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Motlana was amused when it was suggested that the Tate-Coetzee fight indicated a small change in South Africa's attitude toward blacks. "It means nothing. Tate means nothing," he said. "I am opposed to the fight. I won't go. I doubt if many blacks will go. There is no progress being made in this country. But I hope for the future, when enough pressure is brought by some of the Western countries."
At Tate's camp, set up in posh suburban comfort 10 miles outside Johannesburg, politics were for the moment set aside: Tate's fight was only with Coetzee. He had arrived in South Africa 12 weeks before the bout, weighing 255 pounds. His advisers had brought him in early from Knoxville, Tenn. to avoid anticipated anti- South African demonstrations in the U.S. ( Larry Holmes, the WBC heavyweight champion, called him a "robot" for fighting in Pretoria.)
Once in the country, Ace Miller, Tate's manager, asked for films of Coetzee's fights for study. They were promised but never delivered. Finally, after days of protest and angry words, a single film was found.
"It was a highlight film," Miller fumed. "All it showed was Coetzee knocking people down. They didn't give us crap. They pull all kinds of stuff. They want this fight so bad they can taste it."
Soon things began to go sour in the U.S. camp. Tate peaked much too soon. On Sept. 5 he went 12 rounds, stopping all three sparring partners. "God, he's awesome," said Miller to trainer Donny Marshall. "But we've screwed up. He's ready to fight now."
They shifted gears and reduced Tate's training regimen, which in part explained the fact that at 240 he weighed 7 pounds more than he did for Knoetze. Two weeks later Tate came out of a sparring session with an injured left wrist. "It's those damn Joe Louis films," Marshall said. "I knew this would happen."
If Tate has a hero, it is Louis. Seldom does a day pass that he doesn't study at least one reel of one of the old champ's fights. Louis had a habit of posing for photographs as though throwing a left hook with a bent wrist, though he never threw it that way in the ring. A year ago Tate, in mistaken emulation of Louis, got into the habit of bending the wrist when he hooked, which puts an unnatural strain on the hand. Marshall even designed a brace to keep the wrist locked in training sessions. Tate refused to wear it. Finally, the wrist gave way. "I was scared to death," Miller said. "We had it X-rayed right away. But it was just a bad strain. We weren't going to let him fight injured." Treatment and rest took care of the tendinitis. Two days before the fight Dr. Robert Whittle, Tate's personal physician, pronounced the wrist as sound as ever.
Unworried, Tate had passed the days with his crew from Knoxville shooting pool, watching taped cowboy movies on a TV set, lolling in the sun and listening to Richard Pryor tapes or Con Hunley country and western recordings.
"He's so damn relaxed," said Whitey Webb, one of Tate's entourage. "We're all scared to death he might fall asleep at the fight while old Con's singing the national anthem."
While Tate was relaxing, Arum, who co-promoted the fight with Southern Sun hotels, was busy scheduling 10 title bouts over the next 18 months for South Africa. The country is a boxing promoter's gold mine.