Pierre Coetzer a Credit to the game - by Pete Moscardi

Coetzer’s mind is as sharp as his left hook was in the days when he was boxing. Proof of this is manifested in his extraordinary ability to recall the date and result of every single one of his 44 professional fights he had in a career which spanned the 10-year period February 1983 to January 1993.

Apart from a slight broadening of the bridge of the nose, there are none of the tell-tale signs of his pugilistic past. Today the 49-year-old Coetzer still displays a toned athletic build on his 6’4” frame. The moustache and thick head of hair have a salt and pepper appearance which go to give him a distinguished look. His piercing blue eyes command your attention.

Pierre was born and grew up in Pretoria’s suburb of Mountain View. “My dad was in the construction industry and worked for Stocks and Stocks throughout most of his career. I was the youngest of three siblings, with an elder brother and sister. At one stage during my boyhood, the family moved to Port Alfred where my father worked on a major marina construction,” he says. Pierre claims to have been “a real sissy” while at school. “I was the first one to run away from a fight and my brother, Natie, told me that he would make a man of me. When I used to get back
from school, he would take me to his room and beat me up.

“One day my dad took me to a gym and I took one look at what was going on and told him that this was not for me. However, I somehow landed up at the Police Amateur Boxing Club when I was about nine-years-old and lost my first amateur fight on points to Ferdie van Gratz, who fought out of the Phoenix Boxing Club. About six months later Daan Bekker, the former Springbok Olympian and professional heavyweight boxer approached my dad and told him that he would
turn me into a Springbok boxer if he could train me. Neither my dad nor I believed him – but I ended up being trained by Daan.”

Pierre boxed for the Police Amateur Club for his entire amateur career and won South African titles both as a junior in 1977, and as a senior in 1980 and 1981. “I was unbeaten throughout my career as a senior. During the time I was fighting as a junior I was, on several occasions, called on to fight seniors due to the difficulty Daan had in matching me. In 1983 I was approached by Wilf Rosenberg to turn professional under his management.

“I was still in the Police, where I was a PT instructor, when I turned professional.
I soon realized that if I was to become a dedicated professional I needed all my time to devote to boxing. I decided to try and obtain an extended unpaid leave from the Police for this purpose,” he recalls. Pierre’s approach was to go directly
to the top – and by the top we mean the then Minister of Police, Adriaan Vlok. Recalling that event, Pierre says: “I had been seconded to Cape Town for the opening of Parliament. I decided to put my request directly to Minister Vlok and I went to see him in his office. He was already aware of my career and told me that I could have indefinite unpaid leave, while still retaining all my Police benefits such as medical and pension. These circumstances continued for the nine years thereafter while I boxed. I am proud to say that Minister Vlok called me prior to every fight I had in this country to wish me luck.”

Coetzer’s relationship with Rosenberg came to a sudden and somewhat crimonious
end three years after he had joined up with him. “One day I got a call from Wilf who asked me to come over to his office in Johannesburg to sign up for a fight. When I got there he told me that the proposed opponent was none other than the highly-rated world title contender, James “Quick” Tillis. Tillis was a leading American who was right up there in the top five – and I was a mere novice by comparison. I was so angered by the fact that Wilf had considered me that naïve that I tipped his desk on top of him, told him I was not the idiot he thought I was and walked out of his life forever. I then joined up with Andries Steyn who took over the control of my career.”

Pierre’s first loss came in his 10th fight to a leading American, Bernard Benton, who was then 14-1-1 and who later went on the win the WBC cruiserweight title. It was the one fight in which Coetzer admits animosity played a role. “We fought at the West Ridge Park tennis courts in Durban in July 1984. Benton was the most arrogant and unpleasant character I had met and he threw his weight around at the pre-fight press conference and weigh-in and generally went out of his way to humiliate me. I had trained for an eight-round fight and was only told a few hours before entering the ring that it was a ten-rounder. Benton’s arrogance and manner managed to throw me off my game and I lost a decision to him. I was furious both with myself and him and I approached Alan Toweel and told him I wanted two things – a return with Benton and for him to manage me.” Pierre got his wishes on both counts, and in his next fight came up against Bennie Knoetze in a South African title clash at the Ellis Park tennis stadium in September 1984.

“I was still with Oom Andries Steyn when I fought Bennie who, at that time, had Alan Toweel in his corner. There was a lot of hype about this fight as one of the people I was training when I was a PT instructor in the Police was a policewoman called Charmaine Gale who was a Springbok high jumper. A story got out into the press that Bennie and I were both sweet on her and that this rivalry was to turn into a grudge fight. There may just have been a slight element of truth in the blown up press reports,” he says with a wry smile. Pierre was to hold the SA title for six years without defending it due to the lack of worthwhile opposition. He eventually relinquished it.

The fight was an all-out war while it lasted and after being battered from pillar to post in the first two rounds Coetzer came back to score a spectacular thirdround KO over Bennie. “I recall being told in the corner to fight a defensive battle and to box carefully. But this was not doing me much good and Bennie was taking my head off. I thought to myself at the end of the second round: ‘well, to hell with this. I’m going to now take the fight to him’ “ he recalls. Pierre tore into Bennie in the third round and it was fight over. Although the knock-out victory was spectacular there were certain people who were not impressed. “Rodney Berman, who was then my promoter, came and told me that I had not improved at all since I turned professional and that I had better find another trainer and promoter. I went over to Alan from that moment and never had another fight for six months, during which time I was subjected to an extensive training programme under Alan’s expert guidance. My next fight was under the promotional banner of Mike Segal’s promotion and with Alan Toweel in my corner. I won a ten-round points decision
over the lanky American, Mark Lee, at the tennis courts in Durban.”

The unpleasant and bitter memory of the Bernard Benton loss still rankled in Coetzer’s mind and in September 1987 he had his opportunity to gain revenge. “Mike Segal arranged the return for the Standard Bank Indoor Arena. Alan and I planned our strategy meticulously and watched the recorded first fight every day. At the pre-fight press conference Benton was no different in his display of arrogance. As we were walking out of the room, he gave me a shove. I had told
Alan before the event that he must not try and stop anything I did or said. I responded by grabbing Benton by the throat and throwing him over a row of
chairs. I said to him: ‘let’s not wait for tomorrow night. Let’s get it on right now.’
When we came out for the first round, it was like a television replay. I knew exactly what he was going to do and how I was going to counter him. I cracked a left hook on the side of his jaw and he went out like a light and had to be carried
from the ring on a stretcher,” he recalls.

Prior to the Benton return, Pierre had scored a significant victory by beating former European title holder, Alfredo Evangelista, at the Ellis Park tennis courts. This was another Mike Segal promotion and the fight had to be postponed for a month after the Spaniard stepped out into the road outside the SABC buildings following an interview and got hit by a car. Evangelista stayed in the country while recovering from his injuries. Coetzer boxed superbly that Sunday afternoon to win unanimously against the crafty and experienced Evangelista.

A fighter who gave Pierre fits was the Puerto Rican former cruiser weight champion, Ossie Ocasio, who eked out a points decision over him at the Good Hope Centre in Cape Town in March 1988. “He was the most awkward fighter I’ve ever met – a real spoiler who knew every trick. I was annoyed with Alan for matching me against a fighter who would make anyone look bad, and I asked him after the fight why he had done so. His answer was to tell me that in years to come I would understand the strategy. I was to eventually have a return with Ocasio in November that year and the experience of our first fight stood me in good stead as this time I knew how to handle his unorthodox style. I won a decision over him at the Standard Bank Arena and gave him a pounding for 10-rounds,” he says.

Segal marketed Coetzer around the globe and Pierre found himself fighting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in Lazio, Italy and in various locations in the United States. “I was supposed to have a fight with Everett “Big Foot” Martin in Chicago. However, the Chicago media latched on to the fact that here was a racist white South African cop invading their territory. In no time there were demonstrations outside my hotel with angry mobs waving placards. The fight had to be re-located and in May 1990 I fought Martin in an underground parking garage in the one-horse town of Green Bay, Wisconsin, where I beat him on points,” Pierre recalls.

Coetzer went unbeaten in his next 17 fights following the loss to Ocasio in March 1988. One of these wins was a savage encounter with a fellow South African heavy weight who was vying for pole position – namely, Johnny du Plooy. “We were matched at the Sun City Super Bowl in a Golden Gloves tournament. Du Plooy must rate as one of the hardest hitters I ever met and he put me down in the first round. However, I came back to stop him in the second. It was brutal while it lasted,” Pierre says. Pierre’s fights with both Bennie Knoetze and Johnny du Plooy were voted Fight of the Year by King Korn.

Still with promoter Rodney Berman, in July 1992 Pierre was to have the first of three fights which contributed to him finally ending an illustrious career. Matched in a WBA heavy weight title eliminator against the unbeaten Riddick Bowe at the Mirage Casino in Las Vegas, the South African had a major setback when, two days before the fight a sparring partner smashed his head into his face. A vertical gash opened up at the side of his nose and on top of his eye. “Alan told me that I either had to call it off there and then or go ahead with the fight. I decided to go ahead with it. We got a top make-up artist to try and conceal the injury but the Commission doctor spotted it right away. I said to him: ‘Doc, please let me go ahead with the fight. If the cut opens up I promise you will have no complaints from me if you stop it.’

Riddick Bowe soon spotted the injury and the blood started streaming into Coetzer’s eye when the cut was opened up in the fifth round. Two rounds later the
ring doctor was forced to carry out his promise and the fight was called off, giving Bowe a seventh round TKO win. Pierre ascribes the losses in his next two fights - to Frank Bruno and George Foreman - as being the short period between these contests. “I fought Bruno at the Wembley Arena in London just three months after my grueling fight with Bowe. It was really not enough time to make a full recovery and I lost on a TKO in the eighth round. This fight was in October 1992 and almost three months to the day later I was back in the ring against the monstrous George Foreman in Reno, Nevada. I was still battle-weary from the Bruno fight and, again, I really needed more time to recover. Foreman stopped me in eight rounds and after the fight I told Alan that this was it. He never asked me for my reasons and never argued with my decision to get out of boxing. Alan Toweel was a wonderful trainer – but he was more than that. He was a father-figure to me and I always stayed at his house when training for a fight,” Pierre says.

In 1985 Pierre met a beautiful student at the Pretoria Technikon, called Sanett. They were married in November 1993 and Pierre admits that his bride was thankful that his boxing days were over. Today the couple lives in Bryanston and they have a daughter, Charne (15) who is in grade 7 at Menlo Park High in Pretoria.

Some years ago, after a period of running his own security company, Pierre joined the Kyalami-based Delta Mining Consolidated Company whose activities consist of coal and iron ore mining. “After a period during which I worked as a project manager, I branched out into the health and safety field in this company which is where my future career path lies,” he says.

The articulate Coetzer says he has not a single regret about his past. “I would do nothing differently if I was to have my time all over again. I have only good memories of my 10-year boxing career,” he says. Coetzer rates Du Plooy, Knoetze
and Bowe as the hardest punchers he fought, and Ocasio as the trickiest. Another difficult opponent was Jose Ribalta whom he outpointed over 10 rounds in Biloxi, Mississippi in May 1991. Ribalta had given Iron Mike Tyson a tough encounter before losing on a 10th round TKO.

Pierre Coetzer is today an avid Blue Bulls supporter and will discuss animatedly on the merits of Springbok selection and key players in the team. In the limited amount of spare time that he has he enjoys a game of golf and recently played with Bennie and Kallie Knoetze. “I get on really well with the Knoetze brothers.
Bennie sadly suffered some horrific personal tragedies in his life but he has a strong character and has pulled through admirably. Kallie is much the same, although he has mellowed somewhat and is not the crazy character that he used to
be in his fighting days,” he says. Another ex-fighter who he bumped into recently
on the golf course was Corrie Sanders. “Would you believe that Corrie was having a really hard time with his swing as he had cracked a rib playing an old timers game of rugby shortly before going on to the golf course,” he says with a laugh.

Boxing has been kind to Pierre Coetzer – but much of the benefit he gained from
the sport has been due to his unstinting dedication, the fatherly guidance he received from Alan Toweel and the prudent manner in which he made his investments. The name Pierre Coetzer will always rate highly as a major tribute to
South African sport in general and boxing in particular.