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Lynn Darling
June 18, 1984
Gerrie Coetzee is driven by a need to succeed and, as WBA heavyweight champ, haunted by his homeland of South Africa
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June 18, 1984

A Case Of Pride And Prejudice

Gerrie Coetzee is driven by a need to succeed and, as WBA heavyweight champ, haunted by his homeland of South Africa

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"Benny, I just comb my hair this way, I'm not really stupid," Coetzee says, and Kaars winces, until Coetzee pats him on the shoulder. "Don't worry about it, Benny," he says. "Don't worry about it."

Scrambling for safer ground, Kaars talks about why he likes boxing. "It's a man's sport," he says. "People know to stay away from you." Proudly, he begins to tell of a recent street fight in which he successfully imparted this knowledge to an unbeliever.

"Feeling proud about it, Benny?" Coetzee asks.

"Yeah, I feel proud."

"What would have happened if you had hurt your hands?"

Kaars gives this question careful consideration. "Mostly, I just kicked him," he says, and escapes outside.

"One thing Benny's got to understand is that a mistake is there forever, a loss is there forever, on your record," Coetzee says as he watches Kaars leave. "You fight the wrong fight at the wrong time, and you're just a gym fighter forever. Benny's done a lot, he's sacrificed a lot, but he's just got a little bit of what he could have. If a fighter lives too easy, if his childhood was easy, then he cannot be a fighter. If he gets money when he pleases, then he won't make it. You have to sacrifice for it."

Coetzee wants to know about Holmes, the man to whom his fortunes are tied and who kept him dangling for months before agreeing to fight. He's told a little about Holmes's tough scramble up from the mean streets and lean times of his boyhood in Easton, Pa. Coetzee nods his head. "He should feel fortunate that it was like that for him," he says. "It's what made him a great fighter."

Coetzee was six years old when he began to box. His father supplied the will until he had kindled it in his son. For Philip (Flip) Coetzee, boxing was a metal to be mined out of the soul of his son. "All my father's people and my grandfather's were for boxing," says the elder Coetzee, 52, who is sitting, tight-lipped and tense, in his home in Witfield, five miles from Boksburg. "We used to live for it. When Gerrie was born, I said, 'I'm going to make him a boxer.' I only wanted him to box. And he didn't want to disappoint me. I've been in his corner now 28 years."

The rituals were established early, when Gerrie was 12. Every morning, the father would wake the son at five and watch out the window, timing him as he did his roadwork. By the time Gerrie was 13, Flip had completed his own gym next to the house, and the boy worked out there every day. "Even when he was sick," Flip remembers, "I took him from his bed to the gym."

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