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.
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."
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
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."
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
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."