually got some TV coverage, going out on ESPN2). Coetzee managed to score a knockdown in the second round, but soon the South African was gulping in air, was busted up around the face and Coetzee was running on empty. Both worn out warriors were fighting through treacle, or so it appeared.
Barkley, putting together clumsy and telegraphed shots, wanted it that bit more and he got it. It sure wasn’t pretty – Barkley landing 168 of a thrown 398, Coetzee landing just 171 of a slung 335 – but “The Blade” had just enough left to down the older man with a series of wild hooks in round ten. At the time of the stoppage, commentator Al Bernstein had the fight all even at 85-85.
Coetzee never fought again, going out with a respectable 33-6-1(21) record. Barkley would soldier on for a couple of years, not calling it a day until July of 1999, by which time he was 43-19-1(27).
But how on earth did these two once very special fighters ever get matched together! File this one under Ring Curiosities.