Gerhardus Christian “Gerrie” Coetzee, simply known as Gerrie Coetzee, is a South African former professional boxer. He was the first African to fight for, and win, a world heavyweight championship. In this interview with TONY OKUYEME, he shares his experience and thoughts about boxing, as well as what he wants to be remembered for. Excerpts:
As a professional boxer, you competed from 1974 to 1986, and in 1993 and 1997, and was the first African to fight for, and win, a world heavyweight championship, having held the WBA title from 1983 to 1984. You also hold notable knockout wins against WBA world heavyweight champion, Michael Dokes, and former unified world heavyweight champion, Leon Spinks, as well as a draw with future WBC world heavyweight champion, Pinklon Thomas.
How did you feel when you emerged the first African ever to fight for, and win, a world heavyweight championship?
I was nervous as there was a lot of pressure on me to fight for the WBA Heavyweight Championship and to be the first Heavyweight to win the WBA Championship in Africa. It was a big moment in South Africa and everyone wanted me to win.
Did you imagine you will win the fight?
I really believed and was highly positive on winning the fight, as I knew it is my last chance.
Tell us, how did you become a professional boxer?
I won all the SA titles year after year except one when I was sick and couldn’t participate. I then decided to start with my Professional boxing career at 19, as my dad wanted me to become a World champion.
Which of your fights would you say was most challenging?
Mike Schutte, nominated as the dirtiest fight of the year which was for the SA title fight.
One of your nicknames is “The Bionic Hand”. How did this come about?
I broke my hands many times and broke my hand seriously against Mike Schutte’s elbows. I had an operation where they fused my bones.
Growing up, did you really set out to be a boxer?
Yes my dad was the one pushing me and I started boxing at the age the age of 6.
What was the motivation for going into boxing?
My father Flip Coetzee. The school wanted me to play rugby as they said I will become a Springbok player and my dad said, no, I must become a boxer.
What is your opinion about professional boxing today in Africa?
Unfortunately, there are many good fighters but not enough opportunities to showcase their talents.
Beyond boxing, what would you like to be remembered for?
Good father and husband.
Do you watch movies?
Who is your favourite African actor?
What is your opinion about the Nigerian movie industry, Nollywood?
Very impressed as they create movies under volatile and difficult circumstances.
How do you unwind?
Deep sea fishing.