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Former WBA Heavyweight Champ Gerrie Coetzee Dead at 67!

Image: Former WBA Heavyweight Champ Gerrie Coetzee Dead at 67!

By Ken Hissner: The first African heavyweight champion who was from South Africa, WBA champion Gerrie Coetzee dead at 67! Known for his bionic hand, he thrilled the crowd with his punching power and defied some of the country’s racist rules!

Coetzee died Thursday in Cape Town just over a week after being diagnosed with lung cancer, his former manager Thinus Strydom, said Friday.

Coetzee won the world title knocking out American Michael Dokes in the tenth round in Richfield, Ohio, in 1983 to win the WBA belt in a major upset on a Don King Promotion.

“I feel I am fighting for everybody, black and white,” Coetzee said. “What makes me happy is for black, brown, and white people to accept me as their fighter.”

They did in South Africa, and Coetzee was awarded The Order of Ikhamanga in Bronze in 2003 by South Africa’s democratically-elected post-apartheid government for his boxing success and for his contribution to “nation-building through sport.”

The government said millions of black South Africans rooted for Coetzee during his career, “thereby confounding the false logic of apartheid.”

It was the third attempt after losing to John Tate for Coetzee in 1979 in a fight for the WBA belt made vacant by Muhammad Ali’s retirement. He also lost a second WBA title shot when he challenged Mike Weaver in 1980 and was stopped in the thirteenth round.

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Coetzee had stopped former champion Leon Spinks in the first round in Monaco in 1979 in his first fight outside of South Africa, making the world aware of his ability. It took another four years to win a title.

Coetzee’s victory over Dokes for the WBA title came with a price. He broke his right hand earlier in the fight but still managed to knock out Dokes with a series of rights; his manager said He needed surgery after that.

Coetzee had persistent injury problems with that potent right hand, and it was operated on numerous times throughout his career, leading South African rival Kallie Knoetze to give Coetzee the nickname “Sore Little Hands.” Coetzee was also sometimes called “The Bionic Hand.”

Coetzee’s nickname, though, was the “Boksburg Bomber” in reference to his working-class hometown near Johannesburg. His first fight was in 1974; he often fought against black fighters in South Africa in front of racially-mixed crowds. He appointed a South African man of Indian heritage to be his media spokesman, which also angered the apartheid government.

In the 1980s, Coetzee agreed to train a young black fighter and invited him to stay with him in his home in defiance of strict apartheid laws at the time that outlawed blacks from living in the same neighborhoods as whites.

Police searched Coetzee’s home and issued him with a court summons because of it. Coetzee said he ignored the summons and legally adopted the boy whose parents had died.

Coetzee fought forty times, ending with a 33-6-1 record with 21 knockouts. In his first defense, he lost to Greg Page, 23-3, in the eighth round, which had gone four minutes at the point where Coetzee was knocked out. It was held at the Superbowl, Sun City.

He came back in his next fight defeating James “Quick” Tillis, 31-6, over ten rounds at the Ellis Park Rugby Stadium, Johannesburg, in September of 1985.

In March of 1986, Coetzee was knocked out by Frank Bruno, 27-1, at Wembley Arena, Wembley, UK. He would win his next three fights by stoppage over Dave Fiddler, 14-13-2, in two rounds at Arco Arena, Sacramento, CA, in August of 1993.

In October, he stopped Wes Turner, 16-3, in five rounds at Arco Arena, in Sacramento, CA. In January of 1997, he stopped Dan Kosmicki, 12-12, at the Hollywood Palladium, Hollywood, CA, in three rounds.

Coetzee’s final fight, he was knocked out in ten rounds by former champion Iran “The Blade” Barkley, 40-12, at the Hollywood Palladium, Hollywood, CA, in June of 1997.

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