Gerhardus Christian “Gerrie” Coetzee (born 8 April 1955) is a South African former professional boxer who competed from 1974 to 1986, and in 1993 and 1997. He was the first African ever to fight for, and win, a world heavyweight championship, having held the WBA title from 1983 to 1984. He holds notable knockout wins against WBA world heavyweight champion Michael Dokes and former unified world heavyweight champion Leon Spinks, as well as a draw with future WBC world heavyweight champion Pinklon Thomas.
One of Coetzee’s nicknames, “The Bionic Hand”, came about because of persistent troubles with his right hand, which required the insertion of several corrective items during three surgeries. His Afrikaans nickname was “Seer Handjies“, or “Sore Little Hands”, named so by fellow South African boxing great Kallie Knoetze.
Coetzee started boxing professionally on the night of 14 September 1974, when he beat 19 fight veteran and fellow South African Christian Roos by a decision in four. Coetzee followed his early success with a string of victories in his homeland. Among those wins was one over Roos in a rematch, which Coetzee won by a knockout in three rounds; he also defeated South African Mike Schutte who had been casually considered as a potential gimmic opponent for Muhammad Ali. Other notable wins included defeating former world title challengers Ron Stander, Randy Stephens and Pierre Fourie; a South African Heavyweight championship victory against amateur rival Kallie Knoetze (unanimous decision in 10) as well as a first-round knockout of former world heavyweight champion Leon Spinks. With exception of the Spinks bout, held at Monte Carlo, the majority of Coetzee’s fights during his early run were held in his native South Africa.
In the fight with Spinks, the former champion attacked Coetzee and pressured him, throwing punches from many angles and trying to steam-roll the South African. Coetzee composed himself and, with a short right hand delivered to Spinks’ temple, knocked down the former world champion. Coetzee proceeded to drop Spinks two more times to record a first roundtechnical knockout. The win enhanced Coetzee’s reputation as a real title threat in the post-Ali landscape of the heavyweight division.
Perhaps because of his success against Thomas in the first half of their fight, Coetzee received his third world title try against WBA champion Michael Dokes. By now known as someone who could not win “The Big One”, Coetzee’s predicted fate in this bout was to show-case the Don King-promoted Dokes’ abilities and status as a rising star.
The fight took place on 23 September 1983 at the Richfield Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio. Coetzee dominated Dokes after a few rounds of even fighting. The South African led with aggression but also used counter punching as well. Coetzee’s poise was apparent, and he boxed more deftly than usual employing more left hooks rather than merely swinging his potent right hand. He continued to eschew much in the way of defense, sponging anything Dokes could land. In the 5th, he scored a knockdown and the commentary of the fight revolves around his poise and control.. much different than a man lacking on confidence. After seizing control and dominating, Coetzee knocked out Dokes in the tenth round to become South Africa’s first world Heavyweight title holder. He also became the first Caucasian world heavyweight champion in 23 years. The fight was KO Magazine’s “Upset of The Year” for 1983.
It turned out that the punch that knocked out Dokes hurt Coetzee even more: his right hand was broken and required surgery five days after the fight, in New York City.