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In the past few weeks the fight has dissolved from the sure thing that was to have taken place last Friday night at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas to an ever-changing drama whose only constant is uncertainty. The original promotion collapsed because of the inexperience and naiveté of promoter Kenny Bounds, the president of Dallas-based JPD Sports, whose drastic overestimation of the interest the fight would generate in the United States and South Africa was reflected in the inflated purses he offered—$12.3 million for Holmes, $3.2 million for Coetzee. Since then, various promoters have tried to put it back together. The bottom line is that the bout most likely will be staged in the fall.
And so, Coetzee waits.
"Champion." He's beginning to like the sound of the word, to wear it comfortably, though he's still wary of the celebrity it confers. Now he's eager to embrace the easy money and the casual miracles of America, to find out what it's like to have finally proved himself, Coetzee among the nightingales, if only he isn't nibbled to death by ducks.
The warm breath of a South African summer is on his back as Coetzee turns the metallic blue Datsun 280Z into the driveway of his home in the township of Boksburg—a tough mining community 25 miles outside of Johannesburg—where he has lived almost all of his 28 years.
His yellow-brick house is massive and Moorish, with high pointed arches and cool corridors; the furniture is an eclectic collection of French and Chinese antiques and that universally recognizable style. Contemporary Early Marriage. Coetzee is confident here, assured, a small amused smile replacing the awkward tension that often guards him in the States, a self-consciousness that hunches his shoulders and sends his hands deep into his pockets.
His daughter Lana follows him around with the fierce idolatry 4-year-old girls reserve for their fathers, while Gerhard, the 2-year-old, creates a small cyclone as he races by. Rina, Coetzee's wife of seven years, brings in the baby, 4-month-old Tana, who was born in Cleveland—the day after her father won the title—and therefore is an American citizen.
Coetzee's entourage follows him out the door as he takes a quick tour of the place. He is 6'3½", 220 pounds, and he moves with surprising grace. Small eyes peer out over a broad, lumpy nose, thick lips shelter under a heavy mustache, and a thatch of light-brown hair crowns the face. There is no flash of diamonds, no carefully delivered bombastic display. He doesn't look like a lightning rod of international racial politics or the repository of the hopes of half a dozen fortunes. Nevertheless, Coetzee has a firm grasp of the bottom line, and that's why he and Holmes will fight. "That's what we're in this for," he says coolly. "The money.
"I know I can beat Holmes. I felt that way even before I beat Dokes. I'm sure I'll be the winner when we fight. Then I can say I was the best in my time. Everyone has their time, and when I'm 43 or 50, then I can tell my daughter, and she can tell her child, 'Your grandfather fought the best.' "
He walks past the bamboo, the ripening pomegranates and the flowering, scented hedge, and proudly points to his fleet of seven trucks, painted white and trimmed in blue and gold. "Look at that truck," he says in his hesitant tenor, pointing to one vehicle. "Look at the front of it. It's strength, it's power. If I had to choose between a beautiful woman and a truck, I'd choose the truck."
This is said with a glance that asks if it's understood he's joking, at least a little. Coetzee ties himself to the things he can see, so that the things he can't see—the ineluctable lies and the eloquent greed of boxing—don't carry him off. "I need to be involved in other things," he says. "This keeps me from being bored. We have a saying in South Africa, 'Time is a doctor.' But time is an enemy to me when I'm not training."