Posted 01/12/2023

By Sean Crose

There was talk for a while that the man might face Larry Holmes, the reigning undefeated champion heavyweight. The bout never took place, but Gerrie Cetzee, who passed away at the age 67, was able leave his mark on boxing. The former WBA heavyweight titlist had not only been the world’s first South African heavyweight champion, he had also resisted Apartheid at a time when a white South African wasn’t supposed to do such things.

Photo by Armand Hough/African News Agency, (ANA)

“I feel I am fighting for everybody, black and white,” he had said around the time he won the WBA heavyweight title from Michael Dokes in 1984. “What makes me happy is for black, brown and white people to accept me as their fighter.” The New York Times quoted Coetzee as saying “when I return home, I will continue working to help people get together.’’ Coetzee found himself in legal how water when he adopted a young fighter who the South African government has designated “colored.”

Coetzee was to recollect the time a policeman showed up at his house regarding the matter. “You thought the policeman was using a hammer when he knocked on the door… once I opened the door he brushed me out of the way and went through the whole house. He wanted to know where the boy slept and where he washed.” To his credit, Coetzee stood his ground. “A few days later,” he added, “I was issued with a court summons, but I failed to respond, and nothing came of it.”

Coetzee struggled to climb the ranks as a fighter. After losing title bouts against Mike Weaver and John Tate, Coetzee finally defeated Dokes in a close 1983 fight. He lost the title to Greg Page the following December. One of Coetzee’s fondest memories was being “called to Nelson Mandela’s office in the early 1990s. It was overwhelming,” Coetzee said, “because the country was preparing for democracy and Mr. Mandela was leading the way…it was a surreal moment and he awarded me a medal. I was surprised to hear that he had listened to radio commentaries of a few of my fights while he was in prison.”

Mandela requested Coetzee’s company on two other occasions. A movie of Coetzee’s life titled Gerrie is reportedly close to completion.

*quotes in this article were provided by IOL:

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