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A CASE OF PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
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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"Rubbish. You're not hurt," Flip said. "You have to fight. You can't give the title away now. Don't hit him hard. Just box him."

Coetzee won, and when it was over, the South African champion showed his bent and broken hands to his father.

"You've ruined my career," he said.

"Nonsense," Flip said. "I've made your career."

Since then, 17 operations have stolen tendons and bone from hip and thigh and left Coetzee's right hand an angry gnarl of scars and fused bone, 1½ inches shorter than his left. Coetzee says of his father, "He was probably right. With someone else, I would've quit."

Coetzee has, he says, a little of his father's fire. "But I can keep my fire in me and bring it out when I fight. That's when I burn the anger out. I don't hate my opponent. When I fight, I'm fighting for my future, my pride, my life. Maybe it's like an animal, fighting for its bone."

Sometimes when Gerrie and Flip are together they stand stiffly and without looking at one another, awkward in each other's presence. Yet, an affection is there. In the end, it's his family that gives Coetzee his sense of who he is. "We're very close," he says. "It's terrible for me not to see my mother, my brothers. If we see each other every day, then it's better for us. If we go out together, it's to go camping or waterskiing. My brothers and I still wrestle a lot, play practical jokes on each other. With your family, you can do what you want."

The closeness is manifested more directly at home. Until recently, Coetzee, Rina and their children slept together in the same bed. "Americans," he says, smiling, "must think we are mad."

When Coetzee turned pro, in 1974, he trained in the evenings and worked days as a dental technician, making crowns and bridges and, in the process, forming a solid friendship with his boss, Arthur White, and his wife, Kathy. She remembers Coetzee as "very shy, awkward, very kind. He had to be guided. We knew he had the ability to be a champion, but I wasn't sure he could use it because of his kindness."

Back then, the Whites used to sell tickets to Coetzee's fights at shopping centers in Alberton, 10 miles south of Johannesburg. In the beginning it wasn't easy. "A South African is quite a funny thing," Kathy says. "He's only interested in a winner. I think they thought Gerrie would be annihilated by his opponents. But after his 10th fight, the public began to take note."

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