learned a few things since he's been in the U.S., but in general, it's been too
little, too late," says one Coetzee watcher. "South African fighters
just can't fight; they don't know how. If someone had got Gerrie at 17 and
brought him to America, it might have been a different story."
Coetzee fights in
an upright style that has been compared to that of Ingemar Johansson and Cuba's
three-time Olympic champion Teofilo Stevenson. Despite the McCoy-inspired
development of his left, Coetzee has primarily used the over-whelming power of
his straight right to gain respect from his opponents. He doesn't float like a
butterfly; indeed, he is a plodder. Coetzee's right hand has been called
"bionic," and he uses it to make up for his slowness and lack of
It isn't a style
calculated to work well against the multifaceted and highly skilled Holmes,
although at 34, Holmes's age and his occasional lack of concentration in the
ring could make him vulnerable to Coetzee's right. Holmes tends to become bored
when he's overconfident. In November 1981, Snipes floored him with a right
that, as one witness said, "You could see coming for three days."
Not to be
discounted is one quality that has pulled Coetzee through his halting path to a
title: heart, the kind that can turn a square patch of canvas into a fast
salute to grace under pressure.
Since Coetzee won
the title, Rina has told him lie's much easier to live with. He says he now has
"the security I wanted for my family." But the WBA heavyweight champion
wears his crown uneasily. It makes him feel, he says, a little shy. For him,
"champion" is a mystical word in which he has invested much of the
romance most men leave behind in their boyhoods.
But most of all
to Coetzee, the word champion means Muhammad Ali. He first heard of Ali while
in the army in 1973. "The coach said, 'You're fighting in Ali's style.' Who
was this guy? I pretended I knew."
to find out. He spent nearly an entire month's pay for a copy of Ali's
autobiography. He haunted the magazine racks and bookstores for more
information about Ali. The ideas Coetzee formed then about Ali left him with an
image that time hasn't tarnished, and it is to this graven image that he gives
the full measure of his devotion.
Never mind that
Ali is 42 now, fleshy and flawed, his eyes at times looking as though they had
decided to take two different routes to the same destination. To Coetzee, Ali
is still the beautiful perfection he once was, and he talks of him with
"To me he was
king of the world," Coetzee says wistfully. "I started dreaming about
him, reading everything I could about this magical person." Coetzee would
dream about what it would have been like to fight Ali, though if he ever had
he's sure he wouldn't have been at his best. "When he looks at you, he's
looking through you; he would have psyched me out," says Coetzee. "But
other fighters are just two hands doing their job."
He remembers his
first meeting with Ali. It was the week before Ali's Sept. 29, 1977 fight with
Earnie Shavers in Madison Square Garden. Coetzee, who was visiting America for
the first time, had tried unsuccessfully for three days to get inside the
Garden's Felt Forum to watch his idol train. On the third day, when Coetzee
tried to push his way through the doors along with a crowd of others, a
security guard struck him on the right shoulder and shoved him outside. Just
when it seemed that Coetzee would fail in his quest to see Ali, Angelo Dundee,
Ali's trainer, recognized Coetzee and brought him to the dressing room to meet