On September 23, 1983 Gerrie Coetzee became the first boxer from Africa to win the world heavyweight championship, defeating American Michael Dokes in a WBA title bout at the Richfield Coliseum in Ohio.
The South African had lost two previous title bouts against Jon Tate and Mike Weaver in 1979 and 1980 respectively, but it was a case of third time lucky for the ‘Boksburg Bomber’, who knocked Dokes out in the 10th round.
Coetzee, who became the first white heavyweight champion in 23 years and the first African to claim a world heavyweight title, actually broke his right hand in throwing the punch that knocked Dokes out, and he required surgery on the injury in New York before returning home to a hero’s welcome in Johannesburg.
Yet the broken hand was nothing new for Coetzee, who had persistent injury troubles with his hands – particularly the right – and was even known as the ‘Bionic Hand’ and ‘Seer Handjies’ (Afrikaans for ‘little sore hands’). The latter nickname was given to him by fellow South African boxing great Kallie Knoetze.
It was a more than a year until the 1.92m-tall boxer had the chance to defend his title, taking on American Greg Page in December 1984 at the Sun City Superbowl in what is today known as the North West Province in South Africa. Page claimed a somewhat controversial win by knocking Coetzee out in the eighth round.
The South African heavy hitter’s career never reached those heights again, though his last professional bout, in June 1997, was a loss to Iran Barkley for the vacant World Boxing Board super heavyweight title.
Coetzee retired with a professional record of 33-6-1 (with 21 knockouts).