South African heavyweight rookie off to USA to learn the ropes

After more than 30 years as a benefactor, a sponsor and a promoter in the fight game, Thinus Strydom knows a thing or two about boxing, and heavyweights in particular.

He has relied on ‘gut feel’ when identifying future world champs and recently that famed feeling returned when he set eyes on a 23-year-old heavyweight boxer, Ruann Visser, who has an 16-bout win record, all by knock-out, in as many fights as an amateur. Visser is the son of a Meyerton sheep farmer. The family’s love for boxing was instilled by Ruann’s grandfather, a boxing trainer.

Meyerton is a town north of Vereeniging in Gauteng, South Africa

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Strydom has a reputation of being an astute judge of boxing talent and has guided the fistic fortunes of many world champions (including two heavyweights) and a host of South African title-holders.

As a promoter he’s staged boxing events around the world and has won acclaim from world boxing organizations.

Back in the early 1980’s Strydom never missed a Gerrie Coetzee fight. On one occasion he noticed that Coetzee’s corner was using dirty towels and after the bout he took the liberty of writing to the boxer.

Coetzee, then ringnamed the ‘Boksburg Bomber’, took strong exception to Strydom’s comments but after a meeting, he accepted an offer from Strydom, a Barberton businessman, to manage his career.

In 1983, Strydom concluded a deal with Don King, the biggest power player in world boxing at the time, for Coetzee to fight Michael Dokes for the WBA heavyweight title.

Strydom and Coetzee left South Africa in mid-September 1983 for the scheduled 15-rounder in Richfield Coliseum, Richfield, Ohio.

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Recently, Strydom recalled the occasion when they flew out from Johannesburg: “When we left for Ohio, it was only Gerrie, his wife, his father, his trainer Willy Lock and I at the airport. No entourage, no trainer, no nothing, just Gerrie and I flew out.

“When we returned with the world heavyweight title, the airport was swamped and we were mobbed by a crowd of several thousand. Even the cabinet minister Pik Botha was there to address Gerrie and I.”

The American boxing media hailed Coetzee as the first white boxer to win a world title in 23 years at the time.

Prior to Coetzee’s 1983 WBA title showdown, Coetzee lost to ‘Big John’ Tate, Mike Weaver and Renaldo Snipes but Strydom always had a ‘gut feel’ that Coetzee had what it takes to be a world champion, and that’s the way it turned out.

A few years on, another heavyweight was coming through the ranks and again Strydom had a ‘gut feel’ that he could become a world champion.

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Francois ‘White Buffalo’ Botha won his first two pro bouts in 1990 and Strydom stepped in to sign him up.

He arranged for Botha to train at an American gymnasium and during his seven-month stay there Botha won each of his five bouts impressively.

“At the stage I could see that Botha was not yet ready to take on the world’s leading heavyweights and told him to be patient and keep working hard,” Strydom recalled. “Only in 1995, by which time Botha was undefeated after 35 bouts, he was able to win a world title when he lifted the IBF title with a points win over Axel Schulz in Germany.

“I remember how some of the most knowledgeable boxing people in South Africa told me back in 1990 that I was wasting my money when I signed up Botha. I reckon they were taken aback as he ran up a 35-0 win record after being victorious against mostly American heavyweights.”

It’s 2014 now and Strydom’s famed ‘gut feeling’ has returned with the arrival of Visser, who at 2,04m is a giant by any standard.

In recent months the 23-year-old Visser has been working out at a couple of Gauteng gymnasiums and after sparring rather impressively against some vastly experienced boxers he has created a buzz in South African boxing circles.

However, the buzz was not loud enough for local promoters to make a move for Visser’s signature until two weeks ago when Strydom sat down the father Nefdt Visser, and the fledgling boxer who recently turned professional, agreed terms with Strydom’s World Sports Promotions for the next five years.

“Here is a young man who played Under-21 provincial rugby for the Valke and was a scratch golfer. He matriculated with a university exemption and throughout his school career he was rated as a ‘natural’ in all of the sports he participated in, including wrestling.

“I have a good ‘gut feel’ about him and have arranged for him to go the United States for intensive training, starting in April.

“He’ll have three short spells with leading American trainers over the next two months and then we’ll decide where he will be based for the next year or so.

“There is no need to rush Visser as he’ll have to work hard for next two or three years before he proves he has genuine world championship claims.

“I could have him fight in South Africa and he’ll be a big drawcard but that won’t be in his interests. I know local promoters could make a lot of money with him on the South African circuit but if that had to happen Visser’s career would be on the road to nowhere.”

Papa Visser said Ruann watched the Michael Grant – Botha world title bout in 2011 at Monte Casino in Johannesburg, and it was then that he decided he would pursue a professional boxing career.

“I’m thrilled that Strydom will take Ruann under his wing because he’s mapped out the careers of many world champions before,” said Visser snr. “I’m pleased that Strydom has no intention of rushing Ruann into the big time and that he has arranged for him to work with leading American trainers who can provide him with excellent heavyweight sparring on a regular basis.

“It’s just a matter of Ruann being patient and working hard at his chosen career.”

Strydom and Visser will be stopping over at leading boxing gyms in Las Vegas and Houston after they arrive in the United States next month.