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Following the last operation on his right hand, almost eight months ago, Coetzee returned to the U.S. in search of an American trainer. In South Africa, competent boxing trainers are rarer than black voters. Angelo Dundee and Emanuel Steward were both approached; both were too busy. "Then I decided to kill two birds with one stone," said Kushner, who was also looking for a cut man.
The stone turned out to be Jackie McCoy, the Los Angeles longshoreman who managed and trained former welterweight champion Carlos Palomino. McCoy said he would have no problem working in concert with Willie Locke, the handler Coetzee had brought with him from South Africa, and Coetzee moved temporarily to Huntington Beach, Calif., where McCoy worked on developing Coetzee's left hand, which had fallen into disuse because he had been concentrating on his so-called bionic right.
"I always had a left hand, but I never used it with the right," Coetzee said before fighting Dokes. "After I broke my right hand the first time, in 1978, I was knocking everybody out with left hooks. At first, the break was a blessing because I had to do more with my left. But then I overworked it and hurt my shoulder. An operation made that O.K., but by then I'd knocked out Spinks in one round and I went back to being right-hand crazy. Now Jackie has shown me a real nice hook, and he has me working with two hands. Dokes thinks I only have one hand. He'll learn."
Coming in at 217—six pounds lighter than in his May rematch victory over Weaver—the 25-year-old Dokes's primary battle plan was to circle to his right, to Coetzee's left, to keep away from the fabled right hand. That was fine with Coetzee, who wanted to introduce Dokes to his revamped left hand. In the first round, Coetzee banged a hard right to the body and then whacked Dokes with a hard left hook to the head. Dokes, who was undefeated at 26-0-2 compared with Coetzee's 28-3-1, wasn't hurt, but he knew he would be if he didn't somehow neutralize this unexpected firepower from a new quarter.
There was little deception to Coetzee's attack; he moved toward his target with tiny shuffling steps, his body fully erect in the classic European style, seeking out flaws in Dokes's defense. In the second round Coetzee caught Dokes with a hard smash to the head; an expression of enlightenment brightened Coetzee's somber face. Later he would say, "I saw how it hurt him, and I knew the fight was mine." But late in that round, Dokes cut Coetzee over the eye, and the challenger took the next two rounds off to reassess his chances.
By the fifth round, McCoy had closed the cut enough to restore Coetzee's confidence, and Coetzee ended his brief sabbatical with a very short right hand that dropped Dokes, who was more embarrassed than hurt. The right had caught Dokes as he was trying to pull away from a lunging left hook, which Coetzee was using often and well enough to keep the champ off balance.
From the sixth through the ninth rounds, Dokes seemed to be waiting for Coetzee to live up to the major criticism of his boxing talents: that he has the stamina of a half-miler trying to run a marathon. "It may have been true once that I tired in the late rounds," Coetzee said, "but it wasn't because I didn't have the stamina. It was because of the way I had to train in South Africa. Over here I was able to spar with 11 good heavyweights. In South Africa you don't have 11 heavyweights, much less 11 good ones. Here, some days, I sparred 15 or 16 rounds. And I took a stress test with a doctor in Los Angeles. When I had finished, he told me that only two or three percent of the people in the whole world had the stamina that I have."
Still, his father, Flip, had given Coetzee less than a 30% chance against Dokes. "When I heard that, I couldn't believe it," McCoy said. Later, the senior Coetzee dropped his estimate to 2%.
Coetzee shrugged and said, "My father has always been a very negative person. I guess that's where I get my pessimism. Once, when I fought Mike Schutte very early in my career, he told me that I was too young and that Schutte would destroy me. I won in 12 rounds. Then, when I signed for this fight, he told me it would never come off. And, when it did, he gave me very little chance."
In the 10th, Coetzee made a believer of even his father. Midway through the round, he hooked Dokes hard to the ear, missed with a savage right and then caught him solidly with a left uppercut, moving him back into a corner. Three times Dokes tried desperately to tie up Coetzee, but each time Coetzee bulled his way free to get off at least one more punch.