VIDEO: Gerrie Coetzee - Champion today
By Trevor Cramer
Today is 30 years to the day that I took up my seat in the wee hours of the morning with my coffee and rusks to watch South Africa's Gerrie Coetzee capture the prestigious WBA World heavyweight title at the Richfield Colliseum in Ohio against Michael Dokes.
After two previous unsuccessful attempts in front of his home fans to annex boxing's greatest prize against John Tate and Mike Weaver, Coetzee, fondly dubbed 'The Boksburg Bomber', travelled to Dokes' home State to challenge for the WBA crown (There were only credible sanctioning bodies during the heavyweight heydays - the WBA, the WBC and the fledgling IBF).
Promoted by boxing kingpin Don King and aired on the HBO pay=per-view channel, the WBA heavyweight showdown was the last bout on a crowd-pulling four fight card, which also included big names like Azumah Nelson and featured Tim Witherspoon's dramatic first round demolition of James Tillis.
Coetzee was the overwhelming underdog following his losses to Tate and Weaver and that much appeared to be the case when Dokes bagan dominating procedings for the first four rounds.
The fifth round though stunned the partisan home crowd into hushed silence as a damaging 'bionic' right from Coetzee landed flush on Dokes' glass jaw, sending his opponent onto one knee and for the mandatory eight count...
Dating back to an SA Heavyweight title against the late Mike Schutte, Coetzee had been plagued by a troublesome right hand, which was broken on countless occasions thereafter and surgically corrected.
Coetzee weathered a mid-fight storm as Dokes recovered his momentum, but that changed in the 10th round. He peppered Dokes with a barrage of right hands and pinned his man against the ropes and eventually connected with a heymaker right, as his opponent kissed the canvas, failing to make the count.
Coetzee may have been a champion at the time, but he couldn't claim to be idolised by all South Africans in the racially fragmented Apartheid society (The WBC and WBA later cut their ties with South Africa). But he was certainly a Godsend for heavyweight boxing.
Coetzee was the first white boxer in 23 years at the time to win a world Heavyweight title, and the first African ever to win the world Heavyweight title.
For more than 14 months after that Coetzee wasn't able to step back into the ring due to that troublesome right hand and a much anticipated unification bout with WBC/IBF champion Larry Holmes never transpired.
Greg Page unseated Coetzee, again in front of his home fans, by way of an eighth round konockout eventually in the "Boksburg Bomber's" first defence in December 1984.
** Dokes got into trouble on a number of occasions with the law. He died of liver cancer in August of 2012 at the age of 54.