Best I Faced: Pierre Coetzer
Big-punching Pierre Coetzer was a fixture in the heavyweight division from the late-1980s to early-1990s and one of the best big men from South Africa of all time.
Coetzer was born in Pretoria, South Africa, on December 6, 1961. He came from a middle-to-upper-class background and his early years were without incident.
“There’s a lot of guys who had a much harder upbringing than I had,” Coetzer told The Ring. “I had a fairly good early life.”
However he was bullied and it lead him to boxing.
“Everyone in school used to hit me and my dad said to me, ‘You’d better do something to yourself.’
“I started boxing when I was about eight, nine years old. I took up Karate first; my brother went with the guys to the boxing club and eventually they asked me to come with one evening. There was a tour to the Free State and I thought it was a nice trip to join the guys. That’s where it all started.”
The gentle giant went on to have over 200 amateur contests, winning the national title multiple times. Due to apartheid, Coetzer never fought internationally. His one amateur venture outside of his homeland was to South America in 1981.
“We went as an educational team; we couldn’t go as a boxing team. We couldn’t box in Springbok colors, nothing,” he explained. “All the guys I trained with they were amateurs but acted like professional guys. [The South Americans] were much more ahead of us.”
Coetzer came along just as the careers of Gerrie Coetzee and Kallie Knoetze were winding down, turning professional in February 1983, with a first round win at Ellis Park Tennis Stadium, Johannesburg. He won his first nine fights before losing for the first time to Bernard Benton by unanimous deciion.
He rebounded to win the South African national title in September 1984. Interestingly Coetzer held the title for seven years without making a single defense.
Coetzer won his next 12 fights, including an impressive first round knockout over Benton in their rematch and a wide points decision over seasoned veteran Alfredo Evangelista.
He split two fights with former cruiserweight titleholder Ossie Ocasio in 1988 before meeting long-time rival Johnny du Plooy in an exciting fire-fight in the summer of 1990.
“We were supposed to fight as amateurs, three or four times, and every time, either Johnny didn’t come to the tournament or something happened,” Coetzer said. “It was a big thing and everybody always said I was scared of Johnny du Plooy.
“I had a fight and then Johnny du Plooy challenged me and I said to my trainer, ‘Listen, cancel that fight; we take on the Johnny fight.’ and everybody said if the fight goes the distance, I will win the fight but du Plooy is the harder hitter and I knocked him out in two rounds.”
Over the next couple of years, the heavily mustachioed Coetzer stayed on track, winning seven fights to earn a fight with rising heavyweight Riddick Bowe in an WBA final eliminator.
The supremely gifted American picked the gutsy South African apart, stopping him in seven rounds.
Just three months later, Coetzer traveled to London to meet Frank Bruno. The charismatic Brit stopped Coetzer in eight rounds.
Again Coetzer didn’t wait around and was only too pleased to test his skills against George Foreman in January 1993.
“That was one of my biggest dreams,” he said. “When George made his comeback, I said to my trainer, ‘That is a guy I want to fight.’ He was my hero when I was younger. What a gentleman; what an unbelievable man.”
Coetzer put up a valiant effort, getting off the canvas twice before being stopped in the eighth round.
After losing to Foreman, Coetzer (39-5, 27 knockouts) decided to walk away from boxing with his faculties intact.
“I’m 100 percent; there’s nothing wrong with me,” he said profoundly. “I had a great career. I listened to my late father, who said, ‘You can have all the money in the bank but if you can’t write out the check for it, why stay in the business?'”
Coetzer worked as a bodyguard for two significant heads of state in the early-1990s.
“We were with [then President] F.W de Klerk and we went to a function,” he said. “We’re standing in the crowd waiting for F.W. to come in and Nelson Mandela came right through the crowd and walked straight to me, ’cause he was also a boxer, shook my hand and started talking to me. I knew Nelson Mandela very well. Eventually when he became President, I was his bodyguard a few times. What a great man.”
Coetzer, now 57, has been married for 25 years and has a daughter in university. Since retiring from boxing, he has become a successful businessman running a German copper foundry.
He graciously took time to speak to The Ring about the best he fought in 10 key categories.
RIDDICK BOWE: He had a great jab. Not as much the speed, it was very, very powerful and consistent. He was a big guy and he had a very good range. He had an excellent left jab.
GEORGE FOREMAN: There was two guys, firstly Ossie Ocasio. He was a very awkward fighter, very difficult to hit, the way he’d hold you, make it difficult for you, spoiler. The other guy was George Foreman; he had an unbelievable defense. I think he was the only guy I saw that had that kind of defense with both his arms in front of his body, the crossbow. I think George Foreman was much better.
JOSE RIBALTA: Their was a guy by the name of Jose Ribalta. I fought him in Biloxi [Mississippi] and he had great, great hands, very good handspeed.
OSSIE OCASIO: There was a few. Ossie Ocasio had good footwork. The way he moved, he’d call you in and sidestep you and hold you, very good spoiler.
BOWE: I think Riddick Bowe. Bowe was a complete fighter. He had everything. He was tall; he was a big guy, fairly good handspeed, brilliant puncher. The way he would attack you, the normal guys come forward and hit you, the way he wears you down, a very clever fighter. Another clever fighter I fought was Bernard Benton. In the first fight, he beat me on points.
FRANK BRUNO: He was physically very strong, not the greatest fighter but very strong. One thing I’m very grateful is I never fought George Foreman in his heyday. [Foreman] was strong but not that strong.
MANOEL DE ALMEIDA: It was a Brazilian guy. I hit him all over; the skin came off on his forehead and he just stood there. I knocked him out to the body. He could take a punch. I hit him with everything for four rounds. He didn’t even blink his eye.
BOWE: Definitely the hardest puncher of all the guys was Riddick Bowe. Bruno wasn’t a big puncher; Riddick Bowe was unbelievable. He burst my eardrum. All through the fight up until the seventh round, all the punches, you could feel each one.
BEST BOXING SKILLS
ALFREDO EVANGELISTA: He had a fairly big body. How he moved was unbelievable. He was a very clever fighter. He had a fairly good punch, very difficult to hit the guy. He was very ring-wise. He knew all the tricks in the book.
BOWE: I think he could have been world champion today, if he had just looked after himself. The discipline went. After me, he fought Evander Holyfield. He beat Holyfield and, after that, went one way. He was definitely the best I fought.
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